NEW YORK – This Peke was at his peak.
Malachy the Pekingese wobbled off with best in show Tuesday night at the Westminster Kennel Club, becoming America's dog to the delight of an adoring crowd that called his name.
The 4-year-old bobbing pompom won his 115th overall best in show title. He beat out a Dalmatian, German shepherd, Doberman pinscher, Irish setter, a Kerry blue terrier and wire-haired dachshund at Madison Square Garden.
Handler David Fitzpatrick gave Malachy a little help -- he carried him a short way onto the green carpet for the final lineup, shortening the long walk the ring. Malachy's pink tongue popped up from his silver-and-white fur, his eyes sparkling like black diamonds as he soaked in the cheers.
Judge Cindy Vogels picked the winner as fans hollered for their favorites. The No. 2 show dog in the nation this year was clearly the most popular, and Malachy won after taking the toy group here last February.
The champion at Westminster wins a coveted silver bowl, but not a cent of prize money. Instead, the prestige of this title lasts a lifetime for any owner, and brings a wealth of opportunity in breeding potential.
This was the fourth time a Peke won at Westminster, and the first since 1990.
Right before the champion was picked, a woman was stopped by security as she appeared to try to reach the ring. A few years ago, a PETA protest took place in the center area.
Several top choices lost out early as underdogs ruled the breed judging.
A black cocker spaniel called Beckham who was the nation's No. 1 show dog and a wire fox terrier named Eira picked by many to win proved once again it takes more than a great reputation to own the green carpet.
Because no matter how many blue ribbons or silver bowls or shiny trophies any dog brings to Westminster, there's a phrase that ultimately decides who wins the top prize.
"Dog on the day," fanciers say.
More than 2,000 purebred dogs were entered overall and Marlene Ness came from Canada to show her black cocker, Ace, at Westminster for the first time. Her main opposition? Beckham, a popular pick to win the whole thing.
Yet on this day, Ace was aces.
"I should have bought a Lotto ticket," Ness said.
The fans crowded around Ring 3 seemed to sense an upset, cheering for Beckham but then yelling for the smoother-looking Ace. Judge Donald Sturz Jr. studied them intently, checking their body type and making them run around several times before making his final choice.
On this afternoon, Ace was in the right place. Best dog of his breed.
"Today was our day," Ness said. "Eye of the tiger, baby!"
Ace, however, was topped by the Irish setter in the sporting round.
Eira made a real early exit. She won the prestigious National dog show that was televised on Thanksgiving Day and was the top terrier last year. That meant a lot -- terriers often rule Westminster, with wire foxes winning the silver bowl more than any other kind.
It was, however, a really big day for a Tibetan mastiff, and even more so for his owners.
Major won his breed, a nice start for Debbie Parsons and Brad Slayton. A few hours later, the co-owners from the Seattle area made it a special Valentine's Day -- they got married in the backstage benching area where hundreds of dogs are housed.
With dogs brushing by, people climbing on crates to get a better view and the total crush of the crowd, it made for a somewhat chaotic scene. Cherilyn Frei, a chaplain and director of family support for Ronald McDonald House in New York and the wife of Westminster television host David Frei, performed the 5-minute ceremony.
The 54-year-old Parsons wore a pale pink Vera Wang gown and the 58-year-old Slayton donned a silver tux, with each sporting accents of Westminster purple. The 120-pound Major stood right between them, giving away the bride, and they kissed him to celebrate.
"This dog brought us together," Slayton said. "Today," he added, choking up, "I bought a Valentine's Day card for my wife, not my girlfriend."