WHITEHORSE, Yukon — Rob Cooke was the first musher to draw a bib number when the 30 teams competing in this year’s Yukon Quest 1,000-Mile International Sled Dog Race gathered Thursday night for the Start and Draw Banquet at the Yukon Convention Centre in Whitehorse, Yukon.
Although the veteran from Whitehorse was the first musher to walk on stage and pick a number out of a boot in front of the capacity crowd, Cooke didn’t have much luck with his selection.
He drew bib No. 30, meaning he’ll be wearing that number throughout the 1,000-mile race to Fairbanks. His team also will be the 30th to leave the start chute at 10 a.m. AKST Saturday at Shipyards Park in Whitehorse.
“I picked the wrong number,” Cooke said with a laugh moments after walking off the stage. “I would’ve rather gotten a higher number, but with the low snow conditions, I don’t think it will matter much at all.”
Denis Tremblay, a veteran from Quebec, Canada, drew bib No. 1, which triggered a loud gasp from the crowd. Four-time champion Hans Gatt selected No. 2, while 2015 champion Brent Sass picked No. 3.
Remy Leduc, a 34-year-old rookie from Glenwood, New Brunswick, Canada, will wear bib No. 4, while Torsten Kohnert, a veteran from Sulssfors, Sweden, will sport No. 5.
Tremblay was all smiles after drawing No. 1, and he said his team will benefit from the added rest it will receive when it reaches Braeburn, the first checkpoint located about 100 miles from Whitehorse.
The teams must stay at the first checkpoint to make up the extra time they gained by leaving the start line ahead of the teams behind them. Cooke will have to stay there the shortest amount of time, while Tremblay will be there the longest.
“I’m excited. I prefer first to last,” Tremblay said. “It’s not an advantage, but there’s more layover time at the first checkpoint. It’ll be more rest for my dogs.”
Although former champions will be well represented at the front of the pack, with Gatt and Sass in the top three out of the chute, Two Rivers resident Matt Hall, who won in 2017 and finished second last year, will be in bib No. 7.
Last year’s champion, Allen Moore, who also calls Two Rivers home, will wear bib No. 26. Although he said he wished his number was a little bit higher, Moore also noted that his position for this year’s race isn’t much different than the No. 23 he drew a year ago.
“I’d rather head out earlier, but it’s not that big of a deal,” said Moore, a three-time Quest champion. “I don’t know, last year I had No. 23, so there’s not much difference between that and No. 26.”
Among the other highlights of the night were the pre-race raffles. Hall won an Apocalypse parka, and Chase Tingle, a rookie from Two Rivers who later drew bib No. 22, left with 500 dog booties from Cold Spot Feeds.
Fairbanks rookie Deke Naaktgeboren won a check for $1,300. All mushers who signed up for the race during the first day of registration were entered. They each paid a $2,000 entry fee, $700 of which was a nonrefundable deposit.
Naaktgeboren won the remaining $1,300 back, and he joked that his team will now have gas money to get home.
While the mushers were excited to draw their bib numbers and learn what position they will be when the race begins, Cooke acknowledged that Thursday night’s banquet was the last bit of pre-race hoopla the team must endure before finally hitting the trail.
“I’m just looking forward to getting out there,” he said. “This is the part, I think, all the mushers hate. We just want to get going and get out on the trail. It’s been weeks and weeks of debate about what the trail is going to be like, and now we’re just days away from finding out.”
Contact News-Miner sports writer Brad Joyal at 459-7530. Follow him for updates from the Yukon Quest trail on Twitter: @FDNMQuest.