Hans Gatt arrives at the Mile 101 checkpoint during the 2019 Yukon Quest. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News)

2019 Yukon Quest ends with finish banquet in Fairbanks, Alaska

“It’s a very strange up and down in this race. An extremely emotional cocktail to go with this race.”

The 2019 Yukon Quest formally concluded on Feb. 16 with the Finish and Awards Banquet at the Westmark Fairbanks Hotel and Conference Center in Fairbanks, Alaska.

The evening included speeches from all 27 finishers and the presentation of a number of awards.

Winner Brent Sass, who finished with a full team of 14 dogs, was presented the Veterinarian’s Choice Award, given to the musher who “best demonstrates outstanding canine care while remaining competitive during the entire race.”

“This is the award that really means everything,” said Sass. “I was fortunate enough to win this award when I won the race in 2015. Winning is awesome, but being the person picked who took the best care of your dogs — there is nothing better.”

Head veterinarian, Dr. Nina Hansen, pointed out this is the second year in a row the winning team has finished with 14 dogs on the line and that last year’s winner Allen Moore — he finished third this year — has dropped just one dog in two years.

The Challenge of the North Award, selected by race marshals and judges, is given to the musher who “best exemplifies the spirit of the Yukon Quest.

This year, the award went to rookie musher Remy Leduc after he took extra time — including a full 24 hours in Pelly Crossing — to wait for his dogs to recover from illness.

“It was a tough race because I knew I could do better than what I have done,” said Leduc.

He said he’d wait for the team to feel better and get back on his race plan, but that the dogs needed more rest.

“It was just like a yo-yo,” said Leduc. “I just took the time to care for them.”

The Sportsmanship Award was presented to Yukoner Rob Cooke for his actions helping the teams of Andrew Pace, Jason Biasetti and Deke Naaktgeboren.

Sass, who presented the award, said the trip over the summit was the first thing he saw when he finished the race.

“The first pictures I saw when I got off the trail was this big orange jacket pulling about five dog teams up Eagle Summit,” said Sass.

Cooke said he was receiving a lot of undue credit.

“I feel a bit of a fraud because it wasn’t just me up there — everybody who was there would have done the exact same thing as me,” said Cooke. “I can’t really describe the conditions, but they were the worst conditions I’ve ever been in. Our dogs did an amazing job getting us up and over the top.”

Cooke singled out Pace in particular for his help, thanking him for his calmness through the trip.

Martin Apayaug Reitan was this year’s rookie of the year, finishing in 14th place. The 21-year-old from Kaktovik, Alaska, was the first musher to finish at the relocated finish line on Nordale Road outside Fairbanks.

Germany’s Hendrik Stachnau was the 2019 Red Lantern Award winner for being the last musher to finish the 1,600-km race.

He said he didn’t know what to expect, but that the race was an emotional experience.

“I had no clue what comes to me,” said Stachnau. “But it’s a very strange up and down in this race. An extremely emotional cocktail to go with this race.”

Stachnau said running Greenland dogs and Alaskan malamutes was a change for a lot of people along the trail.

“To see our Greenland dogs and Alaskan malamutes, for a lot of people, was a new experience and a lot of fun,” said Stachnau. “It was a wonderful time here with you.”

In addition to the award for winning the race and for veterinary care, Sass also won the Joe Fellers Dawson City Award — two ounces (just under 60 grams) of placer gold — and his dogs, Jeep and Sluice, won the Golden Harness Award for loyalty, endurance and perseverance throughout the race.

“These are two amazing dogs right here,” said Sass. “Sluice has been one of my main leaders for the last couple of years and kind of in the shadows with some of the other leaders. This year, he was the last veteran standing and really rose to the occasion.”

Sass also relayed the story behind Jeep and how he came to be one of Sass’s dogs.

Originally a sprint dog for Joee Redington, Sass said Redington frequently told him Jeep would make a good distance dog and when Redington died Sass bought Jeep to start training for the Quest.

“I decided I was going to give him a shot and I trained him up — he was phenomenal,” said Sass. “He led for 400 or 500 miles, which is more than I could ever ask.”

Contact John Hopkins-Hill at john.hopkinshill@yukon-news.com

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