Yukon Quest frontrunner and defending champion Allen Moore retained a hearty lead Sunday evening after Brent Sass scratched from the race due to an injury on the trail early Sunday, ending the neck-and-neck race between the two mushers and bumping former third-place contender Hugh Neff into second.
After spending 8 hours and 48 minutes at the final checkpoint at Braeburn -- 48 minutes more than the mandated rest time -- Moore, of Two Rivers, left the checkpoint at 2:28 p.m. Alaska time. He had lingered at the checkpoint in support of Sass, and to see him off to Whitehorse for further examination, according to an official race post.
"It feels weird not to race out of here," Moore told officials before heading off on the last 100-mile leg of the race. Race officials expected Moore to arrive at the finish line sometime after 12 a.m. Monday.
Neff, from the community of Tok, arrived at Braeburn at 3:13 p.m. Alaska time, where he must rest until 11:13 p.m Sunday.
Neff was the first musher on the scene of Sass's injury Sunday morning, according to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, where he remained for roughly 2 hours, feeding Sass's dogs, and eventually leading them to the checkpoint at Braeburn.
Rookie Matt Hall of Two Rivers was in third place, racing toward the Carmacks checkpoint on Sunday afternoon, followed closely by Cody Strathe of Fairbanks.
Race officials wrote that Sunday had been "a very different Yukon Quest Day." While the day started with a race too close to call between Moore and Sass, things quickly changed:
"The day then turned to waiting, wondering and finally realising all was not right. Brent was injured and had to be flown out to Whitehorse which made everyone a little anxious. As well as this the whole dynamic of the race changed. Allen left for Whitehorse without the race he anticipated and was obviously concerned. Hugh lead the way for Brent's team and Scott Smith mushed them in. All in all it finished on a more positive note for Brent and the race continues...."
Sass was taken off the trail Sunday morning after he suffered an injury between the checkpoints of Carmacks and Braeburn, and was brought into Braeburn via snowmachine, race officials said. Sass was reportedly in stable condition and taken to the Canadian city of Whitehorse for further evaluation.
Sass's injury opened up the race for Moore in what had been a previously-tight race. Moore had a roughly nine-hour lead on Neff when Moore left the Carmacks checkpoint early Saturday evening.
On Saturday evening, the race was too close to call -- Sass and Moore had been swapping the lead position over the course of the day. Sass blew through Carmacks around 2 p.m. Saturday, after finding out that Moore was still resting at the checkpoint, according to the Quest.
"I'm tired, stupid and haven't slept in days," Sass said at the checkpoint, according to an official race update.
Moore left Carmacks shortly after 4 p.m. Saturday, with 11 miles to make up to pass Sass on the way toward the mandatory eight-hour layover at Braeburn Lodge. Moore regained the lead early Sunday morning, KUAC reported.
With roughly 10 miles to go before hitting the Braeburn checkpoint, Sass ran into trouble and stopped moving, according to the race's live tracker. Around 11:30 a.m. Sunday, the Yukon Quest posted that race officials had sent a couple of snowmachines down the trail to see Sass and "ensure he does not need any assistance."
The Whitehorse Star tweeted around noon that Sass had been brought into the final checkpoint at Braeburn on snowmachine by the Canadian Rangers, and appeared to be receiving attention at the cabin.
By 12:30, the Star wrote that "Brent Sass's race is over. He was injured in a fall racing into Braeburn. Condition is stable, but he will be airlifted to the hospital."
Around 1 p.m., multiple sources reported that 34-year-old Sass had suffered a head injury sometime early Sunday morning when he fell off of his sled. Race officials confirmed that he had hurt himself in a fall.
"I wish I would have known," Moore told KUAC. He said it would have been easy to help Sass on the trail, had Moore not already regained the lead before Sass's injury.
Moore is expected to roll into Takhini Hot Springs checkpoint -- standing in for the final Whitehorse checkpoint due to weather concerns -- late Sunday night or early Monday morning, for his second consecutive win.
Sass finished third in the race last year. His goal for the race this year was simple, according to his musher profile page: "To win."
Contact Laurel Andrews at laurel(at)alaskadispatch.com