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Mackey dogs have romance, not running, on their minds

Kyle Hopkins
Mitch Seavey tends to his dog team at the Kaltag checkpoint of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 10, 2012.
Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News
Aliy Zirkle arrives at the Kaltag checkpoint of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 10, 2012.
Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News
Aliy Zirkle arrives at the Kaltag checkpoint of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 10, 2012.
Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News
John Baker looks over his shoulder at Mitch Seavey as they both approach the Kaltag checkpoint of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 10, 2012.
Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News
Aaron Burmeister carries a pot of water at the Kaltag checkpoint of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 10, 2012.
Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News
Mitch Seavey drives off the Yukon River and into the Kaltag checkpoint of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 10, 2012.
Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News
Aaron Burmeister drives off the Yukon river and into the Kaltag checkpoint of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 10, 2012.
Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News
The six front runners of the race all stopped for rest at the Kaltag checkpoint of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 10, 2012.
Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News
Aliy Zirkle talks with children after she arrived at the Kaltag checkpoint of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 10, 2012.
Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News
Directions for mushers are lined out at the Kaltag checkpoint during the 2012 Iditarod Sled Dog Race.
Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News
Aliy Zirkle takes a break in Kaltag after pullin into the Yukon River checkpoint at 11:14 Saturday morning during the 2012 Iditarod Sled Dog Race.
Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News
Aliy Zirkle pulled into Kaltag at 11:14 Saturday morning during the 2012 Iditarod Sled Dog Race.
Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News
Aliy Zirkle pulled into Kaltag at 11:14 Saturday morning during the 2012 Iditarod Sled Dog Race.
Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News
Aliy Zirkle pulled into Kaltag at 11:14 Saturday morning during the 2012 Iditarod Sled Dog Race.
Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News
Aliy Zirkle pulled into Kaltag at 11:14 Saturday morning during the 2012 Iditarod Sled Dog Race.
Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News
The aurora borealis swirls in the sky over the Yukon River village of Ruby, Alaska, a checkpoint of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Friday, March 9, 2012.
Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News
Jeff King grabs a quick rest at the Nulato checkpoint on Saturday morning.
Sebastian Schnuelle
Mitch Seavey tends to his dog team at the Kaltag checkpoint of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 10, 2012.
Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News
Aliy Zirkle arrives at the Kaltag checkpoint of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 10, 2012.
Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News
Aliy Zirkle arrives at the Kaltag checkpoint of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 10, 2012.
Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News
John Baker looks over his shoulder at Mitch Seavey as they both approach the Kaltag checkpoint of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 10, 2012.
Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News
Aaron Burmeister carries a pot of water at the Kaltag checkpoint of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 10, 2012.
Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News
Mitch Seavey drives off the Yukon River and into the Kaltag checkpoint of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 10, 2012.
Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News
Aaron Burmeister drives off the Yukon river and into the Kaltag checkpoint of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 10, 2012.
Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News
The six front runners of the race all stopped for rest at the Kaltag checkpoint of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 10, 2012.
Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News
Aliy Zirkle talks with children after she arrived at the Kaltag checkpoint of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 10, 2012.
Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News
Directions for mushers are lined out at the Kaltag checkpoint during the 2012 Iditarod Sled Dog Race.
Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News
Aliy Zirkle takes a break in Kaltag after pullin into the Yukon River checkpoint at 11:14 Saturday morning during the 2012 Iditarod Sled Dog Race.
Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News
Aliy Zirkle pulled into Kaltag at 11:14 Saturday morning during the 2012 Iditarod Sled Dog Race.
Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News
Aliy Zirkle pulled into Kaltag at 11:14 Saturday morning during the 2012 Iditarod Sled Dog Race.
Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News
Aliy Zirkle pulled into Kaltag at 11:14 Saturday morning during the 2012 Iditarod Sled Dog Race.
Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News
Aliy Zirkle pulled into Kaltag at 11:14 Saturday morning during the 2012 Iditarod Sled Dog Race.
Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News
The aurora borealis swirls in the sky over the Yukon River village of Ruby, Alaska, a checkpoint of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Friday, March 9, 2012.
Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News
Jeff King grabs a quick rest at the Nulato checkpoint on Saturday morning.
Sebastian Schnuelle

RUBY -- Late Friday night, Lance Mackey was more than 50 miles behind Iditarod leader Aliy Zirkle. His go-to sled dog, Maple, was in heat and driving the rest of the team bonkers. Even the zipper on his jumpsuit was broken.

The Mackey comeback, it seems, will have to wait another year.

"I had similar issues last year. I'm down on dogs again," Mackey said. "I had a ... breeding frenzy from the starting line that basically wore my dog team out."

A fifth Iditarod victory is out of the question, he said.

"Not even close."

Mackey blames himself. Maybe he should have dropped Maple, a favored lead dog, early in the race. There were other leaders, he said. Instead, his team dogs chewed at harnesses during stops and refused to snack, distracted by Maple.

Mackey, who had dropped six of his 16 dogs, reached Nulato at 6:09 p.m. Saturday. By then, the chase pack was at Kaltag, 47 miles ahead, and Zirkle had already spent an hour on the trail out of Kaltag, headed toward Unalakleet.

Mackey, 41, is a fan favorite and a mushing maestro. He is the only person to win the Iditarod and Yukon Quest in the same year -- something he did twice -- and the only person to win each of those races four times in a row.

His streak of Iditarod victories ended last year, when he finished 16th. On Saturday, he reached Nulato in 25th place.

So who does Mackey think will win this year? You'd be surprised.

"If I had to put my money on a dark horse, I'd say Sigrid (Ekran). Her team looks incredible," he said. "Pete Kaiser looks pretty interesting. I hate to say Dallas Seavey. I really do, because he's not my favorite guy."

Mackey, who's not known for pulling punches, says he thinks Dallas is "cocky and obnoxious."

Conversely, Mackey said Aliy Zirkle would be "the perfect person" to represent the sport as the Iditarod champion but he suspects the musher may fade late in the race.


By KYLE HOPKINS
Anchorage Daily News
Contact Kyle Hopkins at or on