I was awake at 4:30, checked out the various Yukon Quest information sites, and then crawled back under the blankets for another hour of rest. Now I'm back and up for the day, easing into the morning with a hot cup of coffee.
Zach Steer finally made it into Dawson City just shy of 1 am PST. He'll be eligible to leave tomorrow afternoon, at 2:03. That puts him on the trail 7 1/2 hours behind leader Hans Gatt and 4 1/2 hours behind third place musher Lance Mackey. That leads to lots of questions. Has his team slowed or is he running them more conservatively? Can he reasonably catch up to, and keep up with, the other leading teams? Has our leading "Gang of Four" become a gang of three? The answers are just a matter of time and distance.
Ken Anderson seems to have made up some time. He arrived in Dawson City at 1:44 am and is eligible to leave only 2 minutes after Zach. That certainly puts him within striking distance of the leading group and it's quite possible that he could bump Zach for his position in the aforementioned "gang of four".
Brent Sass, with 9 dogs on the gang line, arrived at 4:49 this morning followed by Sonny Lindner at 5:28 and Abbie West at 6:35. None of these will be leaving within 12 hours of Hans, so I think it unlikely that they will be contenders for first place, but they could nonetheless finish within the top four or five places. Abbie is well positioned to become the 'Rookie of the Year'. She's definitely up there 'running with the big dogs'.
Long distance sled dog mushers and racing fans have been discussing the competitiveness of this year's field for some time, and none of us have reason to be disappointed. There are 7 teams scheduled to leave Dawson City within that 12 hour time-frame that I believe is necessary to win, and they are all proven, experienced competitors. Of those 7, all but Brent Sass came into Dawson with at least 11 dogs on the gang-line. Brent only has 9, but he's physically fit and able to help his dogs a great deal on the climbs and tough stretches and he's very skillful on the runners.
At 60 years of age, Sonny Lindner is the oldest musher in the field, and is the most experienced. Although he has 5 years of age on me, he is in great physical condition and though I hate to admit it, he could kick my arse pretty much on any given day (it's a guy thing). Like Ken Anderson, he came into Dawson with 11 dogs.
OK, I guess it's time for me to quit waffling and offer my best guess about this race's outcome. Realistically, I think it will be one of the top-3 teams that wins this race. Based on past history, I think it will come down to a shootout between Hans Gatt and Lance Mackey, and at the end of it all I think Lance will edge out Hans, but probably by no more than an hour and maybe by considerably less.
Hugh Neff sometimes seems to be his own worse enemy, and his competitors will put a lot of pressure on him. I think he'll respond to that pressure by running his team on short rest which will ultimately prompt him to drop slower dogs from his team. Although Hugh was proven his ability to put winning teams on the trail, I think he will drop out of the top three, to be replaced by either Zach Steer or Ken Anderson for third place.
Since Zach was much slower coming into Dawson than I expected, I suspect he'll suffer a similar slow-down toward the end of the race, allowing Ken an opportunity to pass him. I'll call Ken for third, Neff for fourth and Zach for fifth. With Brent Sass down to 9 dogs, and Sonny Lindner coming in with 11, I think Sonny will pass Brent and will finish the race in sixth.
Below the sixth position I don't think I can make a call.
1 - Lance Mackey
2 - Hans Gatt
3 - Ken Anderson
4 - Hugh Neff
5 - Zach Steer
6 - Sonny Lindner
Abbie West is well positioned, and has 10 dogs on the line coming into Dawson. I think I'll call Abbie for the Rookie of the Year, and I'm guessing she'll come in somewhere between 6th and 8th place. A top 10 finish in one's rookie year is quite an accomplishment, by the way.
I honestly can't predict whether or not Josh Cadzow will earn that accomplishment. He isn't yet into Dawson and the Live-Tracker last recorded his position as the mouth of the Fortymile River, over 9 hours ago. Since the Tracker hasn't been very accurate for anyone on this stretch of the race (it's still showing Ken Anderson on the trail well shy of Dawson), it's impossible to determine what he's actually doing out there. Josh left Eagle with only 9 dogs, and he's admitted that he and his team are much more comfortable running on the river than in the hills. On the other hand, if he can keep his team healthy and happy and continue much as he's done thus far I don't think there is anyone currently in the middle of the pack who can pass him.
There seems to be something rather remarkable happening in this race. According to the Yukon Quest Offical Facebook page, the 'Red Lantern' contenders have arrived in Eagle. Thus far, NONE of the 24 mushers who started the race has scratched. In the past decade, the longest the race has gone without a scratch is two days. Here we are well into the fifth full day or racing, and all 24 teams are still in the game.
I need to dash off and feed my dogs. I'm planning on taking a team over to a friend's place to run this afternoon. He has some visitors from out of town he wants to take out, and asked me if I'd run "sweep" for his group. I'm thinking of running an 8 dog team, including two of my yearlings who haven't run yet this R&R. I imagine I'll have more to say this evening. Until then, hope you are having a GREAT day.
PS - Update, about 10:15 AST
According to the Yukon Quest leader-board, Josh Cadzow reached Eagle at 9:46 am PST, about 9 minutes ahead of Gerry Willomitzer. He will be eligible to leave slightly more than 3 hours after Abbie West, so the race for "Rookie of the Year" and a slot in the top-10 is certainly not yet decided. I wish them both the very best of luck.