Hugh Neff went for the gold Tuesday and got it -- sort of.
As the first musher to reach Dawson City, the halfway point of the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race, Neff put himself in position to collect one of the race's biggest prizes -- four ounces of gold. He'll pocket the gold as long as he makes it to the finish line in Fairbanks.
Neff, the defending champion from Tok, reached Dawson's Front Street at 12:10 p.m. AST with 13 dogs in harness.
He arrived nearly two hours ahead of Allen Moore of Two Rivers, last year's runnerup, who reached Dawson at 2:09 p.m., also with 13 dogs.
Big Lake's Jake Berkowitz was third to the historic Yukon gold rush town, pulling in at 7:10 p.m. with a full team of 14 dogs.
Neff made it clear from the start that he intended to lead the way into Fairbanks. He rested his team less than Moore during the long run from Whitehorse, where the race started Saturday morning.
"Dawson is like my spiritual homeland," he said in a report on the Quest's website. "I love Dawson."
But, as former Quest champion Sebastian Schnuelle noted in his race reports for the Quest website, being first to Dawson isn't a harbinger of victory in odd-numbered years, when the race runs from Whitehorse to Fairbanks.
"Nobody who has arrived in Dawson to collect the gold has arrived in Fairbanks first," Schnuelle wrote in his race analysis. "Will Hugh change history?"
Last year, when the race ran in the opposite direction, Moore was the first musher to reach Dawson, but Neff chased him down on the final run to Whitehorse to win by 26 seconds, the narrowest margin in race history.
"It will come down to healthy dogs," Moore told the Quest website.
All mushers must spend 36 hours in Dawson before returning to the trail. When they resume racing, they will not have to climb 3,420-foot American Summit as usual. Trailbreakers reported that portions of the climb are impassable, so the trail was rerouted to take mushers down the Yukon River as they travel from Dawson to Eagle, where the race enters Alaska.
The change reduced the length of the race from 1,000 miles to 950 miles.