While Lance Mackey's record fourth consecutive victory commanded most of the attention, several other Iditarod stories were playing out along the 1,000-mile trail to Nome.
Before the race, many race fans considered this year's rookie class one of the strongest. By Tuesday night, Dan Kaduce of Chatanika was headed for rookie-of-the-year honors, holding 23rd place on Tuesday. Kaduce, the husband of middle-distance racer Jodi Bailey, has four top-10 finishes in the Yukon Quest. Two or three others could make the top-30 paying positions: Mike Williams Jr. of Akiak was running 25th; Michelle Phillips of Tagish in the Yukon, who has five top-eight Quest finishes on her resume, was 29th; 22-year-old Peter Kaiser of Bethel, sixth in last year's Kuskokwim 300, was running 30st and William "Middy" Johnson, the Unalakleet mayor, was 33rd. Not since 2004, when Hugh Neff of Tok led the rookie class, have more than three first-timers found their way into the top-30.
TOO LITTLE WORK?
Sebastian Schnuelle of Whitehorse had been on a steady march up the Iditarod standings since debuting in 2005 as a 38th-place rookie. Last year, only Lance Mackey beat the frizzy-haired Yukoner to Front Street. In all but one of those years, Schnuelle raced the Yukon Quest immediately before the Iditarod, winning it last year. In an effort to bolster his Iditarod prospects in what he said was his final year, Schnuelle skipped the Quest. But the strategy seems to have backfired as Schnuelle worked Tuesday to hold onto eighth place.
When Lance Mackey first won the Yukon Quest and Iditarod back to back in 2007, his barrier-shattering feat was hailed as something previously considered impossible. Today? Not so much. The last four Quest champions have finished first, first, second and second in the Iditarod that followed weeks later.
YOUNG SEAVEY OR OLD SEAVEY?
Dallas Seavey, mounting a late-race charge, left his father Mitch, the 2004 champion, in the dust between Elim and White Mountain. Dallas, the race leader to the halfway point in Cripple, pulled out of White Mountain in ninth place with a 16-minute lead over Mitch. If he holds it, that's an extra $2,200 in the pocket of the 23-year-old, who finished sixth last year.
FINE SENIOR MOMENT
Jim Lanier, 69, the oldest musher in this year's Iditarod, is driving his team toward a top-30 finish. He left Koyuk in 24th Tuesday. Lanier finished 40th back in 1984, and then took 14 years off from the Iditarod. He's run every race since 2000, finishing 18th in 2004 and 20th four years later.
JUST 6 TEAMMATES
Cim Smyth of Big Lake, the fifth-place finisher last year, was down to just six dogs, the minimum allowable, and struggling to hang onto a top-30 spot. He dropped his last dog leaving in Shaktoolik, 170 miles from the finish line. The second half of the 1,000-mile race has been a disaster for Smyth, who was the second musher into Takotna, the small town about 400 miles from the Willow race start. He got there with 15 dogs in harness before the wheels started falling off.
A POORER CHAMPION
Winning is nice, but it doesn't pay like it once did. Due to an Iditarod budget shortfall of more than $1 million, this year's purse was reduced and Mackey's $50,400 top prize is $18,600 less than he earned a year ago. That's less than the sixth-place finisher won last year, though the Dodge that goes to the winner eases the pain. Mackey's winnings might have been even less had third-place finisher Jeff King not donated $50,000 to the purse a couple of months ago. By finishing third, King earned $43,200.
Reach reporter Mike Campbell at email@example.com or 257-4329.
By MIKE CAMPBELL