Twenty-seven mushers are registered for this year’s Yukon Quest, among them six Yukoners and some big names.
Four past champions are set to race in the 1,600-kilometre dog sled race, this year running from Whitehorse to Fairbanks, Alaska, beginning on Feb. 7.
“It’s been an amazing year,” said executive director Laurie Parris. “We have past champions and people who haven’t raced in a few years coming back to try again … We have lots of interesting names coming.”
Two-time defending champ Allen Moore of Two Rivers, Alaska, seems eager to hit the trails. The 57-year-old, who won the race the last two years and finished second in 2012, was the second musher to register for this year’s race.
2012 Quest champ Hugh Neff of Tok, Alaska will attempt to take back the crown after finishing as the runner-up behind Moore the last two years. Next month will be the 47-year-old’s 15th Yukon Quest.
Fairbanks, Alaska’s Lance Mackey will attempt to win a record fifth Quest next month. Mackey, 44, who is the first musher to win the Quest and Iditarod in the same year, has four of each title under his belt.
Denali Park, Alaska’s Jeff King hasn’t raced the Quest in 25 years, but don’t count him out. The 59-year-old won the race in 1989 and claimed second in 1986 and 1990.
Also back for another go is Eagle, Alaska’s Matt Hall, who notched a third-place finish last year in his first Quest.
Eureka, Alaska’s Brent Sass has been keeping race leaders nervous for years. The 35-year-old is back for his ninth Quest after a bad ending to last year’s race. Sass withdrew before the Braeburn checkpoint after falling from his sled and hitting his head against the ice. Sass, who placed third in the 2013 Quest, was in second place at the time of his accident.
Healy, Alaska’s Dave Dalton will be racing in his 25th – yes, 25th – Yukon Quest next month. The 57-year-old has produced nine top-10 finishes so far, including third in 2004 and 2008.
Of the 27 registered mushers, 16 are veterans and 11 rookies. The field is also split between 15 Americans, seven Canadians, two Norwegians, a German (listed as a Whitehorse musher), a Swede and a Frenchman.
“I’m looking forward to it, I think it’s going to be pretty exciting,” said Tagish, Yukon’s Ed Hopkins. “There are a lot of real good teams in the top 10. It’ll be tense, but it’ll be fun too. I’m ready to go.”
Hopkins, 50, will be racing in his fifth Quest. He placed eighth in 2005.
Also on his resume is a second-place result in the Quest 300 and wins in Dawson’s Percy DeWolfe Memorial Mail Race and Haines Junction’s Silver Sled race. He also snagged fifth in last year’s Kobuk 440, winning rookie of the year and vet’s choice award.
“You always have to learn lessons from your last race and put them towards the next one and hope everything works out,” said Hopkins.
Whitehorse’s Normand Casavant, 51, is also getting set for his fifth Quest. Casavant scratched in last year’s race but placed seventh in 2013.
Dawson City’s Brian Wilmshurst, 32, is registered for his fourth consecutive Quest next month. Wilmshurst finished his first three, placing 10th last year for his best yet and was given the Sportsmanship Award.
Mount Lorne’s Tamra Reynolds, 42, will attempt her first Quest next month.
“I’ve been involved in the race the last 10 years, always as a handler or on the Quest board,” said Reynolds. “So I think I know a lot about it. I’ve been to all the checkpoints, obviously. And I’ve done the Quest 300 so I’ve seen most of the Yukon side, but I wanted to see the rest of the trail.”
Reynolds is also one of just three female mushers in this year’s race along with Two Rivers, Alaska’s Ryne Olson and Healy, Alaska’s Kristin Knight Pace. She placed seventh and won the vet’s choice award in the 2013 Yukon Quest 300.
“The nervousness is kicking in now that it’s getting closer,” said Reynolds.
Whitehorse’s Olaf Thurau will be taking his second shot at the Quest next month. The 50-year-old of German nationality did not finish last year but took fourth in the Quest 300 the previous year.
Whitehorse’s Rob Cooke, 48, was an official in last year’s Quest, which reminded him of the fun he was missing as a racer. He was the first musher to register for this year’s race.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” said Cooke. “It should be fun. It’s a good field this year – we have 27 mushers running.
“We now have some colder weather, but hopefully we’ll get a good trail put in. The (Canadian) Rangers will do a great job with the trail. I’m really looking forward to the race, it’s going to be exciting.”
Cooke moved to Canada in 2005 from the U.K. where he got hooked on mushing through dry-land training. He is a member of the Siberian Huskey Club of Great Britain. (There are two U.K. mushers registered for this year’s Yukon Quest 300.)
“It is fairly big across Europe,” said Cooke. “We came to Canada in 2005, but we had nine dogs then when we came across, and we did a lot of racing in the U.K.”
Cooke placed 18th in his first Quest in 2013. He also took second in the 2012 Quest 300.
“I’ve run it in the Whitehorse to Fairbanks direction, so I know the trail, have a good idea of the trail,” said Cooke. “The dogs know the trail and we’ll just know where we are, know better places to camp. I think I have a better idea of how the dogs react to 1,000-mile races … It’ll be good to see how the dogs react this time.”
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