Sunday, February 22, 2015

Iditarod 43 - My Top 10

The 43rd running of the Iditarod is set to take place in just two weeks. Lack of snow has forced the race to run further north than ever before, with the ReStart moving for only the second time in race history to Fairbanks. This levels the playing field in a way as none of the teams have any real experience on the new trail (which visits several villages/checkpoints for the very first time) so their run-rest strategies are at best educated guesses.

This may be one of the races where it truly is more about the dogs and their abilities and not the mushers. Who knows? It's all anyone's guess.

So This year I'm going with 10 names that I think are just on the upswing, or at least have that experience needed to keep the dogs from over doing it before that final push. They're not in any particular order - I'm not that good at predicting (in fact this list is probably going to just jinx them all).

Tonichelle's Top 10 

Brent Sass - Brent just won the Yukon Quest with his team of amazing dogs. His only real issue that was reported on the trail was when he overslept (you'd think he'd learn not to do that after Jeff King lost the Iditarod to Lance Mackey back in 2008 doing the exact same thing). He had to run down Allen Moore running the A team out of his kennel. The same team that Aliy Zirkle will run in the Iditarod. Moore's team kicked it up a notch in the final stretch, but seemed to tire through most of the race. Sass's team seemed to "feed the monster" (as the Seavey's say) at all the right times. After the bad fall last season that ended his Quest and Iditarod runs, Brent finally delivered on his potential. I have no doubt this will BOOST his confidence going into the Iditarod.

Dallas Seavey - Dallas came seemingly out of nowhere last March to win the race. Jeff King was supposed to have the win in the bag, but his team refused to run in the horrible winds as they made their way to Safety. Jeff had to flag down some snow-machiners to help him and his dogs get to the checkpoint. At that point he scratched as teams cannot have outside help. That meant that Aliy seemed to have the race in the bag as Dallas was a long ways behind her - but with the winds being what they were and the news from all weather reports saying it was only going to get worse, she decided to hunker down and wait them out. Dallas was unaware of any of it and ended up continuing (better to just run in the wind than sit in it, afterall) which put him in the lead and gave him just enough time to win the darn thing. He's just that lucky - and he's also just that good. I don't know what his team looks like this year, but his goal is to stay consistently in the top 5. He's young, confident, and a two time champion. There's no way in Hades you should count him out.

Jeff King - Jeff is a wildcard in a lot of ways. He had to scratch on the Quest due to the extreme cold and the fact that he didn't have enough food for the dogs to compensate at the checkpoint he was at. It was a difficult decision, but it was the RIGHT ONE. That a certain kennel that "will be running the Iditarod" (I bet they scratch before the halfway point) called him out for that should not even factor into one's mindset when discussing King's racing skills. Jeff is one of the most experienced mushers out on the trail - it's his dogs that don't seem to have the experience to finish a thousand mile race. They don't like running when the going gets tough in the last stretch. However, that was one of the reasons King ran the Quest. He wanted to train them up. I expect King to finish this year, and I wouldn't bet against him coming in first. He was set to do it last year. He can do it again. Just pray for no wind gusts in the last 77 miles to Nome.

Aliy Zirkle - This is her year. It has to be. Her team has come in second the last three years in the Iditarod, and just came in another close second on the Yukon Quest (husband Allen Moore ran that team). Quito will no doubt still be lead dog over the 1000 mile race, and with that knowledge the team can't fail. So long as those dang Seavey's don't take control of the race in the last leg... as long as she doesn't slow her team down... as long as this isn't another one of those insane races that is completely unpredictable. If there's a team in this race that I desperately want to see win this year - it's Aliy's. She more than deserves it, but she has to be able to take it.

Martin Buser - Buser and son got themselves in a bit of trouble in one of the season's earlier races. They "took the wrong turn" and ended up on a shortcut. Both of them did. Hmmm. Makes the spectators go hmmm. It ticked a certain other musher off who was lower in the standings because of it. It had people discussing issues of the Buser racing "strategies" over the year. Still - Martin is a 4 time Iditarod champion, and a crowd favorite. He made some pretty bold pushes in last year's race, but his team couldn't keep the pace they'd set. After their 24 hour layover they lost speed and ended up in a lower position than they'd planned. Martin's son Rohn is also running this year - and I'm  not sure they aren't splitting the A team in two again. Still, I wouldn't count Martin out. Especially on a trail that no one is familiar with.

Peter Kaiser - Another musher riding high after winning the Kusko in his hometown, Pete is looking good to make a move this year. The last couple of years he's been just outside of the top ten (13th both in 2014 and 2013), but those were warm weather years. While Alaska has been VERY warm this winter, with the race running further north this might help this Coastal team keep from overheating. And it COULD drop in temps like the Yukon Quest for the early part of the race, which should also help teams like Pete's.

Mitch Seavey - I'll be honest, I am completely out of the loop these days with Team Seavey. Last year was my last year with them, so I am not current on training reports, dog reports, etc... but this is Mitch. He's consistent, he knows how to drive dogs. I've no doubt he's got a solid schedule set for the new trail, and I expect his team to run well. He came in 3rd last year... and, oh yeah, his team WON the thing (second time for the musher) in 2013. I think leaving his team off this year would be a very stupid idea. And it's not just because I'm a biased fangirl.

Richie Diehl - I'm gonna give this guy some props, in just his second year he came in 14th, not too shabby. I don't expect him to win the darn thing, but I expect him to break the top 10 if all goes well. Basically he's my dark horse in this whole thing.

Aaron Burmeister - It was said that Dallas Seavey won his first Iditarod title thanks to Aaron Burmeister because Dallas's team consisted of many of Burmeister's A team. Aaron had decided to retire and sold off many of his dogs - Dallas snatched them up and the rest is history. Then Aaron decided to come back to the sport (shocking. most can't stay retired) and it's like he never left.He's stayed consistently in the top 10, coming very close to winning several times. With the trail being new to everyone for the first half, he may have the advantage on the coast - his home base. The dogs know where home is and know how to get there.

Ray Redington Jr - Ray's having a great year, even with his scratch from his rookie run on the Yukon Quest. He's another musher who's had a run of top 10 finishes, and his team seems to be really clicking this season. He's poised for a great race, and should be able to adapt to the new trail with the rest of the best. I'd love to see a Redington finally win the race. They're a strong mushing dynasty - and of course the Iditarod wouldn't even exist had Joe Redington Sr not gotten the crazy idea in his head. Look for Ray to make a move again this year, and don't be surprised if he goes all the way.

So there's my top 10. What's yours? Comment on this blog post and let me know if we agree, disagree, or what you'd like to see happen during Iditarod 43.

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