Iditarod rookie will be first musher to start Saturday

A rookie will lead the way in Saturday's ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

Rob Cooke, a 48-year-old musher from Whitehorse, Yukon, drew the No. 2 bib at Thursday night's draw, meaning he will be the first musher to drive his team down Fourth Avenue Saturday morning.

The No. 1 bib, as always, goes to an honorary musher. This year's honorary musher is longtime volunteer Philip Esai, who died in May at age 72.

A sold-out crowd at the Dena'Ina Center on Thursday mingled with mushers, listened to music by Hobo Jim and watched as 78 mushers pulled numbers that decided Saturday's start order for the 1,000-mile race to Nome.

Veteran musher and fan favorite DeeDee Jonrowe delivered the invocation, during which she thanked God for creating dogs "to show us what unconditional love can actually be like."

Jonrowe drew bib No. 29. Right after she starts, another fan favorite will depart -- four-time champion Lance Mackey, wearing bib No. 30.

Defending champion Dallas Seavey, the winner in 2012 and 2014, drew No. 46. Dad Mitch, another two-time winner who last won in 2013, drew No. 18.

Aliy Zirkle, the woman who has placed second the last three years -- twice to Dallas, once to Mitch -- will wear the No. 32 bib.

Four-time champion Jeff King drew his age -- 59. Martin Buser, another four-time champ, drew No. 4.

Bethel's Pete Kaiser, winner of this year's Kusko 300, drew No. 54, and Eureka's Brent Sass, winner of this year's Yukon Quest, drew 71.

The last musher to leave downtown Anchorage will be Delta Junction's Zoya DeNure, wearing bib No. 79. Leaving right before her, wearing No. 78, will be 2011 champion John Baker of Kotzebue.