Barring unforeseen problems on the trail, Hans Gatt will win a record third straight Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race sometime early this morning.
Gatt, of Atlin, British Columbia, should cross the finish line in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, about 6 or 7 a.m. Yukon time (5-6 a.m. Alaska time). When he does he will become the first three-time winner of the 1,026-mile sled dog race from Fairbanks, Alaska, to Whitehorse.
As of 10 p.m. Tuesday night, Gatt was the only musher who had left the Braeburn, Yukon Territory, checkpoint, 109 miles from the finish line. Mushers must take a mandatory eight-hour rest in Braeburn and the next musher, Zack Steer of Sheep Mountain, Alaska, didn't arrive in Braeburn until after Gatt left the checkpoint.
Gatt arrived in Braeburn at 10:42 a.m. Yukon time Tuesday morning (9:42 Alaska time) and was eligible to leave at 6:42 p.m. Yukon time (5:42 p.m. Alaska time). But Gatt didn't leave the checkpoint until 7:10 p.m. Yukon time (6:10 p.m. Alaska time), running with 11 dogs.
Despite the extra time in the checkpoint, Gatt still has an outside shot at breaking the course record for the Fairbanks-to-Whitehorse even-year runnings of the Quest (in odd years the Quest course goes from Whitehorse to Fairbanks).
According to the Whitehorse Star, Gatt needs to arrive in Whitehorse by 11:44 a.m. Yukon time today (10:44 a.m. Alaska time) to break the Fairbanks-to-Whitehorse course record of 10 days, 22 hours, 44 minutes set in 1994 by Lavon Barve of Wasilla, a longtime Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race musher who was a Yukon Quest rookie. Other than in the first year, when all mushers were rookies, Barve is the only Quest rookie to win the race.
When Gatt won the 2002 Yukon Quest, it took him 12 hours, 14 minutes to make the run from Braeburn to Whitehorse. If he matches the same pace, Gatt should arrive in Whitehorse at 7:24 a.m. Yukon time (6:24 a.m. Alaska time).
That means Gatt would miss breaking the overall course record of 10 days, 16 hours, 20 minutes set in 1995 by Whitehorse musher Frank Turner, the only musher to run all 21 Yukon Quest races. To beat Turner's record, which was set on the Whitehorse-to-Fairbanks course, Gatt needs to arrive in Whitehorse by 5:19 a.m. Yukon time (4:19 a.m. Alaska time).
When Gatt arrived in Braeburn, he told reporters he didn't think he'd break Turner's record. In order to break it, Gatt said he thought he needed to arrive in Braeburn by 9 a.m. Yukon time.
Steer, a former Iditarod musher who is a Quest rookie, didn't arrive in Braeburn until 8:30 p.m. Yukon time Tuesday night (7:30 p.m. Alaska time). Steer, who had 10 dogs in harness at Braeburn, led through most of the early part of the race but was passed by Gatt just before teams crossed the border from Alaska into Yukon Territory.
Steer can't leave Braeburn until 4:30 a.m. Yukon time today (3:30 a.m. Alaska time). No other musher had arrived in Braeburn after making the 79-mile run from Carmacks, Yukon Territory.
David Dalton of Healy, who was still running with all 14 dogs in his team, was in third place after leaving Carmacks at 4:13 p.m. Yukon time Tuesday. Peter Ledwidge of Dawson City, Yukon Territory, left Carmacks at 8:09 p.m. Yukon time and Dan Kaduce of Chatanika, Alaska, left Carmacks at 10:03 p.m. Yukon time for fifth place.
The other mushers into Carmacks were Turner and two-time champion John Schandelmeier of Paxson, Alaska, but neither had left the checkpoint late Tuesday night. Besides Gatt and Schandelmeier, the only other musher to win two Yukon Quest titles is Charlie Boulding of Nenana, Alaska, who now runs the Iditarod.
The only mushers out of McCabe Creek, 44 miles from Carmacks, were Kelley Griffin of Wasilla, Alaska, and Thomas Tetz of Tagish, Yukon Territory, who were in eighth and ninth place and just 20 minutes apart. Tetz is running a team of dogs owned by Juneau musher Deborah Bicknell.
The Yukon Quest started in Fairbanks on Saturday, Feb. 14, with 31 mushers. Since then 11 teams have scratched. Jennifer Cochran of Fairbanks is currently running in 20th place, the last musher on the trail, and she left Stewart River, 365 miles from Whitehorse, at 9:50 a.m. Yukon time on Tuesday.
The Quest winner takes home $30,000 (U.S.), with the second-place finisher winning $24,000, the third-place finisher taking home $18,000, the fourth-place team $12,000 and the fifth-place musher $8,000. The top 15 finishers win money.
For Yukon Quest updates, the Quest's Web site is http://www.yukonquest.com.