Snowmobiles hit dogs in All Alaska Sweepstakes and Iditarod
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2008:
NOME–A hit-and-run snowmobiler at midnight on March 28,
2008 ended Lance Mackey’s effort to become the first winner of the
Triple Crown of Alaskan sled dog racing, severely injuring his
already ailing stud dog Zorro, 9, injuring several other dogs less
seriously, and wrecking his $3,000 sled.
Mackey, 38, was in third place, 20 miles from finishing
the 408-mile All Alaska Sweepstakes, and had just passed a
checkpoint at the town of Safety, he told Associated Press, when
two snowmobiles overtook him. One of them plowed into his sled and
team. “Three or four dogs were sucked underneath and Zorro,” who
was being carried, “was trapped in the sled bag,” Mackey recounted.
Mackey had Zorro flown first to Anchorage and then to Seattle
for more advanced care than is available in Nome, and took the
opportunity to plead for better traffic control along sled racing
routes. “I almost got hit on the way into Nome during Iditarod and
then was almost hit half an hour later,” Mackey said.
Zorro also failed to finish the 2007 Iditarod, but was the
sire of most of Mackey’s team.
The snowmobile collision came just 18 days after a snowmobile
crashed into the team of Jennifer Freking, of Finland, during the
Iditarod. The accident on the frozen Yukon River near Koyukuk killed
a three-year-old dog named Lorne.
The only other fatality during the Iditarod this year was a
seven-year-old male dog belonging to rookie musher John Stetson, of
Duluth, Minnesota. Stetson dropped out of the race after the dog
died of pneumonia.
Mackey entered the All Alaska Sweepstakes after winning both
the 1,100-mile Iditarod Trail race from Anchorage to Nome and the
1,000-mile Yukon Quest from Fairbanks to Whitehorse, for the second
consecutive year. No other musher has ever won both races in the
same year–and the Yukon Quest victory was Mackey’s fourth in a row.
But the 408-mile All Alaska Sweepstakes, from Nome to Candle
and back, has only been run 12 times: annually from 1908 to 1917,
as the first big-money dog sled race; in 1983, as a 75th
anniversary revival; and in 2008. No one has ever before had a
chance to win a Triple Crown, as the Yukon Quest was first held in
Five-time Iditarod winner Rick Swenson of Two Rivers won the
1983 All Alaska Sweepstakes, 10 hours behind the record time of 74
hours and 14 minutes set in 1910 by John “Iron Man” Johnson.
Swenson, 55, has never entered the Yukon Quest, and did not enter
the 2008 All Alaska Sweepstakes, but loaned some of his dogs to
Sonny Lindner, 58, also of Two Rivers, who won the first Yukon
Johnson’s record fell to 2004 Iditarod winner Mitch Seavey of
Sterling, Alaska, who won the 2008 All Alaska Sweepstakes Race in
61 hours, 29 minutes and 45 seconds.
Leonard Seppala and his lead dog Togo won the All Alaska
Sweepstakes in 1915, 1916, and 1917. Eight years later Togo,
already ancient for a sled dog at 12, led Seppala’s team 170 miles
to meet the diptheria serum relay to Nome that inspired the Iditarod
Trail race, begun in 1973. Togo then led the team 91 miles back
toward Nome through a headwind, across the frozen and often
treacherous Norton Sound.
That was by far the longest part of the relay, but Togo
wasn’t done. While Gunnar Kaasen and his lead dog Balto, 6, took
the serum the rest of the way to Nome, Togo instigated Seppala’s
team in a mass break from harness in hot pursuit of a herd of
Seppala soon recaptured most of the dogs, but Togo and
another dog were lost in a blizzard and presumed dead until they
trotted into Nome a week later and were photographed and feted as
Togo lived to age 16, Balto to age 14, and Sye, the last
of the serum run dogs, died at 17.
The 2008 All Alaska Sweepstakes revival became controversial
when Rachel D’Oro of Associated Press revealed two days before the
start that, “Among the participants is Ramy Brooks, 39, a two-time
Iditarod runner-up who was disqualified from the 2007 race for
striking his dogs with a wooden trail marker. One of the Healy
musher’s dogs died the day after the incident, but a necropsy could
not determine a cause of death.”
Brooks was also barred from entering the 2008 Iditarod, but
was not charged with any offense. The All Alaska Sweepstakes rules
exclude anyone who has been convicted of animal abuse or neglect. As
Brooks was not convicted, he could not be excluded.