Musher Jake Berkowitz gives a pill to one of his dogs on Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013, in Dawson City. The Big Lake musher arrived at the mid-way checkpoint in third place. Photo by Jeff Richardson/Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
UPDATE: FAIRBANKS - Lance Mackey, a four-time Yukon Quest champion, officially scratched this morning in Dawson, Yukon.
Mackey, who has also won the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race four times, said he was quitting for the well-being of his team, which was down to seven dogs out of his original lineup of 14. He is the third musher to leave the race. Ed Abrahamson and Kelley Griffin have also scratched.
The front-runners left the halfway point of Dawson this morning. Defending champion Hugh Neff left with 12 dogs at 5:10 a.m. Yukon time after a 40-hour layover. He was followed two hours later by Allen Moore, with 11 dogs.
Twenty-three of 26 mushers are still on the trail of the 30th running of the 1,000 mile sled dog race. Jake Berkowitz is the next to leave Dawson, just after noon local time. Four other mushers are still on the trail from Scroggy Creek to Dawson.
The mushers will be on a rerouted trail that follows the Yukon River across the U.S. border directly to Eagle, bypassing a 50-mile loop up the Fortymile River and across American Summit, which was erased by strong winds.
PREVIOUS STORY: DAWSON CITY, Yukon — When Jake Berkowitz looks at the top teams in this year’s Yukon Quest, the Big Lake musher sees a lot of familiar dogs.
Berkowitz, the 2012 Quest Rookie of the Year, has so far put together an even better performance in 2013, with a third-place status in Dawson. More unexpected is the position of the driver of his B-team, Markus Ingebretsen, who entered the unofficial midway point in sixth place. Both of them still have their full 14-dog teams.
Ingebretsen’s rise is perhaps the most improbable detail in a story that’s full of them.
“I knew he’d be good, but I was hoping he’d be top 10,” said Berkowitz, resting in a tent at the Dawson checkpoint dog lot. “I didn’t know he’d be up this high.”
Berkowitz, 26, and Ingebretsen, 21, are among the youngest mushers in the Quest. Berkowitz’s handlers are his pregnant wife, Robin, his dad and his father-in-law.
But Berkowitz’s Apex Kennel uses a professional approach befitting a seasoned veteran.
With a plan to develop a deep pool of sled dogs for long-distance races, Berkowitz hired Ingebretsen in August to pilot his B-team. The pair has trained and worked together ever since, with Berkowitz using a structured rotation for his kennel and the distance each dog accumulates.
He’ll run the Iditarod in March and exudes confidence when discussing how his Quest experience will pay off.
“Twenty-eight dogs, that’s what I’m impressed with,” Berkowitz said. “I’ve got 28 dogs with 1,000-mile experience to choose from on the Iditarod.”