FAIRBANKS — The 2013 Yukon Quest will feature a rematch of last year’s thriller, with the top five finishers returning for another run in the epic 1,000-mile sled dog race.
Hugh Neff, of Tok, who eked out a 26-second victory in 2012, will be back to defend his title. Also returning is Two Rivers musher Allen Moore, last year’s runner-up, and four-time champ Lance Mackey, of Fairbanks, who took third last year.
Other top 2012 racers who signed up by the Friday deadline for the Feb. 2 race include Big Lake’s Jake Berkowitz, last year’s fourth-place finisher and top rookie, and Brent Sass, of Eureka, who finished fifth.
Dave Dalton, of Healy, is the grizzled veteran of the field, with 22 Quest starts and nine top-10 finishes. The group also features 11 rookies, including Fairbanks musher Cody Strathe.
The 26-team field isn’t necessarily complete — entries postmarked by Jan. 4 are still valid, and some could still be in transit.
Marti Steury, the executive director of the Quest’s Alaska office, said Monday she hadn’t heard any rumors about lingering applications that still may be in the mail.
Mushers will compete for a $100,000 purse, with the winner claiming about $19,000. The total take is $50,000 less than last year, a dip that Steury said was affected by a difficult fundraising environment for both business and individual sponsors.
“The economy affects everybody,” Steury said. “Why would the Yukon Quest be different than anyone else?”
Those who didn’t sign up for this race include a trio of recent champions: Dallas Seavey (2011), Hans Gatt (2002-04, 2010) and Sebastian Schnuelle (2009), but Steury said she was pleased that the top finishers from 2012 will all return.
In recent years, top racers have become more likely to take another shot in the Yukon Quest rather than skip it for a run in the Iditarod, she said. Mackey, Berkowitz and Sass are among the mushers signed up for both races this year.
Mackey showed a well-conditioned team could handle the rigors of both races back-to-back when he won both the Yukon Quest and Iditarod in 2007 and 2008.
“There’s more mushers running both because it’s better for the dogs,” Steury said. “Lance did it and everyone kind of poo-pooed it, but now we’re seeing it more.”
The Yukon Quest runs between Whitehorse, Yukon, and Fairbanks, with the start alternating between the two cities each year. The 2013 race begins in Canada, and will feature a typically diverse field of racers.
The farthest-flung entrant is Norwegian musher Markus Ingebretsen, who will be joined by 15 Alaska teams headed across the border. Mushers from four Canada provinces also will participate, including rookie Rob Cooke from the distant outpost of Saint Jacques, New Brunswick.
Steury said one of her biggest disappointments is that a group of Russian mushers won’t be able to make the race this year, after two teams entered the Quest from Russia in 2012. She said five Russians pursued paperwork to make the trip this year but weren’t able to make the trip, largely for financial reasons.
“I really, really like the influence of teams from the other countries,” she said. “It becomes a huge adventure for everyone.”
The Yukon Quest 300, an abbreviated race that runs from Whitehorse to Pelly, attracted 25 mushers this year. The field includes former Quest champ Aliy Zirkle of Two Rivers, who was the runner-up in the 2012 Iditarod.
The shorter Yukon Quest run is dominated by local entries, with 15 Canadians signed up. It also has some more far-flung mushers, however, including John King of Australia, Jennifer Levy of Durham, N.C., and Chicago’s Patrick Moon.
Yukon Quest 2013:
• Distance: 1,000 miles, Whitehorse, Yukon, to Fairbanks
• 26 entries (15 veterans, 11 rookies)
• Returning champs: Hugh Neff (2012) and Lance Mackey (2005-08)
• Dave Dalton, of Healy, is returning for his 22nd Quest
• Mushers are from Alaska, Norway and four Canada provinces
• A tentative list of entrants is online at www.yukonquest.com.
Contact staff writer Jeff Richardson at 459-7518.