Mackey headlines field of 23 mushers in new Top of the World 350

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Four-time Iditarod champion Lance Mackey is among 23 competitors heading to Eagle in a new sled dog race that pays tribute to an Eagle Village tribal chief who died earlier this year.

The inaugural Top of the World 350 kicked off Thursday morning in Tok, where the winner is expected to cross the finish line Sunday.

Hugh Neff, winner of the 2012 Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race, developed the idea with Jody Potts, a niece of Isaac Juneby, 71, who died July 1 in a car accident in Anchorage. Juneby served for a number of years as chief of Eagle Village, his place of residence at the time of his death.

Mushers in the Top of the World 350 were carrying memorabilia of Juneby to present to Eagle Village residents. Race participants will spend Friday in the village, where a potlatch and traditional dance will be held at the village hall. A ceremony honoring Juneby also will be held at the hall.

The race will restart Saturday afternoon in Eagle, with a four-hour mandatory layover and time adjustments in Chicken.

Neff said that in addition to honoring Juneby, he wanted to develop the race because of his love of the land near his hometown of Tok.

"It's one of the toughest mid-distance races in the world," Neff said. "It's old-school mushing at its finest. It's not about the fancy gear and fancy dogs; it's about being as good at the end as you were at the start."

The entry fee for the race $200; the purse amount will be determined when the mushers get to Eagle, according to Neff.

"It's really not a race about the money," he said. "It's more about spirit," he said.