The 2016 Yukon Quest 1,000 Mile International Sled Dog Race has its champion. Tok, Alaska’s Hugh Neff came across the Whitehorse finish line at 2:31pm this afternoon to clinch his second Quest victory in a time of 9 days, 1 hour, 25 minutes. Neff and his team of nine dogs were led by George Costanza, who had also been Hugh’s lead for his 2012 win. Asked what a second win meant to him, Neff responded, “Two is good but there's so much more to this race than just winning them. It's about the journey, it's not about some trophy."
Next to cross the finish line about an hour and a half later was defending champ Brent Sass and his team of ten, ending the race with a time of 9 days, 2 hours, 46 minutes. Sass, who started from Braeburn three hours and 15 miles behind Neff, managed to make up some ground, but the head start ultimately proved insurmountable. Showing no sign of disappointment with his runner-up status, Sass fell to the ground with relief and exclaimed how happy he was to have made it to Whitehorse. Sass-- who will take home the four ounces of gold (donated by the Fellers family) as the first musher to reach Dawson and finish-- had nothing but praise for his team’s performance this year, particularly his leads Celia and Sound, saying he was “super proud” them and that they had “one hell of an adventure!” Brent said he spent the last 100 miles thinking about his strategy for next year.
At 5:05pm, in a time of 9 days, 3 hours, 59 minutes, two-time Quest winner Allen Moore and his 13 dogs slid across the Shipyards Park finish line to take third place. Referring to the warm temperatures along the race, Moore said he was proud of “withstanding the heat, and said he’s “looking forward to next year...already!”
Fourth spot went to 24 year-old Alaskan Matt Hall in a time of 9 days, 6 hours, 21 minutes. Cheered in by Hugh Neff and Brent Sass, Hall credited his strong showing to good training and his lead dog, Keeper. “We did training a bit earlier and a bit different” Hall said. “We had a schedule this year and we stuck to it.” According to Hall, Keeper trained all the other leaders in his kennel, calling him his “go-to guy."
Currently mushing his way toward the relocated finish line at Takhini Hot Springs, Ed Hopkins is predicted to take fifth place. Hopkins departed Braeburn at 4:30pm with ten dogs and is currently 25 miles out. Torsten Kohnert and Tom Frode Johansen will be the next competitors out of Braeburn, eligible to start the final 67-mile of their race at 2:26am and 6:06am, respectively.
Meanwhile, in the middle of the pack, there’s still a bit of trail left to cover. Seth Barnes (50 miles), Yuka Honda (60 miles), and Dave Dalton (65 miles) are all closing in on Braeburn. As Luc Tweddell and his team of seven dogs approach Carmacks from 30 miles out, Mike Ellis is ending his rest and preparing to leave.
Back in Pelly, Laura Neese, Paige Drobny, Andrew Pace, and Cody Strathe are all cooling their heels for a few hours, with Rob Cooke soon to join them at 15 miles out. At the back of the pack Tore Albrigsten is 34 miles from Pelly, and Sébastien Dos Santos Borges and Gaetan Pierrard are 10 miles and 35 miles from Stepping Stone, respectively.