UPDATED: Allen Moore Wins Yukon Quest
Yukon Quest leaders Allen Moore, left, and Hugh Neff talk at the Two Rivers checkpoint as they take their mandatory 8-hour layover Sunday evening, Feb. 10, 2013, before the final 72 miles to the finish line. Moore, of Two Rivers, pulled into the checkpoint at 53-mile Chena Hot Springs Road 16 minutes ahead to Tok musher Neff. Photo by Sam Harrel/Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
UPDATE: FAIRBANKS - Allen Moore has won the 2013 Yukon Quest Sled Dog Race.
The veteran Two Rivers musher crossed the finish line in downtown Fairbanks at 6:54 a.m. today after gaining a significant gap over defending champion Hugh Neff, who won the race by a mere 26 seconds in 2012. Neff finished about 8:15 a.m.
A small group of race officials and spectators greeted him in the predawn darkness at the finish line on the Chena River in downtown Fairbanks, including Moore's wife, veteran Iditarod musher Aliy Zirkle, who won the Quest in 2000.
Moore, 55, joked that he had trained his dogs to run 26 seconds faster in order to win. He and Neff traded the lead for much of the race and were miles ahead of the rest of the field. They left the final checkpoint in Two Rivers 16 minutes apart for the final leg into Fairbanks.
Moore opened a gap of about an hour over Neff in that stretch, which went by Moore's kennel. Moore said he had trained the team to run past the kennel.
Moore said closing the race out in Fairbanks provided both a strategic advantage and a satisfying ending. His dogs cruised the last 72-mile stretch from the Two Rivers checkpoint, a run they've experienced many times before.
"They know where they are, for sure," Moore said. "We're glad to be home."
The next two closest mushers, Brent Sass and Jake Berkowitz, arrived at the Two Rivers checkpoint at 11:50 p.m Sunday and 1:45 a.m. today, respectively. Holding the red lantern position at the back of the pack is Dyan Berg, who left Eagle checkpoint at 11:30 p.m., nearly 24 hours behind the next closest musher, Rob Cooke.
PREVIOUS STORY: 53 MILE CHENA HOT SPRINGS ROAD — It’s a familiar scenario for Yukon Quest fans: Hugh Neff, Allen Moore and an uncertain ending.
Barring a set of catastrophic mistakes, one of them will win the 30th running of the Quest today. The two arrived at the checkpoint at 53 Mile Chena Hot Springs Road on Sunday afternoon, far ahead of the rest of the field yet separated from each other by only 16 minutes.
“We were jokingly kidding that we’d make it as exciting as last year, and here we are,” Moore said, sitting in the hospitality tent at the checkpoint.
The final run to the Cushman Street bridge in downtown Fairbanks sets up a rematch of the classic 2012 Quest finish. Neff edged Moore by just 26 seconds last year, passing Moore in the final leg of the race.
When the race ended in Whitehorse last year, Moore said he felt Neff coaxed him into a final-leg run on unfamiliar turf. Not this time.
Moore lives in Two Rivers, and he’s made countless training runs on the 72-mile trail he’s running into Fairbanks.
“I know every inch of this trail really well,” Moore said. “I know every turn.”
Moore arrived first at the checkpoint — called Two Rivers by the Quest but far from the Chena Hot Springs Road community of the same name — and departed at 10:31 p.m. Sunday after a mandatory eight-hour layover. Neff gave chase at 10:47 p.m.
They’ll both be running mostly naked sleds to maximize their speed, with only mandatory gear and some water aboard.
“I took out all my Playboy magazines,” Neff said with a smile while hanging clothes to dry before his final run.
Moore and Neff maintained their
lead into the checkpoint by clearing the final big hurdle of the race Sunday — a successful climb of Eagle Summit, a 3,685-foot peak that’s vexed them both in the past.
Moore spent hours trying to make his way up the summit in 2011, finally resorting to packing each dog individually up the mountain when his team stalled.
Neff had a tragic run up Eagle Summit two years ago, when one of his dogs, Geromino, died after a failed ascent. He subsequently scratched from the race.
The difference this year for Neff was his legendary dog Walter, an 8-year-old who was injured before the doomed climb up Eagle Summit in 2011.
After a younger lead dog, George, turned back on Sunday while failing to climb the summit, Neff hooked up Walter to lead, moved in front of his team and marched over the top, he said.
Moore said his team followed over the summit despite deep snow and blowing winds, conditions that he said were almost like swimming with his team to the top.
“It’s like the dogs were wallowing in the snow,” he said.
Moore passed Neff at the 101 Mile checkpoint along the Steese Highway, then led all the way into the next checkpoint.
The two joked about their tight finish in 2012 in the Quest hospitality tent on Sunday, talking about how luck, talent and decision-making form the ingredients needed to claim a victory in a 1,000-mile dog race — especially one that comes down to the end.
Those same ingredients may come into play today, Neff said.
“It’s really all about everyone clicking,” he said. “Whatever happens, this has been a good race.”
Follow Fairbanks Daily News-Miner staff writer Jeff Richardson on Twitter: @FDNMquest