The Labrador retriever is America's favorite dog, but it's never a favorite at the Westminster dog show.
NEW YORK — More than 2,700 dogs are converging on New York City for the 137th annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show on Monday and Tuesday, including at least 50 Labrador retrievers who can only be hoping for an historic upset.
Each year, members of the Labrador-loving public tend to have only two questions for Thomas Bradley, the show's chairman.
"Why did that little dog win?" is one, with the emphasis on 'little,' he said.
"How come a Labrador never wins?" is the other, Bradley recalled with a laugh.
The Labrador retriever has for years been America's most popular breed, just not with Westminster judges, who award points based on how closely a given specimen conforms to the ideal of its breed, as codified by the American Kennel Club. Wire fox terriers, on the other hand, have won Best in Show more than a dozen times.
This year, two newly recognized breeds have been approved to appear in the show: the treeing Walker coonhound, a tall, flappy-eared descendant of the foxhound; and the Russell terrier, the subject of some controversy stemming from the differing taxonomic habits of kennel clubs in the United Kingdom, United States and Australia.
"I hesitate to say they're Jack Russells," Sue Sobel, 66, said as Foxfield Pepper Patch and Meadowbrook Madison, two examples of the breed, played at her feet during a recent news conference organized by Westminster. "Nobody likes to hear that," she said, dramatically lowering her voice so that nearby Westminster executives, and perhaps her own dogs, could not overhear.
"It's a new breed but it's not a new breed," she whispered, shielding her mouth with the back of her hand. Disagreements aside, Sobel, of Bohemia in New York, said she was pleased she could show her dogs at Westminster, whatever you might want to call them.
"It's a very big deal for our breed — we've worked so hard to get them recognized," she said.
For the first time, the show is spread out across two venues. Judges will be deciding the Best in Breeds at exhibition halls on piers on the Hudson River. The favored dogs will then head to the show's regular venue at Madison Square Garden, where Best in Group judging will take place in the evenings before culminating in the Best in Show event, to be judged by Michael Dougherty of Escondido, Calif., on Tuesday evening.
This year's dogs come from all 50 states, organizers said, with the majority from New York and California. There are more than 100 foreign entries, including dogs from Brazil, Germany, Croatia and Japan.
The 2012 show was won by Palacegarden Malachy, a male Pekingese, who, following tradition, has since retired.