WHITEHORSE, Yukon — Alaska musher Allen Moore claimed his second straight Yukon Quest victory early this morning, but not in the way anyone expected.
The 56-year-old from Two Rivers crossed the finish line at the Takhini Hot Springs at 2:12 a.m. AST Monday, breaking his own record for fastest finishing time on a shortened Quest trail.
Moore finished in eight days, 14 hours and 21 minutes. He’ll take home more than $22,700 for his second race win in only four attempts.
“I guess we’re doing a few things right, anyway,” Moore joked with reporters after he crossed the finish line. “But mainly we have some good dogs right now, and they’re hard to come by, just like any basketball or football team. Once you get that, you have a pretty good team for a few years and it’s really hard to bring in more that is that caliber after that.
“Right now, we have that. And I hope that will continue.”
Even as Moore celebrated, the party was subdued by Sunday’s incident involving Eureka musher Brent Sass.
Sass, 34, had been running neck and neck with Moore toward Braeburn, the final checkpoint along the historic gold rush trail, when he fell off his sled and suffered a head injury.
He was rescued by Canadian Rangers and brought to the Braeburn checkpoint, where he was airlifted to Whitehorse hospital, where he was treated and released.
Moore spent some extra time at Braeburn checkpoint, waiting for rangers to deliver Sass. He said the race down the home stretch was different without his rival pushing him.
“It would have been interesting,” he said. “We would have been neck and neck all the way here.”
This year’s race was 80 miles shorter than usual due to the removal of American Summit and the final leg to Whitehorse from the trail. The finish line change was made because of thin ice on the Yukon River.
Last year, Moore’s finishing time was eight days, 19 hours and 39 minutes, when the trail was 50 miles shorter due to a reroute around American Summit.
The last musher to win a Yukon Quest that finished at the Takhini Hot Springs was Moore’s wife, Aliy Zirkle. Just 30 at the time, Zirkle became the first women to win the 1,000-mile race.
Now 44, Zirkle won last week’s Yukon Quest 300 and has been the runnerup in the last two Iditarods. She and Moore own SP Kennels in Two Rivers, just outside of Fairbanks.
“Right now in our kennel, we really do have the best dogs in the sport right now,” she said. “We’ve known that for a year and a half. This kind of puts the icing on the cake.”
She said their current group of dogs are in their late prime, including 7-year-old lead dog Quito, her brother Nacho and sister Chica.
“We know it takes individual all-stars like Wayne Gretzky or LeBron James … and they are it,” Zirkle said. “So we hope we keep getting some great dogs in the future, but right now, that is the team and that’s why we’re doing as well as we’re doing.
“Of course, having the best dogs with their ability and their enthusiasm and their drive, you still have to have some mushers who can put two and two together,” she added. “I just really think that Allen over the last five years has become really smart on the back of the runners.
“He’s obviously figured it out.”
By Marcel Vander Wier