Hugh Neff - Yukon Quest 2018

Quest status: Veteran

Age: 50

Residence: Tok, Alaska

Occupation(s): Dog wannabe

Kennel name: Laughing Eyes Kennel

FAIRBANKS—The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race has rejected the 2019 entry of Tok musher Hugh Neff because of the veteran dog driver’s care of his team in the 2018 Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race.

The Iditarod runs for more than 1,000 miles each March from Anchorage to Nome. The Quest runs each February on a 1,000-mile course from Fairbanks to Whitehorse, Yukon. The Quest alternates starting points each year.

The Iditarod Trail Committee released a brief statement Wednesday about its decision to deny the application of the veteran musher and two-time Quest champion.

"The Iditarod Trail Committee’s Qualifying Review Board (QRB) reviews applications annually of all mushers wishing to compete in its annual event,'' the statement reads. "Musher Hugh Neff’s entry application to compete in the 2019 race has been denied by the QRB due to concerns over his lack of dog care during the 2018 Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race.

“The Iditarod Trail Committee believes that the highest level of dog care must be achieved not only in its event but throughout the year,” the statement reads.

Neff, a 17-time Quest participant who won the race in 2012 and 2016, declined to comment about the Iditarod Trail Committee's entry denial when he was contacted by the News-Miner by phone Wednesday night.

He posted a comment on his Facebook page earlier Wednesday.

The post said, "Unfortunately Laughing Eyes kennel won't be participating in the Iditarod next year. However we do have 2 teams in the Yukon Quest. If any Iditarod mushers are interested we'll have dogs available to borrow after YQ is over. Wishing Olivia Shank Neff and Jimmy Lebling and their teams a safe, enjoyable journey ..."

The Iditarod committee's decision comes a little more than six months after Yukon Quest race officials censured Neff from its 2019 race.

Neff's dog, Boppy, died near the halfway point of the 2018 Quest. A necropsy concluded the dog had conditions that a musher should have been able to handle.

Neff appealed the censure to a third-party review board consisting of a musher, veterinarian and community board member in confidential hearings June 14 and 18 in Fairbanks.

The dog, according to a letter Neff provided with documents at the hearing, died after choking on straw while Neff's team was at the Clinton Creek hospitality stop. The letter was from the couple who operate the hospitality stop, which is located between Eagle, Alaska and Dawson City, Yukon.

The censure bans Neff from running the 2019 Quest and requires him to run the Yukon Quest 300 before being allowed to return to the Yukon Quest 1,000-mile race.

One of Neff's dogs died in the 2011 Quest as the musher struggled to get his team over Eagle Summit on the way to Fairbanks. A necropsy showed that the dog, Geronimo, had aspirated vomit and that there was no trauma or abuse. In 2001, the Quest disqualified Neff due to the condition of his team at the Eagle checkpoint.

The 2019 Iditarod has its ceremonial start at 10 a.m. March 2 at Fourth Avenue and D Street in downtown Anchorage. The race's official start is at 2 p.m. March 3 at the Willow Community Center, about 75 miles north of Anchorage.

The 2019 Quest is scheduled to begin at 7 a.m. AKST Feb. 2 from Shipyards Park at Second Avenue and Ogilvie Street in Whitehorse. The finish line is on the Chena River near the Cushman Street Bridge in downtown Fairbanks.

Contact News-Miner Sports Editor Danny Martin at 459-7586. Follow him on Twitter: @newsminersports.