For a fourth year in a row, Brent Sass is the first to reach the halfway point in the Yukon Quest.
The Eureka, Alaska, musher and his team reached Dawson City a little before 4:30 p.m. Feb. 7 in the 34th annual race between Whitehorse and Fairbanks.
“I feel great. The 13 dogs I have on my team are all feeling well,” said Sass. “I have a friend here who is helping with the dog care in the dog lot, so they’re getting the best dog care possible and I’m going to get some good rest. The trail has been awesome and it’s been a pretty smooth race so far.”
Sass, 37, who won the race in 2015, came in almost four hours ahead of defending champ Hugh Neff of Tok, Alaska. He will carry that four-hour lead back onto the trail following the 36-hour mandatory layover in the Klondike.
Sass, who placed second behind Neff last year, dropped one dog from his team in Pelly Crossing after she began to struggle to keep pace and didn’t eat well at a stop.
“I decided to leave her behind so I could focus on the 13 who were at 100 per cent,” said Sass.
“I have a new sled this year — it’s a sit-down sled — so it’s a whole new strategy that I’m using out there on the trail,” he added. “I think that’s helping make a big difference.”
Matt Hall and Allen Moore, both of Two Rivers, Alaska, arrived in Dawson a little after 10 p.m. last night, with Hall 10 minutes ahead of Moore, putting them third and fourth. Hall, 25, placed fourth in last year’s Quest and third in 2014. Moore, 59, won the race in 2013 and 2014.
10 Mile, Yukon’s Ed Hopkins was the first Canadian and fifth overall into Dawson. The 52-year-old, who placed fifth last year, pulled into town just before midnight.
Katherine Keith of Kotzebue, Alaska, and Fairbanks’ Paige Drobny reached Dawson in the early hours on Wednesday for sixth and seventh, respectively.
At press time this morning, Swede Torsten Kohnert was nearing Dawson in eighth.
Yukon’s Yuka Honda, who lives near Carcross, was in ninth and expected to reach Dawson in the early afternoon.
Dawson’s Brian Wilmshurst is nearing his hometown in 11th, behind Ryne Olson of Two Rivers. Both should arrive mid afternoon or so.
“We always leave a loose schedule for the second half,” said Sass. “Now that we’re sitting here looking at the first half, it’s a lot easier to figure out what to do for the second half. We’ll make some adjustments, probably give the dogs more rest along the way and hopefully have as smooth a second half as I did in the first half.”
As the first to Dawson, Sass will receive four ounces of gold worth about $6,400 that’ll he keep, provided he finishes the race — which hasn’t always been the case. In the 2014 Quest Sass fell from his sled just before the final checkpoint of the race, had to withdraw and forfeit the Dawson gold.
“I tend not to think about the gold until I cross the finish line,” said Sass.
Contact Tom Patrick at firstname.lastname@example.org