By BEN WALKER, AP Sports Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — She’s no longer a Rumor at America’s top dog show.
A German shepherd called Rumor who just missed winning at the Westminster Kennel Club last year came back to score a big victory Monday night, beating out favored Preston the puli in the herding group.
To the cheers of the crowd at Madison Square Garden, Rumor joined a miniature poodle, a Pekingese and a Norwegian elkhound in the best-of-seven final ring. She’ll face three more group winners still to be picked Tuesday night, right before the champ is chosen.
Rumor was the nation’s No. 1 show dog last year when she came to the Garden. But she fell short when a German shorthaired pointer named CJ won in a surprise, and it was thought that Rumor would retire.
Asked about the chances of 5-year-old Rumor adding to her 103 career championship ribbons, handler and co-owner Kent Boyles said, “I have no idea. … You never know.”
“Really good competition,” Boyles said, adding that he was “pretty nervous.”
Nearly 2,800 dogs across 202 breeds and varieties were entered. Plenty of them were early crowd favorites at the mostly filled Garden, if not winners.
A toy fox terrier just wanted to stand still. A papillon lived up to its name — “butterfly,” in French — by fluttering around. And a sloughi, one of three new breeds at this year’s show, kept yawning.
Preston came in with 95 total wins, known for a black, corded coat so thick that it’s often hard to see any of his features. It’s also hard to handle — his hair takes up to five hours to dry, helped by a couple of industrial carpet blowers that create a “swirly, tornado effect,” handler and co-owner Linda Pitts said.
In an upset, Duffy the Norwegian elkhound took the hound group. She topped Lucy the borzoi, second overall at Westminster last year, and Gia the greyhound, champ of the National Dog Show televised last Thanksgiving Day.
Hound judge Polly Smith perked up some ears, too. In an interview shown on the scoreboard, she started out, “This bitch epitomized type.” That’s the proper term for a female dog — predictably, it drew laughs and guffaws from the crowd.
Chuckie the Pekingese won the toy group. Not yet 2, he already has a legacy as his pop Malachy won Westminster in 2012. A black miniature poodle pranced off with nonsporting group.
The top of the sporting, working and terriers will be picked Tuesday night, followed immediately by best in show.
Watching little Raina McCloskey romp around the Westminster dog show ring with her borzoi buddy, it was hard to tell who was leading whom.
Because, really, Briar was so big Raina could’ve ridden him.
As fans noticed the unlikely pairing in the breed competition — a 7-year-old girl, in her aqua princess dress, galloping with her elegant 8-year-old pal — the sweet sound of “awwwww” filled the ring.
“Makes me teary-eyed,” said her mom, Kari, of Delta, Pennsylvania.
Handlers who take dogs into the ring at Westminster are almost always adults. There is a portion of the program for junior showmanship, yet even those participants are usually teenagers.
“Mommy, where do I go into the ring?” Raina asked before boldly making her debut in the main draw. Her mother led a dog right behind them.
When Raina presented Briar to judge Steven Herman, he leaned over and softly asked: “Is he your friend?” She nodded.
Moments later, Raina took a tumble when her pink sneakers caught on a seam of the green, uneven carpet. She bounced up in a hurry without a worry, drew a loud cheer and finished the run alongside Briar.
When her mother checked if she was OK, Raina said her elbow hurt. Her mom kissed the boo-boo.
They both made the first cut of the 27 borzoi entries.
“I’m so proud of her, she did a great job,” Kari said.
Asked if she had a fun time, Raina simply smiled. Instead, she kept her eyes on Briar, nuzzling him.
No words necessary.
ONCE IS ENOUGH
Reigning champion CJ the German shorthaired pointer was entered in the show and came to New York, but co-owner/hander Valerie Nunes-Atkinson isn’t going to have him compete Tuesday.
“We’re not going to tarnish the memory,” she said.
Westminster winners rarely try for a repeat — it’s been more than 20 years since any champ stepped back into the Garden ring. The last dog to take two in a row at Westminster was an English springer spaniel in 1971-72.
There is no prize money for winning Westminster. Instead, the payoff can come in breeding rights, so owners frequently are eager to retire their champions.