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Banquet gives Iditarod hopefuls last chance to size up competition

While the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race might be defined by booties and fur-rimmed parkas, the banquet can be a different beast all together.

There are still Carhartts and Bunny Boots and plenty of polar fleece pull-overs, but among the usual is the unusual.

Take for instance the "Distance Divas" – veteran mushers Jodi Bailey, Kelley Griffin and Michelle Phillips – who have a long-standing banquet tradition of hitting up a local thrift shop before the event and picking out the most fabulous frocks they can find.

"Mushers don't get out a lot," Phillips said, wearing a dark blue satin cocktail dress and matching headband. "And we definitely don't get a chance to dress up."

But amid the the dress up (or lack thereof) is a purpose. The banquet serves as the last official gathering before mushers head to downtown Anchorage Saturday for the ceremonial start of the 41st running of the race. It's at the banquet that mushers get to greet fans, get an early scoop on the competition and -- most importantly -- draw their bib numbers.

Four-time champ Martin Buser drew bib No. 2, making him the first official musher out of the starting chutes Saturday at the ceremonial start of the race, in Anchorage.

"I guess someone has to be the rabbit," he said.

Dallas Seavey, the defending Iditarod champion, pulled 19th, while the runner-up in last year's race, Aliy Zirkle of Two Rivers, will follow him out, 27th of the 66 team field.

And for the superstitious out there, 2011 champ John Baker pulled bib No. 13, considered the luckiest bib in Iditarod lore. Lance Mackey, his father Dick, and his half-brother Rick all won Iditarods wearing bib No. 13.

Contact Suzanna Caldwell at suzanna(at)

CORRECTION: Story was updated to make clear that three mushing Mackeys -- father Dick along with sons Rick and Lance -- all wore bib No. 13.

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