Mushers are starting to arrive in Dawson City, the half-way point in the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race. Hugh Neff arrived first, with the intention of claiming 4 ounces of placer gold awarded to the first musher who arrives in Dawson and completes the race. Although Neff was first to that city two years ago, his team stalled out on Eagle Summit, forcing him to scratch and forfeit the gold.
SPKennel’s Allen Moore arrived almost exactly two hours after Neff. It’s expected that Jake Berkowitz will be the third musher into Dawson, followed within an hour or two by Brent Sass.
Fairbanks Daily News Miner reporter Jeff Richardson wrote “After passing beneath the checkpoint banner at 1:10 p.m., the Tok musher (Neff) didn’t take long to joke with the waiting crowd that he’s not the favorite in the race. ‘Allen Moore has me beat,’ Neff said with a smile. ‘I just want to get the gold.’”
I’m not so sure that Hugh was joking. He knows his dogs, and he knows Allen’s team. He can do the math as easily as anyone else. Thus far in the race Hugh’s team has been posting an average trail speed of 8.3 mph. Meanwhile, Moore’s team has been averaging the same speed, but has been resting more. In the DNM article, Hugh admitted as much, noting that Allen has a more rested team and “should be tough” in the second half of the race.
Anyone who arrives in Dawson within 8 hours of the race leader has a shot at being first across the finish line. In 2009 Hugh Neff left Dawson more than 8 hours ahead of Sebastian Schnulle, who passed Neff on Eagle Summit. Hugh has a real bugaboo about Eagle Summit. In 2011 he was forced to scratch after his team refused to make the climb and 1 of his dogs died. I don’t think he’s ever had a truly clean run, and this year will be even more difficult as the reroute caused by the inability to put a trail over American Summit means his team will be running on the river ice of the Yukon and Birch Creek almost literally to the base of that formidable mountain.
Jake Berkowitz is running an excellent race thus far, and still has all 14 dogs on the gang line. When the teams do reach the big hill, that extra dog power can make a huge difference in their ability to make the steep climb. Brent Sass left Scroggie Creek with 12 dogs on the gangline and seems to be running a relatively conservative race compared to previous efforts. Brent prefers larger dogs, similar to my own. They may not have the top-end speed of the smaller animals but mass and power can make up for it when the trails are bad. I suspect they’ll manage the jumble ice of the Yukon River more easily than some of the other front running teams.
Kelley Griffen left Scroggie Creek in fourth place, ahead of Brent. Earlier today the live tracker showed that Brent has passed her, but sense then his tracker has topped transmitting, so I really can’t say where they are in relation to each other. Kelley is a very experienced veteran in this race, and should not be discounted. She has really good dogs, and she knows how to drive them. Susan Rogan still had all 14 of her dogs on the gangline leaving Scroggie. She is running a team started by YQ champion Hans Gatt, and I’m sure given their intimate relationship that Hans has passed on as many tips and warnings as possible. At the moment she is in good position to become this race’s Rookie of the Year. Abbie West left Scroggie in 7th place, and she really wants to win this race. She is one of the most persistent people I know and her dogs, largely from village lines, are tough as nails.
Within a few hours we’ll have a better idea of who has the best chances of winning this race and then a few more days to determine the outcome of my best guesses.