Jeff King made his bid for a ninth Kusko 300 championship late Saturday night, snatching the lead from defending champion Rohn Buser and gaining a gap of an hour or more.
Buser went from dueling King for the lead to dueling five others for second place.
King, 56, passed Buser, 23, on the Whitefish Lake loop between Aniak and Kalskag. He reached the checkpoint in Kalskag, 131 miles from the finish line in Bethel, at 8:07 p.m., 20 minutes before Buser.
King stayed in the village long enough to drop a dog, returning to the trail at 8:25 p.m. with 13 dogs in harness.
Buser stayed nearly an hour and was the third musher to leave, departing at 9:22 p.m., one minute after Kasilof’s Paul Gebhardt.
Four others left Kalskag by 9:55 p.m. — Joar Leifseth Ulsom of Norway, Pete Kaiser of Bethel, Tony Browning of Nenana and Josh Cadzow of Fort Yukon.
King and Browning, who is running a team from Aaron Burmeister’s kennel, clocked the fastest times on the 52-mile Whitefish Loop, making the journey in 5 hours, 46 minutes. Buser did it in 6:09.
Earlier Saturday, Buser held a slim lead over King. He was first to leave the Aniak checkpoint, which represents the halfway point of the 34th annual race that follows the Kuskokwim River for most of its 300 miles.
He began his Whitefish Loop run at 2:18 p.m., driving a team of 13 dogs after leaving one behind in Aniak.
King, who claimed his first Kusko title in 1991 and his last in 2006, followed at 2:21 p.m. Within two hours, King passed Buser for a narrow lead, according to the race’s Facebook page.
A prize of $22,000, out of a record purse of $110,000, awaits the winner. The race should finish sometime Sunday.
Earlier on Saturday, Lewis Pavilla of Kwethluk captured his third Bogus Creek 150 championship, a prize worth $5,500. Pavilla made the 150-mile run from Bethel to Bogus Creek and back in 17 hours, 17 minutes.
Pavilla, the winner in 2009 and 2010 and the runner-up last year, reached the finish line at 10:17 a.m. Second place and $4,400 went to Jackie Larson of Napaskiak, who finished at 10:58 a.m., five minutes ahead of third-place Steve Olive of Bethel, who took home $3,300.
Randy Nose won the 65-mile Akiak Dash, collecting $3,300 for his efforts. He reached Bethel at 7:57 p.m. Saturday, 30 minutes ahead of Joshua Evan and 39 minutes ahead of John Simon. Evan pocketed $2,200 and Simon $1,650.
Bogus Creek 150
Arrival time at finish line
1) Lewis Pavilla 10:17 a.m.; 2) Jackie Larson 10:58; 3) Steven Olive 11:03; 4) Jen Peeks 11:46; 5) Rudy Demoski 12:56 p.m.; 6) Casie Stockdale 12:59; 7) John George 1:26; 8) Brian Berube 1:47:44, 9) Wassillee Chocknok 6:49 p.m.
Akiak Dash (65 miles)
Arrival time at finish line
1) Randy Nose 7:57 p.m.; 2) Joshua Evan 8:27; 3) John Simon 8:36; 4) Melvin Elgoak 8:37; 5) Cameron Jackson 8:41; 6) Herman Phillip 8:42; 7) Joshua Klejka 8:53; 8) Anthony Olick 9:27; 9) Caleb Miller 9:28; 10) Edward Nicholai 9:41; 11) Joan Klejka 9:44. Scratched — Alexie Jacob.