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Published February 11 2014

Westminster Kennel Club closes in on year's top dog

NEW YORK - A Portuguese water dog named Matisse became the latest group winner en route to an eventual seven furry finalists vying for "best in show" honors at the 138th Westminster Kennel Club dog show.

The top dog in each group will go nose-to-nose at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan in the championship round that concludes one of the oldest sporting events in the United States.

Two-year-old Matisse was considered a dog to track after winning the working group one year ago, said Westminster spokesman David Frei, who co-hosts the television broadcast.

"He's got quite the reputation," said Michael Scott, his handler, from Chesapeake City, Maryland.

Kathy Pearce, owner of The Mighty Quinn, one of Matisse's competitors in the best-of-breed round judged earlier in the day, said, "Matisse is one of the most beautiful dogs we've ever seen."

In the sporting group, a four-and-a-half-year-old Irish water spaniel named Riley bested popular breeds such as the golden retriever and Labrador retriever to win the sporting group, which are dogs traditionally used for hunting.

The Irish water spaniel has won its group seven times, and was named "best in show" in 1979, according to the show's website.

Four groups were judged Monday. The winning pedigreeds were a bloodhound named Nathan, best of the hound group; Classie, a miniature pinscher tops in the toy group; a standard poodle named Ally, who won in the non-sporting group; and a Cardigan Welsh corgi named Coco Posh, leader of the herding group.

Of Monday's winners, the only breed to take home the blue ribbon in the past is the standard poodle, which has been named the winner on four occasions, most recently in 1991.

One remaining group, the terriers, was competing on Tuesday prior to the "best in show" competition, which will be judged by Betty Regina Leininger of Frisco, Texas.

The winner is expected to be announced by 11 p.m. EST (0400 GMT Wednesday).

Three new breeds debuted at the competition this year: the Portuguese podengo pequeno; the chinook, a husky-like breed developed in New Hampshire; and the spotted rat terrier.

This year, 190 breeds and varieties are featured, from the determined miniature schnauzer to the majestic Afghan hound. With 2,845 contestants expected, the show was projected to be the largest staging since 1990.

The competition focuses on a dog's appearance, compared with a breed standard. The show is the second-longest continuously held sporting event in the United States, after the Kentucky Derby horse race.

The show follows the American Kennel Club's first dog agility contest, held on Saturday, which was open to mixed-breeds. The winner was Kelso, a 7-year-old border collie from Cape Elizabeth, Maine.