Allen Moore has now won the Yukon Quest in both directions.
After winning last year’s international sled dog race from Whitehorse to Fairbanks, the 56-year-old of Two Rivers, Alaska, won it in the other direction, ending outside Whitehorse early Monday morning.
Moore reached the finish line at Takhini Hot Springs at 3:12 a.m. Monday morning, finishing with a time of eight days, 14 hours and 21 minutes.
“We had some great conditions,” said Moore. “The trail was icier than normal, so it let you go a little bit faster, and sometimes too fast. It was hard to slow them down, especially at the beginning of the race. They wanted to go faster than I wanted to go.
“The worst part was right before Dawson. After that there was adequate snow, but it wasn’t deep snow, so you were going really fast.
“There were no snowstorms or anything like that to slow us down.”
Moore’s time this year is over five hours shorter than last year’s, which has been called a record. Purists may disagree with the assertion.
Alterations in last year’s “1,000-mile” race made the course closer to 950 miles and this year’s race was about 920 miles (1,480 kilometres). Both years the American Summit was bypassed and this year the finish line was moved from downtown to the hot springs due to thin ice on the Yukon River.
“It’s kind of how you look at it,” said Moore. “It’s definitely a record; it doesn’t matter if (the trail) is shortened or not. More times than not this course is changed for whatever reason, due to weather, due to conditions … The course is always different than it was the year before.
“It’s definitely the fastest it’s been, no matter what the course is.”
Tok, Alaska’s Hugh Neff, who finished almost eight hours behind Moore for second place, doesn’t agree.
“You can’t really say it’s a record time because of the mileage and stuff,” said Neff.
The 2012 Quest champion, who placed second last year, also behind Moore, did agree that the course was “lightning fast.”
“There was a lot of places where there wasn’t much snow at all, so there wasn’t much to hold the dogs back,” said Neff. “It can be dangerous if there isn’t any snow, then it’s slippery and icy, but there was just enough that gave them a bit of traction.”
“As long as I’m in the top three I’m doing alright, that’s the way I look at it,” he said of placing second.
“I’m surprised I’m in second, I didn’t think I had that calibre a dog team. We were dropping a lot of younger dogs earlier in the race that had never done the Quest before, so I ended up with a smaller team compared to everyone else. But they were all veteran dogs who knew where they were going.”
Moore began the race with the maximum 14 dogs and dropped three along the way, the same as in last year’s Quest. He had a lot of confidence in his team.
“We knew from the get-go this was the most veteran team we’ve ever had,” said Moore. “Normally I’ll have a few young ones thrown in there, not knowing what they can do, but that was not the case this year. Most of them had run multiple 1,000-mile races before.
“So they were a mature team, a no-nonsense team, who knew what they were doing.”
Neither Moore nor Neff were the first to reach Dawson City, the race’s halfway point.
Eureka, Alaska’s Brent Sass reached the Klondike town first but on Feb. 4, but withdrew from the race after falling from his sled and hitting his head against the ice before the Braeburn checkpoint. Sass, who placed third in last year’s Quest, was in second place at the time of his accident.
“I was fatigued and nodded off, falling backwards off my sled and hit my head on the lake ice,” said Sass on his Facebook page. “When I got up, the team was just up the trail probably wondering why I was laying on the trail behind them. I got up to the team and straightened them out, but I was clearly not all there and was suffering from concussion symptoms.”
Sass’s misfortune on the trail precipitated moments of extreme sportsmanship from his two closest rivals.
Not only did Moore remain at the Braeburn checkpoint – the race’s final checkpoint – almost an hour longer than he was required to in order to check on the state of his competitor, Neff fed Sass’s dogs and led them to Braeburn.
“Brent is usually the one helping people,” said Moore. “I wish I could have been behind him so I could be the one helping him.”
“(The dogs are) all doing good and Brent’s a tough kid and he’ll be back,” said Neff. “It’s just a tough learning experience because he was having a great run. We’ve all had our ups and downs, but I’m totally confident he’ll be back and he’ll do well.”
At time of press on Tuesday, Quest rookie Matt Hall of Two Rivers was on his way to a third place finish. Dawson City’s Brian Wilmshurst – the last Yukoner in the race – was in 10th place out of just 11 teams.
As winner, Moore will take home at least $22,700 in prize money. However, his slice of the $115,000 purse is growing as the field of teams shrinks to record lows. Moore will also pocket four ounces of gold that would have gone to Sass for reaching Dawson first, but Sass was required to finish the race to keep it.
“I’ll be back every year,” said Neff.
“My license plate is ‘YQUEST,’ so the Quest is my life. This was my 14th Quest and if everything goes well, I’ll do 40 of them … I’m 46, we’ll see what I say when I’m 60.”
Quest dog dies
For a second year in a row the Yukon Quest has experienced a canine fatality.
Bashful, a dog belonging to race veteran Dave Dalton of Healy, Alaska, has passed away, the Yukon Quest has confirmed. A necropsy will be performed.
Dalton scratched from the race at the Pelly Crossing on Tuesday.
Last year’s fatality was the first since the 2011 Quest in which two dogs died. The worst Quest for deaths in recent years was in 2007 when three dogs perished.
Quest field shrinks to record low
The highest number of teams that can finish this year’s Quest is 11, which ties the lowest number to finish the race in 2006.
With four scratches and three withdrawn, only 11 teams remain, at press time on Tuesday.
The Quest also had the smallest field in the race’s history begin the race with 18 leaving Fairbanks on Feb. 1.
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