Sunday, February 24, 2013

A whole week???

Wow, I just realized it's been a whole week since I last updated the blog. I'm afraid I've been a bit distracted lately. Circumstances have required that our handler and I part ways and part company. To be fair, he always took proper care of the dogs, but in other regards we have irreconcilable differences. It's taken quite a while for him to move off the property (nearly two weeks), so the situation has been a bit tense.

On the up side, I won't be needing to search for a new handler. Trish Cordon will be moving in. She has been running dogs with me and sharing the lifestyle for quite a while, she knows and loves the dogs and the lifestyle, so it truly is a wonderful thing that I'm sure will enhance both our lives.

We haven't been total anxiety-ridden slugs this week. I've taken teams out on the trail several times, including a run on which I focused attention on two yearlings, Animosh and Vladimir. Both performed very well indeed, and I put together a little video that includes clips from that run.

Our next run included some exploration of a trail I haven't seen in several years, and most of the dogs in the team have never seen.  That includes a long, stead climb up the backside of the "ridge" for which the "Ridge Tail" is named.  Locally we refer to that section of trail as "Birch Hill".  Yearlings Chetan and Aumaruq were on that team, and they all did really well on the run.

Unfortunately, it is now time for me to start turning my attention to returning to work for two weeks.  As I'm doing that, racers in the 2013 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race are preparing to start their annual adventure.  The ceremonial start is less than a week away, so it's again time for me to toss out some ideas on who is most likely to do well, and why I believe it to be so.

As always, there are a lot of mushers on the roster who have the experience and the quality of dogs necessary to win the race. 

Highest my short list of potential winners is Aliy Zirkle of SP Kennel and there are lots of good reasons to consider her a favorite.  She took second place last year, not all that far behind winner Dallas Seavey.  Her husband, Allen Moore, just won the Yukon Quest and many of the dogs on his team are likely to be a part of Aliy's Iditarod team.  Of course there is also a lot of personal bias here, as Aliy and Allen are great friends and mentors.  I would dance with joy if Aliy and Allen weren't just the first married couple to both win 1,000 mile races in Alaska, but also the first to do so during the same year. 

In the Quest, Allen proved that those SP dogs can perform exceptionally well during warmer temperatures.  In scanning the long-term weather forecasts from various checkpoints along the I'rod trail it looks to me like the mushers will be seeing temperatures that are moderate by I'rod standards, so it's possible that the dogs that can manage heat will have a huge advantage again this year.

Dallas Seavey would probably be less enamored at the prospect of an SP Kennel dual championship than I.  Iditarod winners tend to repeat their performance several times in short succession, and like his grandfather and father before him, Dallas is an avid competitor.  There is no reason to believe his performance this year will be any less impressing and imposing than his great run last year.

John Baker, who won with a record setting pace in 2011 is also very likely to be mixing it up out in front.  I haven't been hearing a whole lot about him this year, only that he's been training hard out on the coast.  That makes it really difficult to guess how things are going for him and his dogs this year.

Marin Buser's teams have also performed exceptionally well in warmer conditions, and there is no doubt that he hungry for another win.

Among former champions that I think will not do quite so well this year than in the past are Jeff King and Lance Mackey.  Jeff seems to be rebuilding his team after taking a year off and trying to retire.  I haven't seen a lot of activity on line that would draw attention to his team.   Based on current performance I can't comment much about Jeff's odds on way or the other. 

 Warm weather and a fast trail are not likely to be kind to Lance Mackey's team, either.  As much as I love the guy, even I have to look at the evidence once in a while, the the evidence from this year's Yukon Quest is not encouraging.  Lance had to scratch after warm conditions made it difficult to him to keep his dogs happy and most importantly, hungry.  I'll be very interested in seeing what he does to regroup and I'd be delighted to see him turn the whole thing around, but I'd also be surprised if he is able to do so.

Brent Sass' team didn't have as much trouble in the warmth as did Lance's, but it nonetheless had a significant impact on his race.  Brent's dogs are quite large compared to those on many racing teams.  Larger dogs carry more muscle mass, which means they produce more heat while running - heat that has to be dissipated in order for the dogs to work efficiently.  I'll be watching Brent with special interested because one of his young female leaders, Sound, is mother to the newest addition to the Stardancer kennel. 

Among this year's I'rod rookies, I have a special interest in Paige Drobny, Mike Ellis, Richie Diehl and Josh Cadzow.  Let's start with Josh.  Josh is from Fort Yukon and is the newest of several generations of expert dog drivers.  His family and supporters provide him a really great foundation for a long and illustrious career and I'm very impressed by him, and his team. 

I don't know a lot about Richie Diehl, other than he lives in Aniak and is well liked by mushers living in the same general region.  He's done very well in the Kuskokwim 300, and that's a tough race.  It shows his dogs are strong and tough, and there is no reason to believe he isn't equally so.

I have a special liking for Mike Ellis and his racing Siberians.  While perhaps an I'rod rookie, he's no stranger to the long trail, as his team is the fastest team of Siberians to run the Quest.  Mike and his wife, Sue, are among the hardest working mushers I know and while a rookie running 'sibes' might not be the best bet for winning the race, I think they have as good a chance as anyone else to claim the Rookie of the Year title. 

Paige Drobny and her partner, Cody Strathe, are relative newcomers to the world of long-distance racing.  Cody just finished the Yukon Quest, so Paige is sure to be starting the I'rod with a trail hardened team of dogs.  She isn't likely to have much trouble with equipment, as Cody is a highly respected dog sled builder. 

I think our best bet for a red lantern is Chukchi musher Mikhail Telpin.  He and his old-school Chukchi dogs aren't particularly fast, but they are trail proven tough, strong and tenacious.  Neither he nor his dogs are likely to give up without a strong fight. 

So, that is my prediction (such as it is) for the upcoming 2013 Iditarod.  As usual, I have to include the caveat that my forecasts have rarely proved accurate, so we'll just have to see how things actually shake down once the mushers and their teams are out on the trail. 

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