Twenty-four minutes separated first and second place in the 2021 Summit Quest 300 on Monday night, results both racers were well pleased with.

“A little bit surprised, just because I don’t win a lot of dog races,” champion Dan Kaduce of Chatanika said.

Kaduce partially credited his win to the increased rest requirements of the SQ 300, which mandated 22 hours rest at checkpoints.

“Way our style. If it was a stand-up contest we would not be here first,” he said. Even so, Kaduce wasn’t sure how the final 70-mile run would pan out.

“I wasn’t even sure at the last checkpoint if I was leaving first or not,” he said.

Kaduce was first out of the final checkpoint in Circle City, followed 16 minutes later by eventual second-place finisher Deke Naaktgeboren.

All along Kaduce knew he had a fast team. He was first into the halfway point of Central, but let Hugh Neff leave before him by about 30 minutes.

“He’d been velcroing on behind me for awhile. … If I let him lead first and I caught back up to him, I knew I’d have a half hour lead on him,” Kaduce explained.

Naaktgeboren felt great about the race. “It’s the best finish of my career,” he said. It was the third Quest 300 for Naaktgeboren, in addition to finishing one 1,000 Mile Yukon Quest.

While many mushers struggled on the race’s big summits, Naaktgeboren was not one of them.

“We did great climbing Rosebud and Eagle summits. That’s where we made our most time up,” he said.

Naaktgeboren said his team slowed down on the flat runs. “I think they just get bored,” he said.

Hugh Neff rounded out the top three, crossing the finish line 23 minutes behind Naaktgeboren. For all the challenges of the race, Neff said the mountains were easy and the weather was good, even if negative 50 “was a little nippy.”

“I just had a moose fly in front of the team out on Medicine Lake,” he said at the finish line. “Typical day out on the Quest trail.”

Neff, a two-time 1,000 Mile Yukon Quest champion, is now eligible to again run the full 1,000 Mile Quest if he chooses to. He was required to re-qualify for the full race following a 2018 censorship decision by race organizers due to the death of a dog.

Contact Robin Wood at medianorthak@gmail.com.