Sage, a Miniature Poodle, Wins Best in Show at Westminster

Sage, an extravagantly coifed miniature poodle with a certain winsome mystery about her, won the 148th annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show on Tuesday night, prevailing over a tough field of competitors including a majestic German shepherd, a silken Afghan hound and a proud giant schnauzer.

The competition began with some 2,500 dogs from more than 200 breeds, then eventually pared down to a field of seven group champions who vied against each other for the top prize. The best-in-show judge, Rosalind Kramer, who remained sequestered during the proceedings so that she could emerge fresh for the final round, selected Sage over what she called an “absolutely glorious” lineup of dogs.

Sage, a three-year-old bitch whose full name is GCHG Ch Surrey Sage, was a surprise win. Before the show, which was held for a second consecutive year at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, Queens, she was ranked just 39th of all show dogs on the country — based on points amassed in previous shows — and only fourth in her group, non-sporting dogs. But she had something about her.

Like all show poodles, Sage appears to be about 75 percent hair, with a sumptuous coiffure that rises to a huge pouf above and around her head, surrounds her body in a kind of puffball, and reappears again as topiary-ed pompoms on the end of her tail and at the bottom of her skinny legs, as if she is wearing après-ski boots. She trots daintily, as if running was slightly beneath her.

It was the 11th time a poodle of one size or another has won the competition. In 2020, the title was won by Siba, a standard poodle; in 2002, it was won by Spice, another miniature poodle who happens to be Sage’s great-grandmother. Sage (and Spice’s) handler, Kaz Hosaka, said that this was his 45th Westminster and that it was time for him to retire.

Mr. Hosaka, who is known for his poodle hairdressing expertise, — a Times profile in 2009 called him “an artist who tends his poodles’ poufs as if they were bonsai trees from his native Japan” — carried Sage into the ring for the best in show competition, and again into the post-show news conference, positioning her in front of a yellow-and-purple ribbon twice the length of her body. “She’s heavy,” he said.

“I was not expecting anything,” Mr. Hosaka, 65, said. “She did it for me today.”

He said that Sage, too, would retire now that the show is over. He plans to go to happy hour more often, he said, and Sage will finally be allowed to venture outside in the rain without anyone worrying about what it will do to her hairstyle. “She’ll be like a normal dog.”

Mr. Hosaka has a towering reputation in the dog world for his way with poodles. A recent article in Edge, a lifestyle magazine, said that Mr. Hosaka “is to the poodle world what Michael Jordan is to basketball. Smooth, clever, elegant and nearly unbeatable.”

Reserve best in show — Westminster’s title for second place — went to Mercedes, a German shepherd, who won the herding group and was a crowd favorite because of her flashy good looks and the graceful and ebullient way she loped around the ring. Monty, a dark and dignified giant schnauzer who won the working group, came into the show the No. 1 ranked dog in the country and had been considered a favorite to win before Sage’s surprise victory.

Other finalists were the winner of the hound group, Louis, a 6-year-old Afghan hound with such silky hair he looked like an animate shampoo commercial; Comet, a 3-year-old Shih Tzu who won the toy group and who sported a fetching blue bow in his hair; Micah, a spry black cocker spaniel, who defeated a formidable field of pointers, setters and retrievers to take the sporting group; and Frankie, the colored bull terrier who won the popular, if crowded, terrier group.

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