From Casey Grove in Takotna --
Yukon Quest champion Allen Moore was checking on his young Iditarod team this morning, nearly finished with his mandatory 24-hour rest here as we spoke about his race, the chances of wife and kennel partner Aliy Zirkle claiming her first Iditarod win and the strategy of the current frontrunners.
Q. How's your race going?
A. "I've got these young dogs. I just want to show 'em what they can do."
Q. What do you think of Aliy's chances?
A. "I think she'll put herself where she'll be close. You just want to have a chance, you know. It's hard to tell right now, with all the 24s being taken in different places. Two years ago, she ran about a nine-day race. At the pace she's going right now, it should be even under that a little bit. Not too many people have run in under nine days. I mean, right now, Jeff and them, looks like if they can keep doing what they're doing, they'll run way under nine days. But it just hasn't been done."
Q. What do you think about them waiting so long to take their 24?
A. "Well, I would gamble on a different way of it myself. I mean, right now, for people looking at it, it probably looks pretty good for that person: Jeff. It just hasn't worked before. But you have to try it, I guess. Paul Gebhardt did it a few years ago. It didn't work too good. It just means you have to push 'em really hard to get to there. Personally, I don't think it'll work. A lot of times, dogs decide they want to quit on you, because you pushed 'em so hard. I think the probability is greater of that happening than him keep doing what he's doing and finish in eight-and-a-half days. But he still has a lot of dogs and he still has a lot of speed. Who knows? I would gamble the other way, but he's thinking he can do it."
Q. What's that gamble based on? Like with Martin Buser last year, what was he gambling on? A good or bad trail?
A. "I would say he just ran 'em too hard, too early. I don't think it had anything to do with the hard trail. If he thought it was just a hard trail, then he'd be doing the same thing this year. Because, we had a hard trail back there, but it was fast anyway."
Q. So running them too hard, too early could happen to anybody on any trail?
A. "Oh yeah. And they (the dogs) will let you know too. They'll just decide, 'Well, you know, I don't want to go anymore. Which happened to Jeff two years in a row last year. He got third, but he was way out ahead. That's where Aliy and them passed him, because they decided they didn't want to go anymore. So he had to slow way down. And that's what'll happen."
Q. How are you feeling after winning the Yukon Quest and now on another 1,000-mile race?
A. "(This) was probably the roughest trail. And everybody will tell you that. You couldn't get any worse trail than what we went through. But in some sense, you feel like a survivor, getting through that. There's still a race to be ran."
Q. So you're just trying to see what the younger dogs can do?
A. "I just push ‘em to what I think there ability is. And there's still a lot of racing to do. This is early. There's still like 700 miles to go. Pushing, especially pushing younger dogs early, it’s really not going to help you. So I'm trying to take it easy on ’em. Maybe the farther we go in the race, I'll push ’em a little and see what they can or can't do.”
Q. How do you and Aliy make that decision about who's going to take what dogs?
A. "We decided a long time ago that somebody's going to have the No. 1 team that we think can win a race in every race. And last few years, it's been me in the Quest and her in Iditarod. She won the Quest a few years ago. She's got her eyes set on Iditarod. So I'm happy running the Quest with the No. 1 team and letting her do it in Iditarod."
Q. So she's got the same team you ran in the Quest?
A. “We just kind of traded teams a little bit. All of them but two. One’s in heat, came in heat, and she didn’t want to take her. And then another one is right here. So she took 12 of my 14 I had in the Quest.”
Q. Do you still feel the 1,000 miles of the Quest when you're running out here?
A. Yeah, it's good and bad, I guess. It doesn't take you very long to get back into a routine, I think. But it wears on a person a little bit.”
Q. How were her dogs looking?
A. "They were good. Everything's on the schedule we had planned for her. It's just a question of can those other mushers do what they think they can do. And it was the same with me in the Quest, with Brent (Sass) running hundred-mile runs and not resting very much. I had the opportunity to either go with him, or stay with my schedule and hope the percentages fell in my favor. And they did. So that's what we're hoping here for Aliy. If she can run nine days, or even a little under nine days, probably a 95 percent chance she would win in any given year. That don't mean she will this year, if those other guys hold out. As a gamblin' man, I would bet on that. But there's just so many good people up there, you don't know what's going to happen. Martin (Buser) he's way up there too. He ran a whole lot real early, and we'll see if that affects him later on. Once you get close to Kaltag and close to Unalakleet, you know how it's going to play out a little bit. You don't know if the dogs are going to want to continue on, but Aliy caught Jeff last year right outside of Koyuk. And he had been doing a lot of hard runs to get that far ahead, and his dogs just didn’t want to go anymore. Percentages paid out last year. I'm kind of thinking, hoping, the same thing will happen more often than not, that they just can't do what they're trying to do."
Q. Did I hear you howling along with Aliy's dogs last night, telling them to get fired up?
A. "Oh, when Aliy's was starting to start? Yeah. It get's 'em fired up. They're all used to me after going through a thousand miles. It's kind of like a pre-run deal for us, get 'em all fired up. Time to get after it. Especially when you have a longer rest. Let 'em know what's going on."
After the interview, Moore grabbed hot water and a sandwich from the checkpoint volunteers and clapped his hands, telling his dogs, “Ready? Ready to go? Good dogs.” The volunteers led his team to the trail out of town and Moore set off for the next checkpoint, Ophir, under overcast skies and in a temperature of 9 below zero.
Anchorage Daily News / adn.com