Yukon Quest Mushers Smith, Sass Talk Second-Half Strategies
Wasilla musher Scott Smith's dog team passes the National Park Service compound Friday, Feb. 8, 2013, while departing the Eagle checkpoint. Smith was the fifth musher to leave Eagle and is the leading rookie. Photo by Jeff Richardson/Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
EAGLE — As Yukon Quest leaders Allen Moore and Hugh Neff trade turns in the front position, the mushers just behind them are planning their own strategies to make up time in the second half of the 1,000-mile race.
For Scott Smith, the race’s top rookie in fifth place, it meant a straight run from Dawson to Eagle on Friday. While other teams camped along the way, the 43-year-old Wasilla musher cruised into the first checkpoint in Alaska.
Smith said he talked to a race official before the run who told him the trail was looking better than anticipated. That, along with signals that his team still had plenty of energy, spurred him to make the long run.
The strategy resulted in a speedy 13 hour, 25 minute run between the two checkpoints, more than two hours faster than any of the mushers ahead of him.
“That straight run, for me, was a way to get back in the game,” Smith said. “You’ve got to read your dogs, and these guys are looking really good right now.”
Meanwhile, Brent Sass, who spent Friday competing with Jake Berkowitz for third place, said he’s ready to unveil a new approach between Eagle and Fairbanks.
“Looking to kind of start racing,” Sass said. “Have a few tricks up my sleeve here, hopefully.”
The Eureka musher has run the race six times and claimed three top-five finishes but said he realized something different needed to happen for him to improve on his past performances.
If the weather cooperates, Sass said he’s ready to use an unconventional strategy he devised before the race that he half-jokingly said “will turn heads.”
Sass carried one of his dogs, Kirk, into the checkpoint and dropped him from the team at Eagle. Sass said he’s well rested and confident in the 11 dogs he has remaining to take him the rest of the way.
“Right now, I’m in a position to do what I planned to do,” he said. “My dogs are ready.”
Smith said he’s also going to use a bolder strategy in the second half of the race, with a goal of gaining on the leaders.
“You’re either going to say ‘Wow, what a dum-dum,’ or ‘Wow, he’s got big cojones,’” he said.
The arrival of Berkowitz — who pulled in and departed in the early morning hours — and Sass and Smith highlighted an otherwise sleepy day in Eagle. The dog lot was empty for most of the day until Markus Ingebretsen, Susan Rogan, Abbie West and Normand Casavant arrived in the evening.
At the front of the group, Moore and Neff continued to fight for the top position, frequently flipping leads on the run to the checkpoint in Circle.
Follow staff writer Jeff Richardson on Twitter: @FDNMquest.