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NEW YORK — A bloodhound is on the trail at America’s top dog show.

A crowd pleaser at 135 pounds, Nathan won the hound group at the Westminster Kennel Club on Monday night.

“He’s a kissing hound,” handler Heather Helmer said.

Nathan, GCH CH Flessner’s International S’Cess, proved that last week during a promotional visit to a New York Knicks game at Madison Square Garden when he smooched the cheerleaders.

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Back on the green carpet at the Garden, he got down to business. Nose alert and tail wagging, the 3-year-old walked his way into the best-of-seven final ring at the 138th Westminster show.

In the finals Tuesday night, Nathan will be competing with a Northwest favorite, Ally, GCH CH Brighton Lakeridge Encore, a white standard poodle with 115 career Best in Show victories.

Although Ally is owned by Toni and Martin Sosnoff, of New York, she was bred by Debra Ferguson Jones, of Renton, and L. Dyne Wicker Brennan, of Florida, and is handled by Woodinville’s Tim Brazier. She won the non-sporting group Monday night and will make her final career appearance in the Best in Show ring Tuesday.

Meticulously groomed Ally needs three to four hours of prep time.

“She’s endearing and not a mean bone in her body,” Brazier said. “But when you first meet her, she’s a typical poodle. Quite snooty.”

Also in the finals is Classie, GCH CH Marlex Classic Red Glare, the top-winning miniature pinscher in breed history who won the toy group, and Coco Posh, a Cardigan Welsh corgi, GCH CH Riverside Telltail Coco Posh, who won the herding group.

Left out was Swagger, GCH CH Bugaboo’s Picture Perfect, the old English sheepdog who nearly won the entire competition last February. A year after finishing second, he fell short in the herding group Monday night.

Sporting, working and terrier dogs will compete Tuesday.

The prestigious dog show brought together more than 2,800 dogs from about 190 breeds, along with countless hair dryers, combs, brushes, dog toiletries and the thousands of mere humans whose job is to turn canines into champions.

All of them drew support.

“Basset!” shouted one fan during a break. “Pug!” another one yelled later.

Along with Monday night’s four group winners, prime contenders to walk off with the prized silver bowl are wire fox terrier Sky, GCH CH AfterAll Painting the Sky; Portuguese water dog Matisse, GCH CH Claircreek’s Impression de Matisse; Irish water spaniel Riley, GCH CH Whistlestop’s Riley On Fire; and a Doberman pinscher named Fifi, GCH CH Protocol’s Veni Vidi Vici.

A pet who lives with Tampa Bay Rays catcher Ryan Hanigan earned an early ribbon. Of the 44 Australian shepherds entered, his Copperridge What’s Your Dream was picked.

“It’s incredible that she went from my No. 1 bed buddy to best of breed at Westminster!!!” Hanigan wrote in a text message.

Three new breeds were welcomed to the show this year — the chinook, the Portuguese podengo pequeno and the rat terrier.

Always a show for purebreds, Westminster added an agility competition Saturday night that included mixes. The winner made an appearance Monday night at the Garden. Husky-mix Roo! got a big ovation for jumping high in the center ring.

Coco Posh the Cardigan Welsh corgi won despite a diminished rooting section. One of her three owners was in a hospital in Baton Rouge, La., recovering from back surgery earlier in the day.

The miniature pinscher, Classie, is a pure delight to handler Armando Angelbello: “It’s like living with a toddler that never grows up.”

Earlier in the day, breed judging was held on the piers that jut into the Hudson River.

Among the dogs and fans 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 for her, the group wound up with a ribbon for honorable mention.

Wembley got to experience something else for the first time when she took a walk in Central Park: snow.

“She’d never seen snow. She was like, ‘What is this?’ ” Freifeld said. “I kept telling her it was OK.”

Information from Seattle Times staff is included.

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