ANCHORAGE, Alaska — A musher originally from Minnesota is the first to reach the halfway point of this year’s Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
Brent Sass, who now calls Eureka, Alaska, home, pulled into the checkpoint in the ghost town of Cripple Wednesday afternoon. For his efforts, he picks up a trophy and $3,000 in gold nuggets.
Sass was the Iditarod’s 2012 Rookie of the Year but has never won the nearly 1,000-mile race across Alaska.
He skipped the Iditarod from 2017-2019 and has collected two top-five finishes since returning to the race. He was fourth in 2020 and third last year after also winning the halfway award.
Sass left the previous checkpoint in Ophir, another mining town that went bust when the gold was excavated, 18 minutes behind defending champion Dallas Seavey and his 12 dogs earlier Wednesday. It took Sass and his team of 13 dogs 11 hours and 43 minutes to travel the 73 miles between the two checkpoints.
Seavey, who with a victory would become the race’s greatest champion, was the first musher to leave Ophir as mushers continue to jockey for position in the early part of the race. Lead changes in the early going are common.
A musher must start the race with at least 12 dogs but no more than 14. Race rules require at least five dogs be on the team at the finish line.
Seavey is tied with Rick Swenson with the most Iditarod titles, at five apiece. Swenson won his fifth title in 1991, and the now-71-year-old musher last ran the Iditarod in 2012.
Seavey earlier told The Associated Press that win or lose, he will likely take a break from the race after this year to spend time with his daughter.
Besides the two front-runners, 14 other mushers were en route to Cripple from Ophir.
Musher Aaron Burmeister picked up some homemade Alaska swag when he was the first musher to reach McGrath Tuesday, the checkpoint right before Ophir.
The prizes, made by McGrath residents, included a pair of musher mitts made of beaver fur and beaded moose hide by Loretta Maillelle and a beaver fur musher hat sewn by Lucy Miller.
The race started for 49 mushers Sunday in Willow, just north of Anchorage. They will travel over two mountain ranges and the frozen Yukon River to battle Alaska’s windswept western coast. The winner is expected in the Bering Sea coastal community of Nome next week.
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