Stealth equaled wealth for Eureka musher Brent Sass late Tuesday night in the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race.
Sass pocketed four ounces of placer gold for being the first to reach Dawson City, the historic Yukon gold rush town that represents the halfway point of the 1,000-mile race that began Saturday in Fairbanks.
He arrived at 11:02 p.m. About 90 minutes later, defending champion Allen Moore of Two Rivers joined him.
Sass, a Quest regular who placed a career-best third last year, put together two straight 100-mile runs on Monday and Tuesday to seize the lead. On the first one, he tricked Moore and Hugh Neff into believing he was going to join them for a rest, but sneaked past them instead.
That gave Sass a two-hour cushion when he left Eagle, the final checkpoint in Alaska, for Dawson City, the first checkpoint in Canada.
A report on the Quest's Facebook page said Sass's team of 13 arrived in Dawson City looking like it could keep going. But it won't. All mushers take a mandatory 36-hour layover before they can continue their drive to the Whitehorse finish line.
The Quest gave a report on Facebook of Sass's Dawson City arrival:
"Finding his way in with a team that STILL looks like they could keep running, Brent gives the crowd a disclaimer ... "I'm a little out of it!" He goes on to say it's been a long day... or couple days, making two 100 mile runs in a row."
A stealthy overnight maneuver vaulted Sass into the lead on the run to Eagle. Sass reached the checkpoint at 3:55 a.m. Tuesday and left after a mandatory four-hours layover at 7:55 a.m.
Moore, the defending champion, arrived at Eagle slightly more than two hours after Sass. He left the checkpoint at 10 a.m.
Neff, last year's runnerup, reached the remote checkpoint at 6:30 a.m. and departed at 10:34 a.m.
Sass gained his edge over Moore and Neff by employing a little craftiness.
Ten miles before a hospitality cabin en route to Eagle, Sass slowed his team, allowing Moore and Neff to pass him. Instead of stopping to join them at the cabin as anticipated, Sass turned off his headlamp and barreled on, making the run to Eagle in one stretch, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported Tuesday.
"I tricked 'em," Sass said with a smile in Eagle, his dogs looking spry.
Sass was thrilled with his team's stamina.
"I just had the best run my life — it was amazing," he said. "They just got stronger and stronger as they went down the trail."
Sass said Moore and Neff have faster teams than his. So he relies on long runs and power over mountainous stretches. Those are the areas he focused on in training this winter by including frequent back-to-back runs of at least 90 miles.
Moore said he was finding it tough to keep his team under control on the fast trail.
"It's a little bit hard and a little bit icy," he said. "My leg's sore from standing on the brake."
Neff said he was having a troublesome ride. He's wiped out four times, once hitting his head on the ice, he said. Walter, his most experienced dog on the team, struggled and spent about 20 miles riding in the sled.
"It seems like everything that could go wrong did go wrong," Neff said.
Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, http://www.newsminer.com