FAIRBANKS, Alaska – The 2015 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race has another Yukon Quest champion on its roster. Brent Sass, the Iditarod’s 2012 rookie of the year, who’s team won the 1,000-mile Quest from Whitehorse to Fairbanks on Feb. 16, crossing the finish line with a time of 9 days 12 hours 49 minutes. Allen Moore, the two-time defending champ, finished second.
At one point, Sass led the Yukon Quest by as much as 10 hours. But that lead evaporated when he overslept on the trail from Circle to Central, and he saw Moore pass him after he stopped to give his team a break after a hard run over Eagle Summit.
Sass and lead dog Basin led the team down the final 73 miles “with a vengeance,” according to a Quest race report, leaving within two minutes of Moore at Two Rivers and then pulling ahead to a 1 hour and 14 minute lead.
“It's unreal," Sass told Yukon Quest officials of his win. "I'm real proud of those 12 dogs." Of recovering the lead from Moore, he joked, "It works -- fall asleep on the trail for 10 hours and you can come in first.”
Sass took home $24,061.92 for the title. He also received four ounces of gold for being the first musher to arrive in Dawson City.
The Yukon Quest is the last major test before the 1,049-mile Iditarod, which starts on March 7. It’s also a good chance to look at the mettle of mushers and teams that will compete in the premier race from Anchorage to Nome.
The 2015 Iditarod field includes the following Yukon Quest champs: Sass, Moore, Hugh Neff (2012), Dallas Seavey (2011), Lance Mackey (2005, 2006, 2007, 2008), Aliy Zirkle (2000), and Jeff King (1989). The field also includes several past Iditarod champs: Dallas Seavey (2014, 2012), Mitch Seavey (2013, 2004), John Baker (2011), Lance Mackey (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010), Jeff King (2006, 1998, 1996, 1993), Martin Buser (2002, 1997, 1994, 1992).
Mackey has the distinction of winning the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod in the same year; he’s done that twice.
Zirkle has the unique distinction of finishing second in three consecutive Iditarods, crossing the finish line each time after a Seavey – Dallas in 2012, his dad Mitch in 2013, then Dallas again in 2014. There were no Alaska Native mushers in the Yukon Quest this year, but four Alaska Native mushers add to the formidable field in the Iditarod.
John Baker, Inupiaq, was the first Alaska Native to win the Iditarod since Gerald Riley, Athabascan, in 1976. Baker has 13 top-10 finishes, including the 2011 title, in 19 Iditarods.
Pete Kaiser, Yup’ik, has two top-10 finishes in five Iditarods. He won the highly regarded Kuskokwim 300 in January, and also has one Kobuk 440 and two Norton Sound 450 titles in the record books.
Richie Diehl, Dena’ina Athabascan, was the 2014 Iditarod’s Most Improved Musher, finishing 14th following a rookie-year finish of 36th. Also in 2014, he finished fourth and won Best in the West in the Kuskokwim 300.
Chuck Schaeffer, Inupiaq, raced in the 1985 and 1990 Iditarods and has top 5 finishes in the Kuskokwim 300 and the Kobuk 440.