GLENNALLEN - Zack Steer of Palmer won the Copper Basin 300 Sled Dog Race on Monday.
Steer and nine dogs crossed the finish line in Glennallen at 3:01 p.m., followed 11 minutes later by Lance Mackey of Kasilof and his nine dogs. William Kleedehn of Carcross, Yukon Territory, was third, coming in at 3:46 p.m. with 10 dogs.
For much of the race, Steer and Mackey ran together. Mackey had to carry two dogs in his basket late in the race, and the extra weight was enough to let Steer pull away for the victory.
"This is the first time I've won," Steer told the Anchorage Daily News. "It feels good to win."
Steer, who has been mushing for six years, left the Tolsona checkpoint one minute before noon Monday for the 23-mile homestretch. Mackey, who has been battling cancer, left Tolsona 16 minutes later.
Steer won $6,500 out of the race's $35,000 purse, while Mackey won $5,000. Steer's mushing partner, Dr. Robert Buntzen of Anchorage, finished in 15th place with the pair's B team. Buntzen is entered in the 1,160-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race where he will run most of Steer's dogs and about four of his own. Steer will sit out this year's Iditarod to be with his wife and 1-month-old son.
Forty-four mushers started the race Saturday, including Juneau's Deborah Bicknell. As of early this morning, Bicknell was in 21st place. Bicknell, a 58-year-old grandmother with two artificial knees, left the Tolsona checkpoint 23 miles before the finish line at 5:10 a.m. today. She was only four minutes behind Peter Ledwidger of Dawson City, Yukon Territory.
Bicknell is entered in the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race that starts on Feb. 9 in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. The 1,000-mile-plus sled dog race will complete its 20th anniversary running about 10 days later in Fairbanks.
Nine mushers - including defending champion Hans Gatt of Atlin, British Columbia - had scratched from the Copper Basin 300 by this morning. Another prominent musher to scratch was former Yukon Quest champion Vern Halter of Trapper Creek, who is one of the top contenders in the Iditarod.
Gatt decided to pull out of the race sometime after he arrived at the Sourdough checkpoint Sunday night. Gatt won the Yukon Quest last year and is signed up to run it again in February. Gatt is also entered in the Iditarod in March, but will use a different team of dogs.
Race Marshal Al Marple said he had spoken to Gatt before he scratched in the Copper Basin 300 and the musher mentioned his dogs weren't running as well as he would have liked. He was in 28th place when he scratched.
Gatt was planning to drop one dog, which would have brought his team to eight dogs, Marple said.
"I think he was just trying to save his dogs for the Quest, when he realized he wasn't going to finish competitively," he said. "It was nothing earth-shattering."
The Copper Basin 300 is a qualifying race for the Iditarod and the Yukon Quest and is considered one of the state's premier mid-distance sled dog races.
Twenty-three of the mushers in this year's event are rookies.