Matt Hall leads, Brent Sass scratches as Yukon Quest mushers prepare for home stretch

Alaska’s Matt Hall is trying to finish the Yukon Quest in Fairbanks for his first time. If he keeps things up, he’ll finish as champion.

Alaska’s Matt Hall is trying to finish the Yukon Quest in Fairbanks for his first time. If he keeps things up, he’ll finish as champion.

The 25-year-old had substantial lead over the rest of the field at press time, 10 a.m. on Feb. 13. (All times in Alaska Standard Time.)

After a five-hour stop at the Mile 101 checkpoint in Alaska, Hall took off with his team — now down to 10 dogs— at 9 a.m. this morning.

Defending champ Hugh Neff of Tok, Alaska, was in second place a couple hours from Mile 101. Two Rivers, Alaska’s Allen Moore, who won consecutive titles in 2013 and 2014, was in third and still in Central, Alaska.

Hall was about 55 kilometres from his hometown of Two Rivers and 168 kilometres from the finish.

Hall is racing the Quest for his fourth time, placing fourth last year and third in 2014 — both years in which the race finished in Whitehorse. In 2015, the last time the 1,600-kilometre dog sled race finished in Fairbanks, he scratched.

Hall’s path to victory is a little easier after former race winner Brent Sass dropped out of the race late Feb. 12.

Sass, of Eureka, Alaska, scratched about 24 kilometres outside of the Central checkpoint at little after 7 p.m. The 2015 champion used his Spot Tracker device to request assistance after growing concerned over the condition of two of his dogs. He was in second place at the time. His two dogs, Caputo and Healy, are said to be in stable condition.

Sass, 37, was the first to reach Dawson City, the race’s halfway point, on Feb. 7.

Ed Hopkins of 10 Mile, Yukon, was in fourth and the top Canadian at press time. The 52-year-old, who placed third in 2015, was in Central with Moore. Whitehorse’s Rob Cook and Dawson City’s Brian Wilmshurst were about 60 kilometres from Circle — 170 kilometres from Central — in 10th and 11th respectively.

With Sass the 34th annual Quest has seen six scratches thus far, bringing the field down to 15. Among the scratched is Yukon’s Yuka Honda. Honda scratched in Dawson on Feb. 9 after the death of one of her dogs on the trail. Haliburton, Ontario’s Hank DeBruin — the only Canadian in the race not from the Yukon — scratched from the race in Eagle, Alaska, early Feb. 13.

Contact Tom Patrick at tomp@yukon-news.com

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