2018 Yukon Quest - Pelly Crossing

A dog from Allen Moore’s team waits at Pelly Crossing checkpoint just after 1 a.m. Sunday. By Sunday evening Moore had reached the next checkpoint of Carmacks, about 73 miles down the trail. Feb. 11, 2018. Robin Wood/News-Miner.

CARMACKS, Yukon — Allen Moore was cheerful when he pulled into the Carmacks checkpoint — the third stop on the Canada side — as the leader of the field, which includes 15 teams after 11 have either scratched or been withdrawn, Sunday evening.

It appeared Moore, from SP Kennel in Two Rivers, began to realize he is only 177 miles away from adding a third Yukon Quest title to his resume.

After leading for much of the 1,000-mile race, which began in Fairbanks and ends in Whitehorse, Yukon, Moore joked with reporters when asked about looking over his shoulder for opposing teams making a late push.

“There’s somebody else behind me?” he said with a chuckle. “I just haven’t seen anybody in a long time.”

The two-time Quest champion was the first to leave Pelly Crossing shortly after 1 a.m. Sunday before making the 73-mile journey to Carmacks, which saw temperatures rise to nearly 4 below after teams trekked through 30 below the past few days.

Moore pulled into Carmacks with a full team of 14 dogs, many of them leaders, and had a pair of 4-year-old brothers, Commando and Dutch, at the head of the team. Moore said he had switched his leaders around during the first half of the race but that he’s kept Commando and Dutch up front as of late because a female dog, Junior, is in heat.

“Some of the females are the best leaders, but we can’t put them up there,” he said. “It drives the guys crazy.”

Moore also noted the two brothers became excited once they recognized where they were headed.

“Dutch and Commando have been here before,” he said. “Both when they were 2-year-olds and now they’re 4. Coming into town, they sped up a lot. They knew where they were.”

The Two Rivers musher said beef and chicken have been the team’s main snacks on the trail. He also added he’s been using his voice to keep the dogs motivated on their way to Whitehorse.

“Quite often,” Moore said when asked whether he communicates with the team on the trail. “You have to keep them happy. I sing Christmas carols, but those are for their ears only.”

Only 170 miles separate Moore, who was resting at Carmacks, and the back of the pack, Dave Dalton and Rob Cooke, late Sunday.

Dalton and Cooke were resting at Scroggie Creek, a dog drop located just over 100 miles from the Pelly Crossing checkpoint. Defending champion Matt Hall, who holds second place, was 16 miles outside of Carmacks, while Paige Drobny followed 10 miles behind him.

A year ago, Hall captured his first Quest title after making a late push. This year he has approached the final stretch with a much more relaxed approach.

“I’m focused on a healthy team and maintaining where we’re at right now,” he said before leaving Pelly Crossing. “It’s a much more relaxed race. I’ve gotten a lot more rest because of the breaks on the trail. There’s not that mental image of looking over my shoulder. I’m really not trying to catch up to Allen.

“Mentally, it’s way easier. I’m having way more fun this year.“

Laura Neese was beginning her 39-mile journey from McCabe Creek Dog Drop to Carmacks. She sat in fourth place late Sunday, while Ed Hopkins occupies fifth place and was 3 miles from McCabe.

Contact News-Miner sports writer Brad Joyal at 459-7530. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMQuest.