Friday, January 31, 2014

Roster of 18 to run the Yukon Quest

The Yukon Quest, a thousand mile sled dog race that starts in Alaska and crosses into Canada, begins tomorrow morning at 11am. The roster includes 13 veterans and 5 rookies. Several of the veterans are known by even the most casual fans. Reigning champion Allen Moore is back to try to win another championship. Hugh Neff is back in the race, as well, with his laughing eyes team. Two time winner, John Schandelmeier is also back in the race trying for another title. John's taken a backseat - at least in the limelight - to his partner Zoya Denure who was considered an up and coming women's musher a few years ago. Denure is at home with their two daughters, so John is taking the helm for this race.

With the weather being unseasonably warm the last few weeks in Alaska, small changes have been made to this year's race. Instead of starting on the Chena River where they traditionally start, they will be running through the streets of Fairbanks before meeting up with the river later on down the trail. River conditions were cited as the reason behind the change.

The concern of trail conditions and heat will no doubt be the talk of early race discussion. Though most of South Central Alaska is mainly ice (if that) the Interior and Yukon areas have had a little better luck in keeping some snow on the trails. The weather forecast is also looking more favorably on the race as temperatures are dropping to closer to normal temperatures. But, it's anyone's guess how the race will play out weatherwise.

With the weather being so weird for this time of year, many of the races that one would use to gauge who the front runners are were cancelled. This leaves room for a lot of guess work and discussion as to who to choose for any sort of bets or predictions.

But here's my limited knowledge top three:

1. Allen Moore - not only is he the reigning champion, he and wife Aliy Zirkle have one of the best kennels in the 1000 mile race business right now. He won the Quest with his team, and she turned right around and came in second in the Iditarod (second time in as many years). This year Allen won the Copper Basin 300, which was one of two races that went on this season. It was a good bit of racing, and in the end he came out on top. No doubt his team will bring their A game once again.

2. Brent Sass - some may know him for his work on the first season of Ultimate Survival Alaska (it's a good show, by the way), but most who follow the sport know this up and comer is done waiting his turn. He's had top three finishes. I haven't paid much attention to his team this year so far, but something in my gut tells me he'll be one to watch for the Quest.

3. Hugh Neff - who doesn't love the Cat in the Hat? Neff breathes the Quest. He's won it before, and he's always in the mix. There's no indication that he can't win another one. It will come down to who wants it, not just musher - but team. No one seems more in tune with their dogs than Hugh.

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