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ANCHORAGE -- The $100,000 Kuskokwim 300 Sled Dog Race was a battle between mushing greats Rick Swenson and Jeff King.
King, a three-time Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race champion, passed Swenson, the Iditarod's only five-time winner, less than a third of the way from the finish to win the mid-distance race on Sunday.
King of Denali Park crossed the finish line in Bethel with seven dogs at 7:06 a.m. He finished in 43 hours and 6 minutes to win $20,000. Swenson of Two Rivers crossed eight minutes later with six dogs to win $15,000.
Swenson was leading the race when King, a four-time Kuskokwim 300 winner, overtook him with about 90 miles to go. Swenson, a two-time Kuskokwim winner, said he thought he could catch King, but was forced to carry a slow dog in his sled for a ways.
"I can't blame it on the dogs," Swenson said. "I thought I could get it back but I had a couple of technical glitches."
King said the performance of his team made up for any mistakes he made on the 300-mile trail. He rotated five leaders throughout the race.
"I had tremendous speed and depth in my front end," he said.
Ed Iten of Ambler finished third more than two hours behind King. John Baker of Kotzebue was fourth, Ramy Brooks of Fairbanks was fifth and Charlie Boulding of Manley, last year's winner, was sixth.
Top competitors use the Kuskokwim 300 to size up the dogs they want to run in the 1,100-mile Iditarod race from Anchorage to Nome. The race is held early March.
Eighteen teams started the race Friday and two teams scratched.
King said the trail was fast and smooth. The sled felt like it was sliding on ball bearings, he said.
"It really was rolling," King said.
His winning time was about five hours faster than last year's.
Three-time Iditarod winner Martin Buser of Big Lake also led the race for a while, but faded toward the end and finished ninth. Buser holds the course record of 37 hours and 4 minutes.