The Yukon Quest has experienced the death of a dog for its second year in a row, race organizers announced in a news release early Feb. 9.
Firefly, a six-year-old male belonging to Yukon’s Yuka Honda, expired shortly before the team arrived in Dawson City on Feb. 9, just before 4 a.m.
A subsequent release stated that race veterinarian Cristina Hansen reports a preliminary necropsy showed the canine had an enlarged heart and had ingested multiple “booties” — the footwear worn by the dogs.
Honda’s was the 17th out of 18 remaining teams to reach Dawson City, the race’s halfway point. Twenty-one teams started the 1,600-kilometre race from Whitehorse to Fairbanks on Feb. 4 with three scratching in Pelly Crossing.
At press time Honda was still serving her 36-hour mandatory layover (required for all teams) in Dawson. Honda had already received a two-hour penalty, to be added to her time in Dawson, for requiring outside help to repair her sled, race officials announced on Feb. 6.
Honda, 44, who resides near Carcross, placed ninth last year in her second Quest.
A dog named Polar, on the team of France’s Sebastien Dos Santos Borges, died during last year’s Quest. A preliminary necropsy indicated Polar died from an “acute gastric hemorrhage.” The previous canine death took place in 2014 with a dog belonging to veteran Dave Dalton of Healy, Alaska. A gastrointestinal hemorrhage (bleeding in the intestines) was determined to be the cause of death. The Quest also experienced a canine death in 2013 and two in 2011.
The worst Quest for dog deaths in recent history was in 2007 when three perished.
Brent Sass holds lead to Eagle
A four-hour lead out of Dawson has helped keep Eureka, Alaska’s Brent Sass ahead of the pack.
Sass, 37, who won the race in 2015, was the first to reach the Eagle checkpoint in Alaska at 6 a.m. on Feb. 10, just over a day after leaving Dawson.
At press time, Sass was the only one to reach Eagle. Defending champ Hugh Neff of Tok, Alaska, was closing fast on Sass, who appears to have stopped for rest for a couple hours.
“We always leave a loose schedule for the second half,” Sass told the News after reaching Dawson. “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.”
Matt Hall and Allen Moore, both of Two Rivers, Alaska, left Dawson minutes apart on Feb. 9 and remain that way at press time, with Hall a few miles ahead. Moore — a two-time champ — and Hall should reach Eagle early this afternoon.
Ed Hopkins of 10 Mile, Yukon, remains the top Canadian in the field in fifth. Hopkins, who was fifth out of Dawson and snuck into fourth briefly after Clinton Creek, placed fifth last year behind the same four mushers he’s chasing this year.
By press time, 10 teams had set off from Dawson City including Dawson’s Brian Wilmshurst, who left his hometown at 5 a.m. this morning in the 10th place spot.
Contact Tom Patrick at email@example.com