Egil Ellis celebrated his birthday a day late Sunday when his sled dog team turned in another amazing third-day run to win the GCI Open North American Championship in downtown Fairbanks.
Trailing Arleigh Reynolds by 12 seconds going into Sunday's 27.5-mile heat, Ellis, 42, beat Reynolds by almost two minutes to claim his record 12th North American crown.
Ellis, from Willow, also became the first musher in the history of the race to win five consecutive years.
"I can't remember all of them, but this has to be one of the sweeter ones," Ellis said.
Ellis' team was clocked in 91 minutes, 24.4 seconds, for a three-day time of 220 minutes and 53.7 seconds.
Reynolds crossed the finish line in 93:09.9 for a total of 222:27.2, to finish 1:33.5 behind Ellis.
For his efforts, Ellis took home $4,500 out of the $25,000 purse shared between the top 15 finishers in the race. Reynolds collected 3,750 and Taylor garnered $3,000.
Greg Taylor of Fairbanks came on strong to finish third with an time of 226:53.1.
One of the reasons victory No. 12 is so sweet for Ellis that his team's performance wiped out what Ellis termed "the worst load of my life" during Saturday's second heat.
"I almost blew it yesterday, but the dogs put everything together today," he said. "That's how you win the Open North American."
Ellis said his team went out at a steady pace, then exploded once they hit the extension which adds 7.5 miles to the 20-mile course used on the first two days.
"I was amazed at the speeds they were running at once we got on the extension," Ellis said. "It wasn't me. You can't force dogs to run that way. They do it because they love it."
Reynolds, a veternarian from Salcha, finished second for the second straight year and fourth time overall.
"I couldn't ask for anything more from my team," Reynolds. "Today we had one of the better runs that we've ever had on the extension."
Reynolds had a lead of 12 seconds after 20-mile heats on Friday and Saturday.
Reynolds had faster times than Ellis early in Sunday's 27.5-mile run, but his lead evaporated once the team turned onto the 7.5-mile extension.
"Egil had an incredible run today," Reynolds said. "He was just faster than me today."
Ellis said there's something about the extension portion of the course that perks up his dogs.
"I was trying not to listen to Arleigh's really fast times on the radio and just keep an easy pace," Ellis said. "When we got to the extension the dogs just took off.
"I think it has to do with them being on a new trail and they seem to love how it winds and curves," Ellis said. "I think I gained most of the time today while I was on the extension."
Even though he was well on his way to victory, Ellis still had some concerns coming home the final three miles.
"When we got back on the slough one of my leaders (Casper) got a little tired," Ellis said. "My other leader (Mali) kept the team going and kind of kept Casper going all the way to the finish line."
Mali and Casper ran in lead all three days of the 67.5-mile race.
"They did everything right this weekend," Ellis said.
Nineteen mushers started the race Friday afternoon and 17 were on the starting line Sunday for the final heat.
Guy Girard of Saint-Thomas, Joliette, Quebec, led a field of six rookies in this year's race with a fifth-place finish in 237:19.5.
Former champion Marvin Kokrine of North Pole Had strong runs on Saturday and Sunday to make the biggest jump in the standings from 11th after Friday's first heat to eighth Saturday and sixth Sunday.
Kokrine had the fourth fastest time Sunday (98:29.6) and notched a three-day time of 237:30.5, just 11 seconds behind Girard.
67th GCI Open North American
(Heat times and total time)
1. Egil Ellis, Willow (63 minutes, 46.5 seconds, 65:42.8, 91:24.4, 220:53.7); 2. Arleigh Reynolds, Salcha, (64:05.7, 65:05.7, 93:09.9, 222:27.2); 3. Greg Taylor, Fairbanks, (66:04.3, 66:16.9, 94:31.9, 226:53.1); 4. Ken Chezik, Fife Lake, Mich. (64:16.4, 64:16.4, 98:58.3, 228:58.3); 5. Guy Girard, Quebec (65:57.0, 68:03.2, 103:19.3, 237:19.5); 6. Marvin Kokrine, North Pole (69:37.7, 69:23.2, 98:29.6, 237:30.5); 7. Mark Hartum, Alberta, 67:55.5, 70:18.2, 100:29.6, 238:43.4); 8. John Erhart, Tanana, 67:40.8, 69:47.1, 101:20.8, 238:48.7); 9. Don Cousins, Alberta, 67:50.9, 71:24.8, 100:19.3, 239:35.0); 10. Carl Knudson, Saskatchewan, 68:53.7, 70:15.8, 105:02.9, 244:12.4); 11. Rob Peebles, B.C., 68:46.8, 70:57.4, 105:56.8, 245:41.0); 12. Mike Fields, Cirle, 71:34.6, 71:29.9, 104:23.5, 247:28.0); 13. Paula Ciniero, Two Rivers, 72:30.5, 72:52.6, 102:12.0, 247:35.1); 14. Rob Worden, Mexico, N.Y., 71:18.5, 74:26.3, 111:15.7, 257:00.5); 15. John Hanson Jr., New Stuyahok, 72:48.4, 78:50.1, 108:25.7, 260:04.2); 16. Jessica Hendricks, Two Rivers, 77:26.2, 78:49.6, 107:48.4, 264:04.2); 17. Randy DeKuiper, Hesperia, Mich., 81:59.3, 78:45.1, 112:27.3, 273:11.7). Scratched: Michael Tetzner, Germany (71:16.8, 81:54.4, scratched); Luke Sampson, Kotzebue (71:45.1, 85:43.0, scratched, scratched).