Monday, February 25, 2013

#Iditarod 41 - Tonichelle's Top Ten

A member of Snowhook Kennel at the
start of the Tustumena 200 earlier this
year. They are running in the Iditarod.
I'm late to the game - not because I've lost interest, but because working for a top team makes life a little hectic these days (can't imagine why). Iditarod is just 5 days away. We're going up again to do the start and restart (volunteering on Saturday, and then I'm working Sunday for the boss).

Please note that this is just my personal opinion. This does not reflect on any team/musher. I do work for some of the top dawgs in the sport, but my admiration goes beyond that kennel. I have grown up adoring so many of these amazing mushers and teams that I am not biased by just one person who may or may not sign a check every month for me. ;)

Seriously, though, I work for a great family of mushing legends. I can't say I'm not biased towards them, but at the same time - I've always liked other mushers more. Since knowing and working for the Seavey family I have grown to admire them far more than I would have if I'd just continued as a spectator (though I was a fan of Dallas well before I started working for him).

All this ramble to say - I am doing my very best to remain objective. The top ten may not be my top 10 favorites (though a lot of them are). I am just hoping that I don't jinx anyone with my picks. I'm pretty good at jinxing folks, so I'm crossing my fingers this doesn't end up killing a lot of teams' runs for the win.

Tonichelle's Top 10

1. Aliy Zirkle - she has been steadily climbing the ranks as one of the big time contenders over the last few years. She nearly had it last season, Dallas beat her in the very last push. She barely lost the Yukon 300 a few weeks back, and Allen - her husband - won the Quest with their A team. The team she's running in the Iditarod. The loss last year was a bittersweet one. Aliy's not going to want that feeling again. She's hungry and she's got a great team going.

2. Dallas Seavey - in most sports they say the first time defending your title is always the hardest. Even the most prepared begin to doubt their abilities and chances. I am not doubting that Dallas will put in just as smart and effort as last year. Last year he had a band of misfits take him to the prize. This year he's got mainly a new team, his star dogs from the championship team have been retired. We haven't seen much of Dallas this season - he opted not to run in the other races, instead sending his handlers out to do a few races. His team just won the Jr. Iditarod at the hands of Jr. Iditarod rookie Noah Pereira. Pereira barely beat out Seavey's younger brother Conway for the win.

3. Mitch Seavey - Mitch is taking much of the same team as last year to Nome this year. The only reason the team didn't hit Nome first last year was due to Mitch being suckered in to push the team too early. They ran out of gas before the coast. Mitch's team is completely capable of taking it all the way. They just have to know when to go, take the opportune moment and go. Wait it out, and then... GO. It's not like Mitch doesn't know what it takes or how to win. He did it in 2004, and his team surprised him at the Tustumena200 this year. It can happen, and this year looks very good.

4. Ramey Smyth - He came out of nowhere and almost threw a wrench into Dallas and Aliy's run last year. His team was far back in the back due to a stomach illness, but once they were over that there was no stopping them. They made up for lost time in a hurry, but ran out of trail before they could catch the leaders. I remember being on the phone with Dallas' brother Danny when Smyth made his move. There was dead silence on the other end of the phone, and then an "Uh, oh.... well..." I expect him to do well again this year, too.

5. Cim Smyth - Let's face it, the Smyth brothers have the market for that final push speed. So many mushers lament that they wish they knew the secret on how to get those dogs to go into that final gear and go all out to the finish line. I've seen the magic first hand, and Cim is well capable of going and getting the title. It's about time someone in the Smyth family take the prize.

6. John Baker - Another former Iditarod Champion. A repeat just wasn't in the cards last year. Baker's advice he gives to all mushers is race to win. If you aren't running to win, you never will. John is one of those silent types. His persona reminds me of the addage "slow and steady wins the race." Not that Baker's slow, far from it, he's just totally calm in his approach.

7. Jake Berkowitz - He pulled a Mitch Seavey last year and cut his hand badly which ended the race early for him. He's had a fantastic race season this year, and placed 4th in this year's Quest. Berkowitz suffered a devastating loss when his dog General passed away suddenly during the race (but not because of it, according to Jake's blog it was an undetected issue that would have come to light no matter what). He'll be running in General's memory, no doubt.

8. Jeff King - After hanging it up several years ago, Jeff found his mojo again and returned to the sport he has dominated for most of his life. Jeff scratched several checkpoints from Nome after his incredibly young team quit on him. He stayed with them, shielding them from the brutal wind, until race officials went out to check on him. He officially scratched and they brought he and his team to safety. Jeff has let it be known he's here to be competitive, and his kennel is working hard to get him back into the top. I have high hopes for King this year.

9. Aaron Burmeister - Like Jeff, Aaron recently came out of retirement to race again. Burmeister gave his top team to Dallas a couple years back. The team Dallas took to Nome last year had a lot of Burmeister's dogs (and King's). Go figure. Aaron's team gave a valliant effort last year, I have no doubt he can pull off a top 10 again this year.

10. Jodi Bailey - I had to think long and hard on where and who my top ten, and this may be my most biased pick of the top ten, but Jodi gets a nod. Dew Claw Kennel is steadily rising in the ranks as a kennel to watch. Jodi's husband just had a Top Ten finish in the Quest, and she did very well in the Yukon 300. Last year she ran down Lance Mackey to beat him in the Iditarod. Not too shabby. I'm not saying she's a lock for the top 10 (to do that she'd have to jump 13 places from last year), but I have high hopes for this team.

You may wonder why I left off some of the big names - like DeeDee Jonrowe, Paul Gebhardt, Martin Buser, and Lance Mackey - and the reason is simple... I know they can make the top 10, but I'm just not sure of their chances this year. The field is so competitive. Any one of them could take Baker's place, or Bailey's, or Burmeisters. Ray Reddington, Jr. is also another spoiler for top 10. Travis Beals is one of the rookies that could blow the top ten wide open if his team so chooses to make that leap.

Overall this highly competitive field is going to be amazing to watch and I have a feeling it's going to be a nail biter to the end.

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