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Win-lose for Iditarod mushers: Lower entry fees but less prize money for 2021

  • Author: Anchorage Daily News
  • Updated: June 4, 2020
  • Published June 4, 2020

Michelle Phillips and her team approach Nome on their way to a 13th-place finish in this year's Iditarod. (Marc Lester / ADN)

Early-bird entrants in the 2021 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race will get a discounted entry fee and the top 20 finishers will likely get a smaller paycheck as a result, the race announced Thursday.

The guaranteed purse will be slashed by 20%, from $500,000 to $400,000.

That reduction will allow race organizers to lower the entry fee -- usually $4,000 -- by 50% to 25% for mushers who sign up early.

Entries for next year’s race from Anchorage to Nome opened this week.

Anyone who signs up by midnight on June 27 will pay a $2,000 entry fee. Anyone who signs up between June 28 and Aug. 31 will pay $3,000.

The entry fee goes to $4,000 from Sept. 1 to Nov. 30 and shoots up to $8,000 after that -- the same as last year. The 2021 race begins on Saturday, March 6, with a ceremonial start in Anchorage.

The changes are being made in anticipation of “the impact of COVID-19 for its collective community,” according to a statement from the race.

A number of mushers run tourism businesses in the summer, and many of the tourists who take kennel tours and sled dog rides are from cruise ships -- and the pandemic has wiped out most sailings to Alaska this summer.

This year’s Iditarod purse paid $501,120, with $51,607 going to winner Thomas Waerner. The top 20 finishers all took home prize money, and every finisher outside the top 20 received $1,049, a figure that represents the historic distance of the Iditarod trail.

Over the years, the purse has ranged from $50,000 in the inaugural race in 1973 -- Dick Wilmarth took home $12,000 for his victory -- to $925,052 in the 2008 race -- Lance Mackey won $69,000 for his win.

The loss in recent years of major sponsors like Wells Fargo and Jack Daniel’s has put a dent in race revenue and the purse has dropped as a result. In 2018, the race reduced the number of finishers who win a percentage of the purse from the top 30 to the top 20.

The winner’s share of the purse shot up to $70,000-$75,000 during a three-year range from 2015-17 and has been about $50,000 in the three years since. The winner also has traditionally received a new truck from Anchorage Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram, but the franchise ended its sponsorship, effective with the 2021 race.

New this year is $500 worth of reimbursements for veterinary care for the first 50 mushers who sign up for the race. The reimbursements are part of the Pike Dog First Wellness Initiative.

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