Mitch Seavey wins Tustumena 200; two dogs die on other teams

Beth Bragg

Two sled dogs died in the Tustumena 200 over the weekend, marring a big weekend of mushing on the Kenai Peninsula that saw two area mushers claim victories.

A female on Paul Gebhardt's team and a male on Nicolas Petit's team died on the trail during the 200-mile race, according to the event's Facebook page.

Necropsies on each animal will be performed, according to the online reports and in accordance with race rules. The Facebook posts did not say exactly when or where the deaths occurred, and race officials were unavailable for comment Monday night.

Gebhardt is from Kasilof, where the race begins and ends, and is a two-time Tustumena 200 champion who placed fourth this time around.

His $3,000 in prize money will be withheld until necropsy results are in -- if there's any sign of abuse, he'll forfeit the money and get a lifetime ban from the race.

Petit, who is from Girdwood, did not finish the race. He was listed as a scratch on the results.

Claiming the $7,000 first-place prize was Mitch Seavey of Sterling, a Peninsula resident and first-time Tustumena champion. His son Conway won the companion Tustumena 100, a 100-mile race.

The Tustumena 200 is an Iditarod qualifier that dates back to 1984. It goes from Kasilof to Homer and includes the Caribou Hills, which makes it a hilly, challenging race. Adding to the challenge this year were warm temperatures -- dogs perform best in the cold -- and minimal snow.

Petit's dog Jack, a 3-year-old, was the first to die. It died sometime Saturday in the second half of the race as Petit was making the 50-mile run from the halfway point at East End Roadhouse in Homer to Freddie's Roadhouse, according to the Facebook post.

Gebhardt's dog Fox, a 2-year-old, also died on the trail. The death was reported Monday afternoon, but the announcement didn't say if the dog died Saturday or Sunday or where on the trail it died.

"Paul attempted CPR but could not revive her," the Facebook post said.

The race, which had a purse of $25,000, began Saturday morning at 11 a.m. and wrapped up Sunday night. Rules required that teams take 10 hours of rest time during the race, including a mandatory four-hour layover at Freddie's on the return trip.

Seaveys double up

The Seavey family, which celebrated 25-year-old Dallas' Iditarod victory last year, had two champs to cheer for Sunday.

Mitch Seavey, Dallas' dad and the 2004 Iditarod champion, won the Tustemena 200. And Conway Seavey, Dallas' younger brother, won the Tustumena 100.

Mitch Seavey clocked a time of 30 hours, 7 minutes, finishing at 5:25 p.m. Sunday. He was nearly 20 minutes ahead of second-place Ray Redington of Wasilla. Four-time Iditarod champion Jeff King of Denali Park placed third.

Seavey told the Peninsula Clarion that he approached the race with low expectations, planning to use it to tune up his team for next month's Iditarod.

"I went out for a training run and came back first," he said.

Seavey told the Clarion he didn't realize he was in contention for the win until he was at Freddie's on the return trip, 50 miles from the finish line. That's where adjustments are made to account for the time differential at the start of the race, when left in two-minute increments.

Until then, Seavey was "cruising around and training my dogs," he told the Clarion,.

"And all of a sudden, I was in first place," he said. "Then, I had a dilemma. I actually had to race."

Behind him were Redington and King, who have both won middle distance races this season. Redington won the Northern Lights 200 last month and King took the Kusko 300 crown.

King left Freddie's in sixth place and managed to pass three teams in the final 50 miles to the finish line.