Mackeys previous Quest ended with an embarrassing scratch in Dawson City. The cancer survivor sat out last years race while dealing with lingering health problems, some of which have left him vulnerable to cold in his hands and feet.
Not only is Ed Hopkins the top Canadian finisher in this years race, but he topped wife Michelle Phillips best Quest run, a fourth-place finish in 2008.
Sass earned the victory with a burst in the final leg to outrun two-time defending champion Allen Moore. After dominating the race for more than 900 miles with endurance and power, Sass finished it off with a 73-mile run, crossing the Fairbanks finish line at 10:52 p.m. to cheers of wild and free, the name of his kennel.
Sass had to work harder hoisting his team over the top of Eagle Summit, then surviving a harrowing ride down the far side of the summit. The Eureka musher arrived at the Mile 101 checkpoint drenched in sweat and blanketed in snow.
SpotTracker devices on the mushers sleds showed Moore of Two River only a dozen miles behind race leader Brent Sass about 25 miles outside Central on Birch Creek Sunday morning. Less than 24 hours earlier, Moore lagged some seven hours behind.
Defending champion Allen Moore was within about 30 miles of Circle and had opened a yawning gap on Hugh Neff and Ed Hopkins, who were running neck-and-neck for third place. Behind them was a gap of nearly 70 miles to the fifth-place musher.
Race leader Brent Sass said the moose rose up on its back legs and pounded its feet down toward his four front dogs, letting up puffs of snow around them. When his unhurt team scurried to the side, the moose wandered by.
Brent Sass left the Yukon Quest halfway point with a six-hour lead over two-time defending champion Allen Moore.
By early Monday morning, 2012 champion Hugh Neff of Tok was back on the trail, chasing race leader Brent Sass, who'd left two hours and 35 minutes earlier. The next checkpoint of Stepping Stone is about 50 miles away.
The Alaska musher from Denali Park was easily the first musher into the Braeburn checkpoint but trailed he Tok musher Hugh Neff out of the subsequent checkpoint of Carmacks. Two days into the 1,000-mile race to Fairbanks, a lead pack had begun to form.
Saturday's Yukon Quest begins with a one-two punch -- the first musher on the trail will be two-time champion Allen Moore and the second will be Brent Sass, who traded the lead with Moore for most of the 2014 race.
Food Drop day is a big milestone leading up to the Yukon Quest, which begins in Whitehorse on Feb. 7. Not only is it a logistical challenge, but purchasing thousands of dollars worth of supplies is probably the biggest financial commitment for mushers.
A Yukon River ice jam caused severe flooding early Friday morning in Eagle, resulting in significant damage to seven homes in the community.
The Bureau of Land Management has released a new alternative to a land management plan that would allow mining in a portion of the White Mountains National Recreation Area.