Prize pooches and fancy felines become stars at the Sydney Royal Easter Show

Best in show.
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Winning a prestigious dog or cat show might not net owners big bucks in prize money but best in show fame can catapult a prize pooch or fancy feline to stardom.

And for the entrants to the Sydney Royal cat and dog competitions, winning is the ultimate Australian accolade. Sandy Reeve and Tina Clift’s Italian greyhounds, Piccino King of Bling and in 2021 Piccino You Only Live Twice won Best in Group.

Sandy with Piccino King of Bling. (Image: Melissa Neumann, Ingrid Matschke Photography)

“Everyone dreams of taking home Best in Show from the Royal,” Sandy tells Woman’s Day. “It’s the absolute cream of the crop.”

It took years of work for the dogs to claim their crowns.

“The first thing is buying a quality dog or breeding them yourself,” says Sandy, who has bred Italian greyhounds for 25 years and judges dog shows all over the world. “We train our dogs from puppies – just for a few minutes a day,” she says.

Meanwhile, Jessica Woodrow breeds ragdoll cats and is the owner of Kirei She’s a Superstar – known as Fat Girl – a blue bi-colour ragdoll who took home the Royal’s feline Best in Show in 2022.
This year Jessica has high hopes for Kirei She’s First Class.

“Preparation starts six months beforehand,” Jessica explains. “Ragdolls are a long-haired breed, so lose their coat if it’s too hot. This means we keep them inside with the aircon on with specific timers to stop this from happening. Our whole life revolves around the cats.”

In the lead-up to show day, the preparation is full-on, with Sandy explaining how her dogs have an extensive shave, a bath and teeth cleaning.

“Once we’re backstage, it’s very tense. We’ll put cream on the dogs’ legs before chalking them to hide any marks or blemishes and make their legs whiter. Then I might put chalk down their face to make it white, in case they’ve got a bit of sunburn,” she explains, adding that other owners paint their dogs if they have grey hairs. Prep work for cats involves some extra TLC.

“I comb and brush them every day, and use purple shampoo to brighten their coat and give it a gorgeous gleam,” explains Jessica. “On show day, I’m up at 4.30am so I can wipe their eyes, paws and ears with a damp cloth. Once we’re at the show, it’s constant grooming and cuddling, so they feel happy when they go out.”

400 different breeds of animals are present at the Sydney Royal Easter Show. (Image: Getty)

While most of the competitors are friendly, there’s definitely some backstage rivalry. “Like in any sport, there’s some sniping that goes on,” says Sandy. “You do hear people say, ‘Oh, I don’t like their dog.’”

Jessica agrees. “It can get very competitive. I’ve heard of people lodging complaints that a cat hasn’t had its nails clipped properly. Anything people can pick up on to get an advantage,” she says.

“Things can get spicy – particularly among the Maine Coon and Bengal exhibitors. Ragdoll breeders are pretty relaxed – my biggest competitors have become some of my greatest friends.”

Despite the intensive and costly preparation, the prize money isn’t huge – this year’s Best in Show dog will take home $2500. However, both women say it’s not about the money.

“Winning puts our breed on the map,” says Jessica. “It’s a real passion project.”

Sandy agrees. “A trophy is nice but it’s about the prestige of winning. Knowing you have the best dog in Australia is wonderful.”

Jessica’s entry for the 2024 show Kirei She’s First Class. (Image: Supplied)

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