Saturday, February 25, 2023

2023 Iditarod top ten (ish)

One week from today we'll be cheering teams in Anchorage as they run through the city in the Ceremonial Start of Iditarod 51. The roster of thirty-three dog teams is a possible signal of a new era as many of the fan favorites chose to either sit this season out, or have moved on into retirement. Still, the race has nine rookie teams, and eight women are in the 51st running of the last great race. 

With those thirty-three teams we have a highly competitive field as well as the potential for many teams to jump up in standings and make themselves known. Time will tell how the rosters of the future shake out and whether or not we'll have an uptick in entries. But, for now, we have a strong roster of newbies and veterans. Only two teams have won Iditarod previously, so it is a true dawning of a new era in the sport.

Even though it's a small roster it's a competitive one. So many strong teams with the ability to take the top prize are in this race. It's time to do a rundown of who has the best chance to be in the top ten.

Brent Sass - The reigning Iditarod Champion won by running through a ground storm in the Topkok Hills. In true Iditarod fashion the finish was a dramatic one as the same storm hammered many of the teams (to the point where Martin Buser decided he'd retire after surviving the storm). Sass is coming off his Yukon Quest 550 win and many of his team will be with him on the run to Nome. Expect Brent to run his own race spending time out of checkpoints (except for mandatory rests).

Dan Kaduce - Best dog care anywhere could easily be Kaduce's motto. The musher came in fourth running a strong team of all 14 dogs from start to finish. He challenged for third for most of the race (and sometimes was even leading or nearly leading). Dan (and Jodi) has a solid program in Dew Claw Kennel and it's coming to fruition. With this small but highly competitive roster it won't be surprising to see Dan come out near the top.

Eddie Burke Jr - It isn't often a rookie gets named in a top ten list, but Burke has proven himself capable to put on a winning race. The 2023 Knik 200 champion is running a team out of Wildstyle Racing owned by Aaron Burmeister and Tony Browning, with Burmeister taking a step back from racing to focus on family, Burke is running a powerhouse team that just two years ago nearly took the prize in Iditarod 49. Burke has learned from two of the best mushers in the business and should challenge for a top ten spot. It will really come down to whether or not Burke remains focused on running his race, or if he makes the rookie mistake of racing others.

Jessie Holmes - That Jessie Holmes is even on the roster is a miracle after the musher was in a life threatning accident this summer. Holmes managed to prove that his recovery has gone exceedingly well this season as he challenged for top placement in several mid-distance races before returning home to continue to train for the big one. Holmes was third last year and appears to have no plans of slowing his team down. After all, this is Team Can't Stop we're talking about.

Jessie Royer - The leader of "The J Team" is back to Iditarod having taken last year off due to the Covid restrictions in Canada (she travels from Montana), among other reasons. Royer is a perennial favorite of fans, as well as a consistent top ten (and top five) finisher of the last great race. She successfully managed a top five finish with SIXTEEN dogs on the Iditarod (the only to do so). Her dog care is outstanding as is her competitive drive. Royer just won the Race to the Sky 300 mile race in Montana and her team looks fantastic as ever. Expect Jessie to stick to the front of the pack, but not push until the Coast.

Mille Porsild - Mille is coming off a somewhat rocky season with mid-distance races. She had some rough patches before coming second in the Yukon Quest 450 in Canada just a couple of weeks ago. In an incredibly short roster that wasn't as competitive as its Alaskan counterpart, Mille was a rookie in name only. Porsild has extensive experience within the sport of mushing as well as expedition mushing. She's as tough as they come and can bark orders better than any grizzled musher on the trail. She was 14th last year in a very difficult finish of a race (where she was originally penalized and then had that penalty repealed). It will be interesting to see how she does in a smaller roster chock full of competitive teams.

Nicolas Petit - Petit has an outside chance of taking the top prize, but he'll most likely have no trouble making the top ten. Petit likes to burst out with speed from the get go and just hope that his team can make the full 900+ miles to the finish line with enough of a lead that when they start to stall out/get bored/decide to go on a camping trip that he can keep everyone behind him. Petit prides himself on not having a race strategy and just follows the dog's lead. He calls them his kids, and they supposedly call him dad, and so he's well liked by many. He also loves to troll social media and the journalists so he gives some of the best soundbites. Never dull with Nic, for sure, but I personally wish he'd run a race with a plan so that we could REALLY see what his dogs can do.

Pete Kaiser - The 2019 Iditarod Champion just won yet another Kusko 300 title (fighting off Matt Failor to take it). The champion musher originally did not plan on running Iditarod 51, but, like many mushers before him, the draw was just too great a pull and he's back. Pete is one of the best in the business and takes his role as mentor and role model seriously. Kaiser will no doubt be one of the teams to follow, expect him to sit back for the first half of the race to give his team the best shot to overtake the teams ahead of him when they get to their "home field" of the Western Alaska coast.

Ramey Smyth - Never, ever, ever, EVER count a Smyth out. The son of Iditarod legends Bud Smyth and Lolly Medley was an incredibly late entry to this year's Iditarod (we're talking FEBRUARY late). Smyth is another one of those consistent top 20 finishers who, with this smaller roster, could see a jump in number just as there will be fewer teams to leap frog over. Ramey is another who bursts out on the Coast and eats up a lot of trail on the front runners (in 2012 he made a HUGE leap on the coast and had the Seavey family VERY worried he would run down Dallas). Rumor has it the Smyth boys wear running shoes on the final leg into Nome. Ramey is the dark horse in this roster as we haven't really seen what his team can do in the smaller races (he entered them only to withdraw). Still, if he was willing to make the leap into running this race, he must believe in his team which means WATCH OUT.

Matt Failor, Matt Hall, Richie Diehl, Wade Marrs - I really could do a top fifteen but I'll just add these four names to the tenth spot because I believe we'll see a combo of this quartet in the top ten, but I can't place my finger on which of these teams has the best shot. Failor and Hall should see their standings in the Last Great Race rise due to the shorter roster as well as they're both having really great seasons. And Marrs is back to Iditarod after having to take time away due to the Covid-19 vaccination policy. Richie Diehl is another consistent top 20 team who knows how to manage a race. Marrs was running a great Yukon 550 until his dogs decided that they wanted to make puppies more than they wanted to run a dog race, that shouldn't be an issue now for Iditarod.

It also should be noted that while there isn't a Seavey on the roster, their dogs are running. Mitch Seavey's "A-Team" is being run by Christian Turner (who ran his rookie race with Dallas Seavey's puppy team), though the team was trained mostly by Mitch and crew in Sterling before Turner could make the trip over from Australia. Dallas Seavey has leased a team of A-list dogs to friend and former competitor Kelly Maixner. Maixner used to run dogs out of his own kennel and has hit the top 10 in the past. Kelly did train with the team on most weekends, but again the majority of the training went to Dallas's crew in Talkeetna. Still, both mushers and teams are pros and it will be interesting to see what they come up with on the trip to Nome.

In all honesty, the majority of the thirty three name roster have a great shot at being in the top ten and it will come down to strategy, weather, and trail conditions. It's a heavy snow year for most of Alaska and mother nature's had a lot of ups and downs lately temperature wise so I expect this race to throw a little bit of everything at the teams. As always, Iditarod will no doubt give much drama and excitement over their 10-14 days of racing. Time will tell how it all shakes out, of course, but for now we choose our fantasy teams and discuss what may happen.

Who do YOU have in your top ten? Thoughts on who maybe shouldn't be on this list and who should be there instead? Comment below with your take on Iditarod 51!

*Thanks to those who caught my adding a name to the roster that wasn't on there, and to those that noticed I didn't make mention of the Seavey teams.

As always, if you like what you see and want to support my addiction (I mean HOBBY) of following these races and stalking (I mean cheering on) the mushers, you can buy me a slice of pizza (that really goes to paying for my internet/web expenses).


  1. A great list to watch👍

    1. The whole roster is exciting! It was hard to not just list the roster again and say WATCH THEM ALL lol

  2. Very excited to see how it all shakes out.

    1. Me, too! Very interested to see what happens in the next two weeks.

  3. Redington? I'm admittedly a wishful neophyte, but hey.

    1. I really should have Ryan as an honorable mention at the very least. He could really blow apart my predictions.

  4. Replies
    1. She's got a great shot again this year for sure.