The mushers in the top 15 positions are now in Dawson, YT, enjoying the mandatory mid-race break. Quest officials have tacked on an additional 4 hours to the mandatory stop, now requiring 40 hours rather than the traditional 36. They need the additional time in order to get race officials into place in Eagle, Central and so forth, as they hadn't anticipated how fast the leaders would be running, and recognizing that the shorter and less arduous trail will see them going even faster.
Hugh Neff will be free to flee Dawson at 5:10 AM, local time. Allen Moore is two hours behind Hugh, Jake Berkowitz 7 hours behind, and Brent Sass 9 and a half hours behind Hugh. No one else is close enough to even be in contention as a race winner, though we will certainly see some teams gaining position over the next few days.
Obviously Allen is in the best position to overtake the leader, and Hugh said as much during an interview in Dawson. Jake, with a full team of 14 dogs at the half-way mark, is also in a great position to take advantage of any opportunity that might be presented.
As far back as he is, Brent will have a tough time moving up in the standings, but I think he nonetheless has a shot at doing so. According to a facebook post, he's running according to his original plan, and he's especially happy with his 2 year old leaders Cecilia and Sound. Sound is mother to our new pup, Dozer.
I think the real excitement will be in the middle of the pack, where a goodly number of mushers are running very close to each other.
Unfortunately, Lance Mackey isn't even in the middle of the pack anymore. He's currently listed as being in 18th place, and has dropped two more dogs leaving him with only 7. The live tracking page shows he is still more than 50 miles out of Dawson. I suspect he'll likely scratch and try to salvage what he can for an Iditarod team next month. I really hate bearing witness to such a total "blow-up" on the trail.
One of my co-workers and I were speculating on how the front runners will approach the next leg of their journey, from Dawson to Eagle. It's about 100 miles of river travel and there is speculation that Hugh Neff and/or Allen Moore might try to do it in a single long run. They might be even more tempted as there is another mandatory layover, this one of 4 hour, in Eagle.
I honestly can't guess what any of the front runners may do with it. Hugh likes running up front, and he might give it a shot - but then again, it's still a long way to Fairbanks. He'll need some reserve in his dogs to deal with the notorious overflow of Birch Creek and let's not forget his bugaboo - Eagle Summit.
I think each musher will make his or her own decision literally on the run, as they are going down the trail. They'll watch how their dogs are doing and make their decisions based on the performance of their teams over the ice. That's what I would do, I think.
We should know for sure what they decide tomorrow and early Friday.