ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — A musher coming off back-to-back wins in another long-distance sled dog race was the first to reach the halfway point of this year's Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
Brent Sass, a native of Minnesota living near the Alaska community of Eureka, arrived late Wednesday with 13 dogs in harness at the checkpoint in Cripple, where Sass said he planned to take his mandatory 24-hour rest period.
He said he was pleased with his team's performance, telling the Iditarod Insider, "Everybody is just smooth trotting, and they're doing their job."
Sass is the two-time defending champion of the 1,000-mile (1,609-kilometer) Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race, run between Fairbanks and Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada. He won this year's Yukon Quest on Feb. 11.
He said most of the dogs on his team are 3- and 4 years old and were part of the two Yukon Quest championship runs.
Sass said the Iditarod is a new trail for all but one of his dogs and they're "super excited."
"They definitely have the mental ability to do it so it's just about getting down the trail and me making a lot of good decisions," he said.
For being first to Cripple, Sass won his choice of $3,000 in gold nuggets or a cellphone with a service plan for a year.
Other mushers who have arrived in Cripple include Michelle Phillips of Tagish, Yukon; four-time champion Lance Mackey of Fairbanks; Paige Drobny of Cantwell; three-time champ Mitch Seavey of Seward; Kelly Maixner of Big Lake, and Aliy Zirkle of Two Rivers.
The remainder of the top 10 includes Jessie Royer of Fairbanks, Richie Diehl of Aniak, and Thomas Waerner of Norway. All three are en route to the Cripple checkpoint and have already taken their mandatory 24-hour layover.
The race started Sunday in Willow for 57 mushers, and one has since withdrawn. The winner of the Iditarod is expected some time next week in the Bering Sea coastal community of Nome.