Arleigh Reynolds showed he has the team to beat in this year's Fur Rendezvous Open World Championship Sled Dog Race.
His sled was the seventh to leave the chute on Friday and the third to cross the finish line. Reynolds' day time of 90 minutes, 57 seconds was a minute and a half faster than his closest competitor, five-time Rondy winner Egil Ellis.
Reynolds, a veterinarian and associate dean at the new animal medicine program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, won last year's Rondy. His team of 14 was headed by two lead dogs, Guts, who was on last year's winning team, and Stratus, who replaced last year's co-leader Stock.
Ellis, who finished second last year, ran with just 10 dogs. It was the smallest team in the field.
Ellis said he planned to retire after last year, but hasn't quite gotten there yet.
"I still have dogs, so why not run the Rondy?" he said. All 10 looked fresh as they returned and Ellis said he figured they'd all start on Saturday for the second of three heats that make up Rondy.
Less than 30 seconds separate Ellis from Kevin Cook and Jason Dunlap. Cook started with 18 dogs and Dunlap had 14.
Lance Mackey, running with what he described as "a puppy team," started and finished in last place. The four-time Iditarod and Yukon Quest champion is competing in the Rondy race as a rookie. Health issues have kept him from signing up for the long-distance races this year.
Mackey said he was hoping to stay out of the way of the other racers and would be completely satisfied with claiming the Red Lantern.
All of the dogs on his team are related to his famed leader Zorro, Mackey said, but most are yearlings. They left the gate with the most enthusiasm of any team, bounding in the air. A double rooster-tail of snow sprayed up behind Mackey's sled as he tore down Fourth Ave. They returned with tongues out, looking a little stunned.
Mushers described trail conditions for the 25-mile run as excellent. The run down Fourth Ave. was white and packed. Compared to the soft and gritty condition encountered in many years, it looked and felt like an ideal sled racetrack.
"The city ought to get some kind of award," said race marshal Janet Clarke.
Not only were the streets in prime condition, but a propitious snowfall earlier this week and steady below-freezing temperatures had made it possible to groom the Alaska Sled Dog Racing Association trails into similar shape. The bike trails, which have to bear the traffic of skiers, pedestrians and winter cyclists, were not as good as the sled trails, she said, but still in very good order.
"The city has taken the cleaner snow from lesser-used streets and piled it in strategic locations for us," she said.
The teams will leave in reverse order of their first day times from the starting line at Fourth and D St. at noon on Saturday, meaning that Mackey will leave first.
Reach Mike Dunham at email@example.com or 257-4332.
Fur Rendezvous World Championships
1. Arleigh Reynolds, Salcha,
2. Egil Ellis, Willow,
3. Kevin Cook, Preeceville, Saskatchewan,
4. Jason Dunlap, Salcha,
5. Greg Taylor, Fairbanks,
6. Ken Chezik, Fife Lake, Mich.,
7. Marvin Kokrine, North Pole,
8. John Erhart, (Tanana),
9. Donald Cousins, Crooked Creek, Alberta,
10. Jack Berry, Homer,
11. James Wheeler, Clam Gulch,
12. John Hanson, New Stuyahok,
13. Bill Kornmuller, Willow,
14. Dave Turner, Sandy, Ore.,
15. Lance Mackey, Fairbanks,
By MIKE DUNHAM