NOME -- Dallas Seavey's meteoric rise from promising upstart to undisputed heavyweight champion of the sled dog racing world couldn't have happened without the help of a supportive partner and a program of careful breeding and training designed to create superstar dogs with a love of loping.
"This is one of the best dog teams that has ever run the Iditarod Trail," he said after winning his third Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Wednesday morning in Nome.
To many observers that may sound like bluster, and Seavey knows it. But he feels like his young team of mostly homegrown animals has the pedigree to back the claim.
"That may be an overly proud pet parent talking, but they did just win the Iditarod, so that's some credibility," he said.
Seavey and his wife, Jen, run a kennel out of Willow, where over the past six years they've studiously assembled a homegrown group of dogs that might be one of the best canine crews ever put together.
Leading the way again this year was steady leader Reef, one of several "Hawaii" littermates in the team from a legendary female named Ursus. Now 13, Ursus gave birth to six of the dogs that started this year's race, including Reef's siblings Maui, Tide and Surf, as well as the dog's half-siblings Loben and Stagger.
Ironically, the couple bought Ursus from Aaron Burmeister, one of Seavey's main competitors in this year's race who was en route to Nome on Wednesday morning, finishing third.
Only two dogs on the winning team were older than 4 years old, a pair of dogs Dallas and Jen purchased from Jeff King named Beatle and Schooner. Beatle won a Golden Harness award last year and again ran up front -- with Reef this time around.
Seavey said he and his wife wanted a team made up of dogs they raised from pups, and most of this year's team are 3- and 4-year-olds who were born and raised in Willow.
"I already know so much about those dogs because I've worked with their parents, their grandparents and their great-grandparents," he said. "… It makes a big difference having them raised in your kennel."
Every time Seavey asked his team to get up from their rest stops and hit the trail, they did so willingly, he said, and with a spring in their steps. The reason, he said, is the trust between musher and team.
"You have to trust that your dog team is going to take off and run fast again," he said. "… That's the relationship you have to build with those dogs."
To see the dogs run so hard for so long was the ultimate high of Seavey's race, he said. He said every time the dogs got going, it seemed like they were pushing harder to get to Nome.
"We just kept going faster and faster and faster until we ended up here first," he said.
Jen said seeing the family's hard work pay off with unprecedented success is a dream come true.
"It's very gratifying," she said.
The superstar of this year's squad, Dallas said, was a big powerhouse of a dog named Hero. Hero ran to Nome last year as a 2-year-old and has now gone the distance twice in three years. The dog even ran lead at times despite never being taught the commands.
"Nothing slows him down, he's a big boy," he said.
With a young, experienced and home-raised team, Seavey said there's no reason his superstar squad can't challenge for the championship next year.
"I think we're going to see a lot of familiar faces next year," he said.
If not, Seavey fans shouldn't worry. Christian Turner is running the Seaveys' second team this year and on Wednesday morning, Seavey's junior varsity was sitting in 17th place, ahead of top-flight mushers such as former champions John Baker, Martin Buser and Lance Mackey.