Musher Hugh Neff. Photo by Jeff Richardson/Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
UPDATE: FAIRBANKS - A Yukon Quest musher who requested outside assistance was withdrawn from the race just outside Dawson, Yukon.
Race Marshal Doug Grilliot said Christina Traverse used her spot tracker unit to request assistance. Outside assistance is not allowed in the 1,000-mile sled dog race.
Twenty-two of the original 26 mushers are still on the trail.
The race front-runners, Hugh Neff and Allen Moore, left Eagle this morning. Neff was first out at 2:42 a.m. and Moore left 16 minutes later. Moore has erased the two-hour head start Neff had out of Dawson. Both mushers said the trail to Eagle was better than they expected, but that it was blowing in behind them.
Jake Berkowitz is in the third spot. He left Eagle at 7:15 this morning. Two other mushers are into Eagle and seven other mushers are out of Dawson.
At the back of the pack, Misha Pederson was the last musher into Dawson, the halfway point of the race. She arrived just before 4 a.m. Yukon time.
The race also released the official necropsy report on the sled dog that died after being dropped in Dawson. The dog, from Berkowitz's team, was en route to Whitehorse when it died of an intestinal problem called intestinal volvulus with bowel infarction, according to Yukon Quest head veterinarian Kathleen McGill.
PREVIOUS STORY: EAGLE—The gap between Yukon Quest frontrunners Hugh Neff and Allen Moore grew tighter between Dawson City and Eagle on Thursday, as both mushers cruised down a trail they said wasn't nearly as bad as advertised.
Moore sliced 80 minutes off the nearly two-hour advantage Neff brought into the Dawson checkpoint. But Moore said he's not especially eager to jump out in front just yet.
"He can keep breaking trail for me," Moore said with a grin.
Mushers were told to brace for poor trail conditions at a meeting with race officials on Wednesday, but both Neff and Moore said they had no problems with the course.
Neff, of Tok, said the trail was gradually being blown in by drifting snow but that he had difficulty navigating it.
"It's not that bad yet, but it will be," he said, speaking briefly before putting his dogs to bed.
Moore said the trail was ideal.
"It was great," Moore said. "They talked about how bad the trail was, but it was nothing like that. It was awesome."
Neff, last year’s champion, arrived in Eagle at 9:20 p.m. with 12 dogs and will be held for the mandatory four-hour rest required of all mushers at the Yukon River checkpoint. Eagle is the first official rest stop on the Alaska side of the route when the race begins in Whitehorse, which it does on alternating years.
Neff and Moore have led the race since the first checkpoint at Braeburn, changing leads occasionally but always holding the top two places.
The course they navigated on Thursday out of Dawson was a new one, after race officials eliminated a portion of the trail over King Solomon's Dome they said was impassible. The new route, down the Yukon River, shaved about 50 miles off the distance between the Dawson and Eagle checkpoints.
Moore said Thursday's run was clearly easier, but didn't have strong feelings about skipping one of the four summits on the Quest trail.
"Whatever — easier to do it, I guess, but the Yukon Quest is known for how hard it is," Moore said. "Two years ago it was really bad, so maybe we got a break."
Third-place musher Jake Berkowitz of Big Lake left Dawson at 12:10 p.m. for the run to Eagle. He was not expected into the checkpoint until well after midnight.
Fourth-place musher Brent Sass of Eureka left Dawson at 2:37 p.m., followed by Scott Smith of Willow at 7:25 p.m.