Allen Moore made up his 26 seconds, and then some.
The Two Rivers musher cruised to victory in the 30th running of the Yukon Quest on Monday morning, finishing the race with an unofficial record time. It was a sweet outcome for Moore, who finished just 26 seconds behind Hugh Neff in the 1,000-mile sled dog race in 2012.
This year it was Moore finishing in front of Neff, but the ending wasn’t nearly as dramatic. Moore slid casually beneath the gate at 6:54 a.m. with 11 dogs, glanced around at the waiting crowd and greeted waiting race officials with a laid-back “howdy.”
“I guess I overdid it a little bit,” Moore said of his sprint to the finish line, smiling with icicles hanging from his mustache.
Neff arrived 1 hour, 16 minutes later on the Chena River in downtown Fairbanks with his nine-dog team. After Moore and Neff spent almost the entire race exchanging the top two positions in the race, no last-minute surge was necessary.
The 55-year-old musher entered the Two Rivers checkpoint just 16 minutes ahead of Neff on Sunday, setting up a showdown on the final 72-mile stretch to Fairbanks. But after Moore jumped out to an insurmountable early lead, Neff said he eased off, taking his team on a relatively leisurely ride into Fairbanks.
Moore said being on his dogs’ home turf clearly helped. His team is so accustomed to the Two Rivers-to-Fairbanks run that they tried to veer off to the riverbank before hitting the finish line; Moore said they were heading to the spot where he normally leaves their straw at the end of a run.
He gave a hug to his lead dogs, Quito and Olivia, at the end of the race. They’ve been on all three of the Arkansas native’s runs in the Fairbanks-to-Whitehorse race, and finally pulled off a victory.
“They know where they are, for sure,” he said. “It’s good to be home.”
Moore claimed the fastest Quest finish ever, at 8 days, 18 hours, 27 minutes, but that record comes with an asterisk. This year’s race was about 50 miles shorter than previous runs after race officials rerouted a portion of the race down the Yukon River to avoid poor trail conditions on American Summit.
Moore and his wife, Aliy Zirkle, become the only couple to each win a 1,000-mile race. Zirkle captured the Quest title in 2000.
Neff, 45, said he was pleased to stay with Moore throughout the long run. He said from the beginning that his young team was in transition, with his 8-year-old stalwart, Walter, headed to retirement after nine 1,000-mile races.
“To have a chance to push for the win is kind of mind-numbing,” the Tok resident said.
Moore and Neff remained alone in the lead group since the first checkpoint in Braeburn, Yukon, occasionally swapping places throughout the race. But Neff needed to cut rest to keep up, and his team eventually couldn’t keep up with Moore’s dogs.
When Moore took off first at the 101 Mile checkpoint along the Steese Highway, Neff never saw him again on the trails, only in the final checkpoint.
“I knew in 101 I had no prayer, because his whole team was lunging at the line,” he said.
Moore claims $18,930 for the Quest victory. Although he takes home $13,520 for second place, Neff actually will leave the race with more prize money — he also collected 4 ounces of gold for arriving first in Dawson City, worth about $6,800.
Neither Moore nor Neff will be doing much resting after the grueling 1,000-mile race.
Moore and Zirkle are each running teams out of their Two Rivers kennel in the Iditarod in a few weeks, although Moore will be racing an inexperienced team and doesn’t expect to compete among the leaders. Neff is headed overseas to run a race in Norway.
And after two years of classic battles in the Quest, there won’t be a rematch next year. Neff said he plans to skip the 2014 Quest to participate in a race in Unalakleet. After winning the Quest, Moore said he was uncertain whether he’d enter again next year, now that he’s notched a victory in the race on his third attempt.
“You never know,” he said. “It’s been three in a row — it might as well be four.”
Contact staff writer Jeff Richardson at 459-7518. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMquest