WHITEHORSE, Yukon -- Four-time Yukon Quest champion Lance Mackey may not have taken a fifth title this year, but that's OK with him.
"I have zero complaints, zero," he said.
Mackey missed the morning's excitement when Hugh Neff edged Allen Moore by 26 seconds to win his first Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race title.
Mackey arrived in Whitehorse at 10:39 a.m. Yukon time, with a team of nine bright-eyed sled dogs that loped into the finish chute.
Mackey said all along he was racing a team of newbies. The championship team that led him to four Quest wins and four-consecutive Iditarod championships was burned out after thousands of miles.
"I wanted to have a team that ran across the finish line and ate when they got here," Mackey said. "That's been the whole goal since I left the starting line -- to get a bunch of young dogs to the finish line. I didn't get as many as I'd have hoped, but this was a hell of a race."
While his team might not have been able to keep up this year, watch for them in the future.
"I feel the contenders didn't allow us to take any breaks or back off a bit," Mackey said. "This was full-throttle from day one, and in order to keep up you have to go full-throttle and that's kind of hard when you have a team that doesn't know how to go full throttle.
"Now that they know what it's about, they will come back and they will be tough to beat."
Two hours behind Mackey was fourth-place finisher Jake Berkowitz, the 2012 rookie of the year. Berkowitz was strong coming into the finish, staying relatively close to Mackey, a racing trait the 25-year-old Big Lake musher seems to find himself in often. In many mid-distance races, Berkowitz and Mackey have found themselves finishing just ahead or behind one another.
But being too much closer wasn't in Berkowitz's race plan. He said he wasn't going to cut rest in Carmacks, two checkpoints before Whitehorse, in order to stay near Mackey.
"It turned out to be a good thing because these were two long runs," he said. "The dogs are all on their feet (now.)"
Berkowitz, like a handful of other mushers including Moore, Mackey and Neff, is signed up to run the Iditarod, which has its ceremonial start in Anchorage on March 3.
Berkowitz is ready to rest up, enjoy the next week in Whitehorse and prepare for the Iditarod. But the Quest will always be something special.
"It was everything and more. If you tried to explain what we run in, I wouldn't believe you until I actually saw it," he said. "It feels pretty good to be done with it, but I feel we've accomplished something, and I think the dogs pick up on that as well."
Follow Suzanna Caldwell's coverage of the Yukon Quest at http://newsminer.com/yukonquest2012
By SUZANNA CALDWELL
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner