Musher Hugh Neff beat Allen Moore by just 26 seconds this morning in one of the closest finishes ever in the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race.
Neff crossed the finish line in Whitehorse, Yukon, at 4:14 a.m. Alaska time for a time of nine days, 16 hours and five minutes, according to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
The Tok musher was able to make up a 42-minute deficit in the last 100 miles from Braeburn to defeat Moore, who led almost the entire second half of the race from Fairbanks to Whitehorse.
Neff will pick up $28,395 for winning the race — his first victory in 20 attempts in races of 1,000 miles.
"I'm not sleeping anytime soon," he said. "This is my first win. To do it here, it's a really special feeling."
Neff once lived in Annie Lake, just outside of Whitehorse. He said the final stretch of trail was familiar training ground — an advantage given the close race.
"I know every inch of that trail," he said. "Every hill I was going up, every centimeter, I would be running up."
Last year, Neff led the Quest for three-quarters of the race but stalled on Eagle Summit and had to withdraw.
Neff caught Moore 20 miles from the Whitehorse finish line. Neff said he turned on his headlamp to be a gentleman, but Moore responded by taking off and fighting to maintain his lead by double ski-poling toward the Whitehorse finish.
Neff's speedier team caught him with five miles to go. Moore of Two Rivers said the two stayed within 100 yards of each other from there to the finish chute.
Despite the close finish, Moore was in good spirits talking to reporters. He said he ran as a good a race as he could, but Neff simply had the faster team.
"Any kind of mistake and the other would have won," he said.
Four-time Quest champion Lance Mackey, who also is a four-time champion of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, finished in third place at 10:39 a.m.
In 2009, he finished four minutes behind winner Sebastian Schnuelle, an outcome impacted by a two-hour penalty Neff was assessed for a rules violation.
This year, Neff's quest for an elusive championship was again threatened by a penalty. He arrived in Pelly Crossing on Sunday without his ax, which is required gear. A 30-minute penalty was tacked onto his mandatory eight-hour layover in Braeburn, which gave Moore some breathing room as he began the final leg of the race.
But Neff, who has made swift work of the 100-mile run from Braeburn in previous races, caught Moore and the two dueled to the end for one of the most dramatic finishes in race history.