There were Cornish Rexes and Maine Coons, Norwegian Forest Cats and Ocicats.

And then there was Briar-Mar Good To Be Me - "Manny" to his friends, an unflappable, gorgeous Manx, triumphantly crowned Best in Show at Sunday's Cat Fanciers' Association International Cat Show in Montgomery County.

"Absolutely exquisite!" the announcer enthused after Manny's win was pronounced. "Nice depth of flank."

Winning what is said to be the biggest prize of the cat-show world, an event that drew participants from around the globe, left Manny's owner Gary Veach practically breathless.

"This is like nothing I've felt like before," said Veach, of Maywood, N.J., who's bred and shown cats with his partner Omar Gonzalez for decades. "This is kind of like the Super Bowl of the cat world. It's pretty huge."

Manny's win capped a two-day extravaganza that drew 5,000 spectators and participants to the Great Philadelphia Expo Center in Oaks, transformed for the weekend into feline paradise. There were cat agility contests, a "catographer" snapping formal portraits, and a "Meow Mall," where you could shop for a ceramic cat, cat sweatshirts, and what was touted as "the world's strongest catnip."

Cats and their owners traveled from 42 states, Canada, 12 European countries, six Asian nations, and one South American country to compete.

Danny Tai flew from Hong Kong to show a Cornish Rex and three exotic shorthairs.

The trip was no small feat. Many airlines won't take cats in plane cabins, and a long trip in the cargo hold would spook them. So Tai finally found one airline - Air Canada - that would accommodate the felines the way they needed to travel. He spent 20 hours on planes to get to Oaks, where he racked up plenty of ribbons.

Tai, a chief financial officer by day, has been in the cat-show world for 10 years. He attends a show most weekends - many in China.

"I love the satisfaction," he said. "I meet a lot of friends from the U.S., Europe and all over Asia."

Cat Fanciers' Association President Mark Hannon said that in recent years, more and more entrants are coming from Asia; keeping pets is a relatively new phenomenon in contemporary China.

"People are buying Mercedes-Benzes, BMWs, pedigreed dogs, and pedigreed cats," Hannon said. "It's a big growth area."

The trip was slightly less arduous for Deborah and Clinton Parker of Charlotte, N.C.

Between showings, the couple relaxed with Remington, a six-month-old Tonkinese whose striking blue eyes and willingness to be petted by passersby made him a crowd favorite.

"He's had a big day, and he's a big love, aren't you?" Deborah Parker crooned to the pleased-looking Remington, who'd made seven out of eight finals and was on his way to best in breed kitten.

Parker's parents showed dogs and, for a while, so did she. But she eventually gravitated toward cats, and loves the smaller circuit. It feels friendlier, homier, she said. Dogs at the top of their game have professional handlers; often they don't even live with their owners.

The Parkers' 15 cats - many are just pets, or retired show cats - live with the couple and their four teenage daughters.

"With cats, we do all the grooming, and we put them in the ring," she said. "It's a much more personal thing."

To many who came from around the region to see the show, the exhibition hall was a wonderland.

Lauren Richter, 16, a cat enthusiast from Norristown, accessorized herself with a cat pendant and cat purse.

In her eyes was pure joy as she stroked Remington.

"I've been obsessed with cats forever," Richter said. "He's gorgeous."

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