NEW YORK (AP) — Other dogs came to play, Swagger came to win.
Kept in peak form by running up 15 flights of stairs at his hotel, the old English sheepdog that nearly won at the Westminster Kennel Club last year bounded to an early victory Monday.
“You never know when you get in the ring,” co-owner and handler Colton Johnson said. “Tonight could be different, you never know.”
There were a total of 2,845 entries for America’s top dog show. Breed judging in the hound, toy, nonsporting and herding categories started at Piers 92 and 94 on the Hudson River, with group winners to be picked Monday night at Madison Square Garden.
Sporting, working and terrier dogs will compete Tuesday. The best in show will be chosen shortly before 11 p.m.
Among the other breed winners was an Australian shepherd who lives with Tampa Bay Rays catcher Ryan Hanigan. Of the 44 entered, his Copperridge What’s Your Dream won.
“It’s incredible that she went from my No. 1 bed buddy to best of breed at Westminster!!!” Hanigan wrote in a text message.
Prime contenders to walk off with the prized silver bowl are Sky the wire fox terrier, Matisse the Portuguese water dog, Riley the Irish water spaniel and the Fifinator, a Doberman that has her own Facebook page.
Swagger was a mere rookie when he came from Colorado Springs, Colo., to Westminster last February. At about 21 months old, he had appeared in just three dog shows, but quickly became a crowd favorite. Cheers filled the Garden when he romped around the ring, his full coat of white-and-gray fur shading his eyes.
Swagger finished second, behind champion Banana Joe the affenpinscher. The little monkey-faced dog is now retired, and 97-pound Swagger is ready to rule. He’s taken about 30 titles at other events around the country since then, co-owner Debbie Burke said.
“He’s much more confident,” co-owner Ron Scott said. “He loves this, he loves to show.”
Other things Swagger enjoys: chewing ice cubes, jogging with Johnson and playing with youngsters.
“The kids just lay all over him, he doesn’t mind,” Scott said. And if their fruit roll-ups occasionally wind up in Swagger’s hair, well, he’s all right with that.
Swagger beat out four other old English sheepdogs Monday afternoon in the breed round. Taller and fuller than the rest, the dog with the official name of Bugaboo’s Picture Perfect was a clear pick.
Spectators stood four-deep to watch him in action, more than at the other adjacent rings. Fans called out his name and shot video and pictures on their cell phones during his 15-minute judging.
Mary Moorhouse and her mother, Julie, were in town from Owensboro, Ky. They spotted Swagger backstage in a grooming area and followed him to the ring, not even knowing his history.
“It’s his personality,” Julie said. “He’s smiling. He’s proud. He’s confident.”
“I like how fluffy he is,” her daughter said.
Also in town was Team Wembley. Maxine Freifeld of La Costa, Calif., and about 30 friends and family members came to Pier 92 to root for her Havanese.
Wearing their “Team Wembley” T-shirts and hollering their support, the group wound up with a ribbon for honorable mention. Not bad for a first-time dog and owner at Westminster.
Wembley got to experience something else for the first time, too. She went for a walk in Central Park and noticed something strange on the ground.
“She’d never seen snow. She was like, ‘What is this?'” Freifeld said. “I kept telling her it was OK.”