On a day offering two mid-distance sled dog races in Alaska, Richie Diehl of Aniak held a narrow lead late in the Kuskokwim 300 and Jodi Bailey of Chatanika owned a narrow lead early in the Summit Quest 300.
Diehl is among 13 mushers racing for a fat purse of $160,000 in the Kusko, one of the most prestigious mid-distance races in the sport. The race started Friday evening in Bethel and is expected to end there Sunday morning.
Five teams, including six-time champion Pete Kaiser of Bethel and nine-time champion Jeff King of Denali Park, had made their third of four stops at a checkpoint near Tuluksak by 7 p.m. Saturday. They’ll visit the checkpoint one more time before making the final run to the finish line.
Diehl, who is coming off a victory in the Bogus Creek 150, left the checkpoint at 5:45 p.m. with a team of 11 dogs. Alexander Larson left at 6:17 p.m. driving a team of eight, followed by Kaiser at 6:43 p.m., Isaac Underwood at 6:46 p.m. and King at 7:10.
The race began with 16 mushers, but three had scratched by Saturday evening.
In this weekend’s other race in Bethel, two-time Bogus Creek 150 champion Jackie Larson of Napaskiak won the Akiak Dash on Saturday night by beating Bethel’s Matt Scott by six minutes. Larson finish the 65-mile race in 5 hours, 28 minutes.
In the Interior, the Summit Quest 300 began its inaugural run with a field of 18, including 11 rookies.
The race, which goes 300 miles to Central, is being held in lieu of the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest, which couldn’t be held this year because the U.S.-Canada border is closed because of the pandemic.
Much of the race will follow the traditional Quest trail, although not at the beginning.
The race began at the Pleasant Valley Store on Chena Hot Springs Road. Bailey was the first musher to leave, and after 40 miles and about 3.5 hours later she was the first to reach the first checkpoint at the Pleasant Valley Community Center.
After that loop, the trail follows the traditional Quest course, starting with a 70-mile run to Mile 101 of the Steese Highway. Among the challenges ahead is the climb up Eagle Summit.
Bailey reached the community center at 2:32 p.m. Saturday. Close behind was Hugh Neff, who got there at 2:40 p.m., followed by Eddie Burke Jr. at 3:10 p.m.
Neff, a two-time Quest champion, is racing a team on the Quest trail for the first time since 2018, when he was banned from the race for a year. A dog on his team died during the 2018 race and officials banned him from the 2019 race, citing concerns over his dog care. Neff disputed those claims.
This story has been updated to correct information about the winner of the Akiak Dash.