Dog racing revival may be at hand locally

There are more than Arctic char being hatched at the Icy Waters fish farm on Fish Lake Road. Jonathan Lucas, general manager at the farm, is laying…

There are more than Arctic char being hatched at the Icy Waters fish farm on Fish Lake Road.

Jonathan Lucas, general manager at the farm, is laying the foundation for a mushing revival in Whitehorse.

“Competitively, there wasn’t much to do,” said Lucas, a skijorer who was frustrated at the lack of dog sport activities in the city.

“Whitehorse, the home of the Yukon Quest, has no local races.”

There’s the Silver Sled, Carbon Hill, and The Babe Southwick Memorial. “There’s only three, and none of them are in Whitehorse,” he said.

“Those races might not get snow; maybe they get pushed, maybe not. In Destruction Bay, they just didn’t have the snow, and cancelled it — and two years ago, it fell on the same day as the Carbon Hill. Argghhh.”

Local mushers and skijorers don’t have much of a season, as the Dash for Cash and the Sourdough Rendezvous races sit in limbo. They haven’t been run in years.

Lucas and a small group of enthusiasts wanted to do something to bolster the local dog sports community, to break what he described as the “declining cycle of interest and participation.”

Their idea is a six-race league, with monthly races from November to April. “It’s something fun, that’s competitive and good for training as well.”

Designed to appeal to small kennel owners and skijorers, the races will follow a 19-kilometre course Lucas set up, which he calls the Copper Haul Twister.

“Most races are a loop, just going as fast as you can,” he said. “This one I wanted to make more interesting.

“It goes three and half miles out, down the Copper Haul Road, which is nice and wide, then you turn onto a side trail, and then from that point on, there’s 17 turns that the dogs have to make, and you have to call it.”

It’s good practice for your gees and haws.

The idea earned a trial run in April, with an unpublicized race with two skijorers and three sleds competing.

Duffy’s Pets and Tanzilla Harness Supply, Skookum Brands Northern Garments, Yukon River Salmon and Icy Waters Ltd. sponsored the inaugural Twister, and Lucas is hoping to gather some more sponsors for the upcoming series.

Each race will have cash prizes for the top five finishers, $50 for first place, plus a cut of the entry fees.

“It’s a grassroots idea — we spread the cash prizes out — it’s not big, but it’s gas money,” said Lucas.

There will be a season-points champion, as well, for racers who compete in at least four races. A custom designed trophy is up for grabs at the end of the season; Lucas, who won the April Twister, is the defending champion.

The first race is scheduled for November 18, and will be open to both skijorers with two or three dogs, and sleds with two to four dogs.

The number of dogs will vary over the race series, with a maximum of six.

“The whole point of the main race is to encourage people who haven’t got that many dogs, who don’t have huge kennels, to get in to the competition.”

Big kennel mushers are welcome too, Lucas looks at it as a chance to train a puppy team or work with leaders.

Lucas knows not everyone is happy about sleds and skis competing in the same race, but he’s not worried about it.

“Mushers maybe don’t want to get involved with a skijorer, but out on the trail, you never know who you’re going to meet — it’s good training in team control.”

Young mushers can participate as well. A five-kilometre course on the Copper Haul will follow the main race, and a new, one dog “non-husky” division will run last.

“It’s open to anyone that has a dog that can run,” said Lucas. “They can have a kick-sled, skis, or they can sit on a GT Racer if they want — as long as they are attached to a dog that does what they say.”

All three divisions will have league standings for the season.

The race schedule is flexible, Lucas said he wants to complement existing races, not compete with them.

The league has already got some international coverage, in Northern Exposure, the magazine of the Scottish Siberian Husky Club.

Lucas hopes that may help in landing some sponsors. “All our potential sponsors that have websites, and potential export sales, will get exposure in the UK.

“This is important as small team (two to four dog) racing with three-wheel carts and scooters is becoming huge in Europe.”

For more information check out the official race blog at www.copperhaultwister.blogspot.com or send inquiries to llucas@yknet.ca.

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