Chanel loves to chase birds and tennis balls. Now this lean whippet is running after a bigger prize.

Clocked at 35 mph (56 kph) in the wild, the sleek two-year-old glided across the green carpet at Madison Square Garden and captured the hound group on Monday night at Westminster, America’s most prestigious dog show.

“Nothing fazes her,” handler Lori Wilson, said.

Whippets will always be a sentimental favourite at this show, ever since little Vivi ran away. A day after winning an honourable mention in 2006, she was set for a flight back to the West Coast when she got loose from her travel crate, dashed down the runway at Kennedy Airport and disappeared into the night.

The sweet champion formally known as Bohem C’est La Vie was never heard from again despite extensive rescue efforts that lasted more than a year.

Sadie the Scottish terrier remained the solid favourite to win best in the show on Tuesday night.

Joining Chanel in the final ring will be a Canadian-bred French bulldog that became the first of her kind to win the nonsporting group. Bru began the day by winning her breed, beating out an entry from the former Patty Hearst.

A white toy poodle named Walker who overcame his fear of big crowds won the toy group and a Puli was a repeat winner among the herding bunch.

The sporting, working and terrier groups were set for Tuesday evening, with judge Elliott Weiss ready to make his best in show pick shortly before 11 p.m. (0400 GMT).

The Garden was steamy for the opening session. More than half the 2,500 dogs were housed right off the main floor, some of them comforted by ice packs and mini-fans, and thousands of spectators jammed inside on a holiday to see them.

“It’s a madhouse,” said Jane Bates, co-owner of a top golden retriever called Treasure.

A black-and-brown greyhound emerged as the crowd favourite. Waiting for her chance to show, she was far from the typical laid-back nature of her breed. Instead, Era gnawed on her water bottle, frolicked with a friendly harrier and soared through the air to catch treats.

“We were throwing snowballs to her in Central Park yesterday,” handler Rindi Gaudet-Krickeberg said after finishing second among hounds. “She’s a clown.”

Dogs from 173 breeds and varieties competed, and they included three newcomers: the Irish red and white setter, the Norwegian buhund and the Pyrenean shepherd.

Clint Livingston hoped to make it to the final seven.

He handles Treasure, along with 16 other champions at Westminster. It’s a family affair - brother Brian brought 12 dogs and sister Colette had four. Naturally, their mom and dad were in the business.

“She wouldn’t let me show unless I made straight As,” Clint said.

Lesson learned well. The valedictorian of his high school class in Texas, he began coming to Westminster in 1984 and has done his share of winning in best of breed and best of group judging.

With so many dogs, the family got its own corner grooming area, away from the pack of people and pooches. They also employed five assistants, and the constant whirl of brushes, clippers and blow dryers made it look like Livingston Spa.

This year, Clint is handling a petits bassets griffons vendeen, a long-haired dachshund, a German shepherd, a Chinese shar-pei and an Australian cattle dog, among others. Inevitably, the siblings wind up competing against each other.

At one point on Monday, the boys found themselves in the same Australian shepherd ring. Brian took the top prize. Clint, meanwhile, dutifully dashed off to show his brother’s Finnish spitz.

Any gloating, bro?

“I might wink at him,” Brian said, smiling.