There is sad news to report from the Yukon Quest trail. According to Yukon Quest officials, a dog on Brent Sass' team has died. There are no details about the death at this point, and probably won't be until Brent can arrive at the Circle City checkpoint and turn the dog's body over to Quest veterinary officals. Yukon Quest rules require that a necropsy be performed by a veterinary pathologist or veterinarian. I believe one of the race vets is a veterinary pathologist.
Quest officials may allow Brent to continue to race, but if they have any suspicions or concerns about the cause of the dog's death they have the option of disqualifying him. If there is even a hint that the musher's actions or neglect caused the death he can be prohibited from entering future races. Most race giving organizations (RGOs) honor sanctions imposed by other races so a ban by one race usually equates to a ban from sled dog racing altogether. I'll try to stay as informed as I can about the situation and share any news I learn as quickly as I can.
The Yukon Quest leader board shows that Hugh Neff arrived at Circle City at 10:20 last night, and hasn't budged since. That's almost 8 1/2 hours, giving some of the approaching teams an opportunity to cut his lead. Live Tracking shows second place musher Hans Gatt and third place runner Sebastian Schnuelle are only a couple of miles out from the checkpoint. They should be arriving withing the next 20 minutes or so. Dallas Seavey is currently in third, and is about two hours up the trail, followed by Allen More, Ken Anderson and Brent Sass. Kelley Griffin and Dan Kaduce are apparently at Slaven's Roadhouse dog drop, with Josh Cadzow just a few miles out and approaching the dog drop at a nice rate of speed.
Current weather at Central is a temperature of -45 (F), calm under a clear sky. The weather forecast for the Interior is for cold, calm conditions for the next couple of days, followed by quiet significant warming Monday night into Tuesday.
As front-runners approach Circle City, I imagine Hugh is preparing for the run to the next checkpoint at Central, about 75 miles by trail. Most of this segment follows Birch Creek, a National Wild and Scenic River that meanders about like a second-avenue drunkard. It is almost always ten to 15 degrees colder on the river than in Circle, so the mushers and their teams will be facing some bitter conditions.
Trail breakers on snowmachines were dispatched from Circle City yesterday, and with this cold weather the tracks they laid down will provide solid footing for the dogs and sleds. We could see some pretty impressive times over this run, which will be the last "easy going" the teams will see until they reach the Two Rivers checkpoint at Twin Bears Campground, not far from my home.
I suspect most of the mushers will break this segment up into two runs, camping during the middle of the day to feed and rest their dogs. As I mentioned last night, I think the comaraderie of trail breaking and mutual assistance and society of the trail will give way to serious racing through this stretch of trail. This is the last chance these guys will have to truly improve their positions on the leaderboards before EVERYONE is forced to slog their way up Eagle Summit.