All photos by Getty images for the Westminster Kennel Club.
Fri, 06/07/2024 - 11:57pm

New York State of Mind

Reflecting on Westminster 2024

The RVs and Sprinter vans have inched their way through tunnels and across bridges, leaving Gotham’s notorious traffic and tolls behind.

The pun-laden headlines — including the Associated Press groaner, “a Sage decision”— have faded.

Done and dusted. Westminster 2024 is one for the books.

Its winner, of course, was Miniature Poodle GChG Surrey Sage, owned by Cathy Gauche and breeder-owner-handled by Kaz Hosaka, who retired after a 45-year career in the sport with this stratospheric win — his second at the Garden with a Mini Poodle. (That first win, 22 years ago, was with Ch. Surrey Spice Girl — Sage’s great-great-granddam.)



Notoriously understated, Hosaka arrived here from his native Japan to work for America’s undisputed Poodle doyenne, the late Anne Rogers Clark, and her husband James, and never left.

“The Miniature Poodle has beautiful type, an incredible head and incredible coat,” Best in Show judge Rosalind Kramer told the assembled reporters. “She has a great tail set and showed like a million bucks.”

Sage’s victory — after winning a competitive Non-Sporting Group under judge Fred O. Bassett — was the 11th time a Poodle of any variety had seized the brass ring (or, more aptly, silverplate trophy) at the nation’s oldest and most famous dog show. Only Wire Fox Terriers have won more — 15 times in total, most recently in 2019.



The Reserve Best in Show winner was “Mercedes” the German Shepherd Dog, owned by Cynthian Wilhelmy and Sheree Moses. Formally known as GChG Kaleef's Mercedes, she was sent from the Herding Group by judge Michael Faulkner. Like Hosaka, handler Kent Boyles knows the view from inside this famous purple-carpeted ring: In 2017, he went straight to the top with another Shepherd bitch, “Rumor” (GCh. Lockenhaus’ Rumor Has It V Kenlyn).

Among the other contenders in the main arena of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center:



In the Working Group, Giant Schnauzer GChS Hearthmore's Wintergreen Mountain RI CGC TKN FITB, owned by Sandra Nordstrom, Katherine Bernardin and Cherlann Ambrose, and handled by Bernardin, repeated his group win from the previous year, this time under Rick Gschwender. “Monty” was the nation’s number-one dog of all breeds last year.



Shih Tzu GChP Hallmark Jolei Out Of This World, breeder-owner-handled by Luke Ehricht and co-owned by Diane Ehricht and Bonnie J. Miller DVM, won the Toy Group under Glen Lajeski. “Comet,” of course, triumphed last December at the AKC National Championship in Orlando.



Black Cocker Spaniel GChG Rejoices To The Point, owned by Joy E. Stevens and handled by Per Ingar Rismyhr, won the Sporting Group under judge David L. Kittredge. “Micah” was the number eight Sporting dog last year.



The winner of the Hound Group was aptly named, considering the show’s boroughbred digs: Afghan Hound GChP Sunlit's King of Queens. “Louis,” owner-handled by Alicia Morrison Jones and co-owned by her with Jamie Souza Bartlett, won the blue ribbon under group judge Christine Erickson. It would be an understatement to say that the Afghan ring was a magnet on Monday afternoon, as intense competition had one ringside wag drawing a comparison to “Game of Thrones.”



In what was arguably one of the show’s biggest surprises, Terrier Group judge Patricia Anne Keenan selected the Colored Bull Terrier GChB Grabo Frankie Goes To Magor as her winner over some of the nation’s top-ranked terriers. Displaying typically Bullie aplomb, “Frankie” is owner-handled by Sarah Byzewski and co-owned with Joe Byzewski.

Exhibitors began this year’s Westminster exercise secure in the knowledge that this would be its last iteration at the tennis stadium. The show’s group and Best in Show judging is set to return to Madison Square Garden in 2025 — a prelude to its 150th anniversary the following year — with daytime judging at the sprawling Jacob Javits convention center.

Westminster was dislodged from its longtime Garden home in the turmoil following Covid. Decamping north, the itinerant show spent 2021 and 2022 at the leafy Lyndhurst estate, with its Gothic Victorian architecture and unshakeable old-money feel — you got the sense that a valet with silver candelabra to polish might leap out from the nearest bush at any moment. Then, in 2023, Westminster moved to the tennis center, just a stone’s throw from the old 1964 World’s Fair grounds and Citi Field, home of the Mets. The Queens arena was a bit of a return home, in that it again gave the club a foothold in New York City: As one of the city’s five boroughs, Queens is, after all, well within its borders.



The notoriously temperamental weather gods were somehow appeased during the show’s forced itinerancy. This year, the soaking rains that were originally forecast to pelt the metropolitan area on Tuesday politely refrained until the following day. Some kind of magic, that Westminster.

It wouldn’t be a modern Westminster without some sort of animal-rightist protest. (What happened to the days of streakers? Just sayin’.) This year, three protestors in “Boycott Breeders” T-shirts tried to clamber into the Best in Show ring, but were scooped up by security faster than you can say “animal guardian.” PETA took responsibility, calling the show “archaic canine beauty pageantry” and decrying “torture breeding,” a phase popularized overseas.

There were also protesters over the weekend at the club’s 11th Annual Masters Agility Championship, which was won for the first time by an “All-American” contender: The appropriately named Nimble (NAC MACH Breezy Blue’s Be Quick! T2B MXF), owned and handled by Cynthia Hornor, posted the fastest clean round of 28.76 seconds. Hornor also won the last year’s Agility Championship at Westminster with her Border Collie, Truant. See? One mixed breed, one purebred — room for everybody.

Speaking of Border Collies, that breed won the 9th Annual Masters Obedience Championship in the form of 7-year-old Zane, whose official alphabet-soup name will send your eyes crossing: RNC TC OTCH13 AGCH MACH5 PACH RACH Norwood Color Me Zayne HSAd HSBd HXAd HXBd UDX14 OGM RM4 RAE3 HSAD HSBD HXAD HXBD MXC PDS MJC PJS MXPB MJPB PAX MFG TQX T2B5.

In the Junior Showmanship competition, Octavia Stensen did the double after winning Best Junior at the AKC National Championship this December. Stensen showed her Norwegian Buhund “Pineapple” (GCHB CH Cultiva Cruisin For A Bruisin Pineapple Express CGC TKN) against more than 100 other talented young people judged in the preliminaries by professional handlers Rebecca Cross and Stacy Threlfall. Stensen was tapped for the top spot by ever-dapper pro handler Diego Garcia, who judged the finals.

Garcia deserves special mention here not just for that elegant judging turn, but also for his infectious sportsmanship, so evident in the photographs of him during the last moments of the show — whooping with hands in the air when Best in Show judge Roz Kramer announced Hosaka as the winner, mopping his friend’s brow as the photographers crowded in for the win shot. Garcia’s unreservedly joyous posts on social media about his friend, mentor and “sensei” —  the secret to his success: “like bonsai, little by little” — vividly embody the spirit of the code of conduct printed at the back of every AKC judging program.


Photo by Jeff Hanlin.


It's those powerful friendships, feelings and emotions that elevate Westminster to more than a mere place. It is, to a greater or lesser degree, a state of mind. And within its pressure cooker of competition and intensity, true character is put on display.

This year, at least, it revealed the best of us.



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