For the first time in its storied history, the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show will not take place at Madison Square Garden.
Instead, the 145th iteration of the event – the second-oldest continuously held sporting event behind the Kentucky Derby – begins Saturday at Lyndhurst, a National Trust for Historic Preservation property, in Tarrytown, New York. The competition ends Sunday with the naming of the 2021 Best in Show.
The event is not open to spectators due to New York State COVID-19 regulations. Groups and Best in Show will be televised live on Fox starting at 7:30 p.m. EDT on Sunday.
Siba, a 4-year-old Standard Poodle, captured the 2020 Best in Show title with handler Chrystal Murray-Clas. She was just the fifth of her breed to win the title, and the first since 1991's Whisperwind's On A Carousel. The last poodle of any type to secure the dog world's equivalent of most valuable player was miniature poodle Surrey Spice Girl in 2002.
Here's what to expect from this year's pooch promenade:
How judging works
There are seven different breed groups at Westminster: herding, hound, non-sporting, sporting, terrier, toy and working. Breeds are evaluated based on the standard set by their parent club, meaning competing dogs aren't compared to other competitors, but to the ideal proportions, weight and size, head shape, gait and other qualities of the breed. Once a dog wins its breed, it is judged within its group. Group winners then move on to the Best in Show category.
Four groups add new breeds
Joining 2021's competition are four newly American Kennel Club-recognized breeds: the Barbet, Biewer Terrier, Belgian Laekenois and Dogo Argentino.
While the Barbet and Dogo Argentino became recognized in December 2019, neither was eligible for competition until 2021. The Barbet (pronounced "bar-bay"), a French water dog, joins the sporting group and the Dogo Argentino, a pack-hunting dog developed in the 20th century in Argentina's Cordoba province, will compete in the working group.
Handlers line up as they showcase new breeds: Barbet, Biewer Terrier, Belgian Laekenois and Dogo Argentino before the 145th Annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. (Photo: TIMOTHY A. CLARY, AFP via Getty Images)
The long-haired, pony-tailed Biewer Terrier (pronounced "beaver") joins the toy group. Rounding out the pack is the Belgian Laekenois (pronounced "lak-in-wah"), a rare Belgian breed competing in the herding group.
MORE: 85-year-old legend to judge Best in Show
To be recognized by the AKC, a breed must have a significant population within the United States and a national club of breeders.
Lyndhurst, once owned by railroad tycoon Jay Gould, is located 25 miles north of New York City's Madison Square Garden, which Westminster typically calls home. The estate was designed in 1983 by architect Alexander Jackson Davis, and has been dubbed America's Finest Gothic Revival mansion.
While it might be the first – and potentially only – time the estate will host Westminster, the property has a decades-long history of hosting dog shows. Several members of the Gould family participated in Westminster around its time of inception; breeding, owning and exhibiting four of the first five recognized breeds. Frank Jay Gould, Jay's youngest son, become known for his love of both smooth- and rough-coated St. Bernard's. He founded the Gould Challenge Cup, which honors the best American-bred St. Bernard owned by a St. Bernard's of America Club member.
"It is so important that we're here, mask-less, out in the open and enjoying the great Lyndhurst property," Ken Jenkins, Westchester County's deputy county executive, said at a press event Tuesday. "I know that our four-legged friends are going to enjoy everything that Lyndhurst has to offer."
Dogs to watch
Fans of last year's Westminster will be excited to learn Daniel, a golden retriever that won the sporting group – and the hearts of many viewers – will once again be competing. Siba, the reigning champion, will also return. Other dogs to watch include Bourbon, a Whippet which in January won the 20th AKC National Championship, and Pequest Wasabi, the Pekingnese that was runner-up and winner of the toy group.
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