The Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race is short money and is bleeding mushers.
Four-time defending champion Lance Mackey—the only musher ever to win the Quest and the Iditarod in the same year, which he has done twice—unofficially announced his withdrawal from the Quest last week.
Also, last year’s runner up, Ken Anderson, who happens to be Mackey’s neighbour in Fairbanks, Alaska, announced his withdrawal to local media.
However, Quest officials have not confirmed the withdrawals.
“Neither of them have submitted anything officially to the offices,” said Stephen Reynolds, executive director of Yukon Quest Canada. “So from our perspective, at this point in time, all we can say is that they’re both registered.”
In an interview with the Anchorage Daily News, Mackey said he pulled out of the Quest to help colleague Harry Alexie qualify for the Iditarod, which takes place in March.
Instead of running the Quest, Mackey will lease Alexie 24 dogs. In return, he will receive $50,000 from the Alaska Army National Guard, of which Alexie is a 13-year veteran.
Last year Mackey brought home $35,000 for winning the Quest.
Mackey also hinted to the paper that the Quest’s financial problems were a contributing factor to his decision.
“I’d hate to say it’s about the money,” Mackey told the Daily News. “I’m making this decision to do what’s best for my kennel.”
Not counting the two top-ranked mushers, the race has already lost three teams, taking the field to 37 competitors from 40.
So far, the Quest has only raised $125,000 of the promised $200,000 purse.
“There’s been so much speculation so far because of the economic uncertainty recently, that we wanted our mushers to know where we stand with the purse, and that number is currently at $125,000,” said Reynolds.
“We are still making every effort to raise the entire amount of the purse and we’ll be updating the mushers in the next several weeks, as the race gets closer, as to what the actual committed amount is.
“We’re having people say that we have no purse at all, and we had all kinds of bazaar things going on. So we wanted the mushers to know directly from the organization what the total value of the secured purse is.”
According to Reynolds, the possible purse shortfall is not a result of the Fairbanks Quest office’s failure to secure a $20,000 grant from the city in November, after forgetting to apply for it.
“It’s municipal funding, specifically through the bed-tax in Fairbanks, that would not be applicable to the purse,” said Reynolds.
Despite it’s financial woes, the Quest has extended its withdrawal deadline to make up for the purse’s deficit.
Mushers who drop out before January 24 will receive all but $150 of their $1,000 entry fee. If any choose to remove their name before the start of February, they can retrieve half the fee.
The entire entry fee will be forfeited thereafter.
“At least it gives them until the 23rd to withdraw instead of the ninth,” said Tania Simpson, executive director of Yukon Quest Alaska. “Published in our 2009 Yukon Quest rules, was a $200,000 purse. So we’re letting them know that as of the ninth (of January) we have $125,000….
“In terms of communication, keeping mushers informed over the next couple weeks, and giving them that extra two weeks is certainly something we were prepared to do.”
Contact Tom Patrick at email@example.com