Iditarod

Iditarod rejects veteran musher Hugh Neff’s application to run 2023 race

Hugh Neff Susitna River Restart of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Willow

After scratching in the 2022 Iditarod, veteran musher Hugh Neff will not be running in the 2023 edition of the race.

Neff said on social media Friday that the Iditarod had rejected his application for next year’s race, calling it “a sad day for Alaskan mushing history.” The Iditarod Trail Committee explained its decision in a statement Tuesday, saying Neff’s application was rejected due to concerns about his team’s care in the 2022 race.

The committee’s statement reads:

“Recently, the Iditarod’s Qualifying Review Board (QRB) met to review Hugh Neff’s request to run the 2023 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. The panel has reviewed the history regarding Neff’s attention to his team’s care during the 2022 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Hugh was asked to scratch or be disqualified from the race due to the poor health of his dogs on the trail.

“While Hugh Neff has competed in 15 Iditarods and completed 13, the Qualifying Review Board made the decision to withdraw him from the 2023 field. Dog health and care are central to the success of the Iditarod. We are committed to ensuring a culture of exemplary dog care and we demand the same commitment of all teams who enter the race.”

Neff said in an interview Tuesday that he “disagreed vehemently” when he was given the ultimatum to scratch or be disqualified. He said he had no further communication with the Iditarod Trail Committee until he received a letter alerting him he’d been rejected.

Neff believes he is being unfairly vilified.

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“Like Lance Mackey once told me, in life you’re gonna have happy people like you and half the people don’t,” he said. “Unfortunately for me, the people that don’t like me are the ones in charge of the race.”

Alaska’s News Source first reported on the rejection of Neff’s application.

[This year’s Iditarod sign-ups matched the all-time low. Here’s what’s behind it.]

In the 2022 Iditarod, Neff reached the Ruby checkpoint running in second place behind eventual champion Brent Sass. He had told Alaska Public Media that his dogs “were sick yesterday and not eating well had the diarrhea but now they came around, thank God.”

A little more than three hours after he arrived on the morning of March 11, he and his remaining team of 11 dogs scratched. Neff was running Iditarod veteran Jim Lanier’s dog team during the race.

At the time, Iditarod released a statement reading: “In conjunction with Iditarod Race Marshal Mark Nordman, Neff made the decision to scratch due to their concern for his race team.”

Neff, of Anchorage, was also not allowed to run the 2019 Iditarod. After one of Neff’s dogs, Boppy, died during the 2018 Yukon Quest, he was barred from running that race in 2019. Iditarod officials followed suit, denying his application “due to concerns over his lack of dog care during the 2018 Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race.”

Neff, who has run 34 thousand-mile races, has won the Quest twice and has placed as high as fifth in his 13 Iditarod finishes.

He admits he’s had dog care issues but said he’s tried to improve year by year. He believes he’s being held to a different standard than other top distance mushers.

“If you compare what I’ve done over the years with a lot of the top mushers, there have been several Iditarod champions that have had dog issues over the years,” he said.

Just 34 mushers are currently signed up to run the 2023 race. If that number holds, it would tie the mark from the lowest-ever number of entries from the race’s first year in 1973.

Chris Bieri

Chris Bieri is the sports and entertainment editor at the Anchorage Daily News.

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