By Jonathan Allen
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Hair driers blew and nail files flew in final preparations on Tuesday for seven furry finalists vying for "best in show" at the 138th annual Westminster Kennel Club dog show.
The top dog in each of seven groups will go nose-to-nose at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan in the championship event that concludes one of the oldest sporting events in the United States.
Among the preeminent pedigreeds are a bloodhound named Nathan, who was 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.
They won their rounds on Monday and the remaining three groups - sporting, working and terrier breeds - will compete late on Tuesday, prior to the "best in show" competition, which will be judged by Betty Regina Leininger of Frisco, Texas.
Dog handler Angela Ewald was headed back to her hotel room with Pauli, a 4-year-old black Labrador retriever from Clio, Michigan, who needed a little pampering before competing in the sporting group.
"(We'll) get a little quiet time, cool her off, get her real hydrated and relax," said Ewald, 41, of Columbus, Ohio, who coordinates a Head Start early education program when she's not on dog duty.
She revealed her winning strategy: "We'll shine her up a little bit with mink oil."
The winner is expected to be announced by 11:00 p.m. EST Tuesday.
Key canines to track during the group judging are Sky, a wire fox terrier, and Matisse, a Portuguese water dog, both of whom performed well in earlier shows, said Westminster spokesman David Frei, who co-hosts the television broadcast of the competition.
Matisse edged out all other Portuguese water dogs hoping to compete in the working group, including The Mighty Quinn, a 19-month-old hopeful from Manasquan, New Jersey.
"We were hoping we might qualify, but we admit that maybe Matisse is one of the most beautiful dogs we've ever seen," said Quinn's owner, Kathy Pearce, 70.
Breeds debuting at the competition include the chinook, a husky-like breed developed in New Hampshire, and the spotted rat terrier.
This year, 190 breeds and varieties - from the determined miniature schnauzer to the majestic Afghan hound - are featured. With 2,845 expected contestants, the show is 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.
Dogs from all 50 U.S. states are competing in this event, with some 127 foreign entries expected, from countries such as Finland, Slovenia, Japan and Thailand.
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.
(Writing by David Gaffen and Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Gunna Dickson)