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Purebred dogs put best paws forward for 140th Westminster title

Some 2,700 dogs from more than a dozen countries have entered the two-day competition.

A dog waits in the grooming area during the first day of competition at the Westminster Kennel Club 140 Annual Dog Show on 16 February, 2016 in New York City. Picture: AFP.

NEW YORK - From toy-sized Brussels Griffons to 180-pound Irish Wolfhounds, hundreds of purebred dogs kicked off the Westminster Kennel Club dog show in New York on Monday, putting their best paws forward in hopes of advancing toward the gold.

Some 2,700 dogs from more than a dozen countries have entered the two-day competition, one of the world's most prestigious events for pedigree breeders. Now in its 140th year, the show is the second-longest continuously running sporting event in the United States after the Kentucky Derby.

"To compete at Westminster is like a dream," said handler Jason Lynn, who travelled from Blackpool, England, to show a four-year-old standard poodle named Ricky.

Ricky, who sprawled across a grooming table backstage as revellers took photographs, bested 20,000 dogs as winner of the 2014 Crufts show in Birmingham, the world's largest dog show. But he did not advance to Westminster's final round.

By the end of the competition's first day, only four canines were selected to compete for the ultimate title of Best in Show, to be announced on Tuesday evening at the competition's finale at Madison Square Garden.

"I'm almost having a heart attack," said Mai Ozeki, whose four-year-old borzoi, called Lucy, made the cut.

Lucy, who lives in Chiba, Japan, will be joined by a Shih Tzu called Panda; a bulldog called Annabelle and a German shepherd called Rumor.

Nearly 200 breeds and varieties were eligible for this year's Westminster competition. As usual, Labrador retrievers and golden retrievers have the most entries, with 51 and 50 contestants respectively. The bat-eared French bulldog comes in third.

Seven breeds, the Bergamasco, Lagotto Romagnolo, Berger Picard, Miniature American Shepherd, Boerboel, Spanish Water Dog and Cirneco dell'Etna, will make their debuts this year, having just been added to the American Kennel Club's registry.

After judges select the best of each breed, the top dogs are narrowed down to best of each group: hound, toy, non-sporting, herding, sporting, working or terrier, which go on to compete for the Best In Show title.

Best of the hound, toy, non-sporting and herding groups were selected on Monday. Sporting, working and terrier will be selected on Tuesday.

Leading up to each show, Johnny Avello, director of race and sports operations for Wynn Las Vegas, releases his predictions for winning breeds. His pick this year is a German shepherd.

Last February, a bouncy female beagle named Miss P was crowned the winner.