OPHIR, Alaska -- Veteran Martin Buser reached the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race checkpoint at Cripple early Wednesday night, claiming gold nuggets and a trophy for being the first to the race halfway point.
Buser, of Big Lake, reached Cripple with 13 dogs at 6:13 p.m. and won $3,000 in gold nuggets.
Linwood Fiedler of Willow stood in second place. He reached Cripple 88 minutes after Buser at 7:41 p.m.
The two were the only mushers at the halfway point as of 8 p.m.
Buser, a three-time Iditarod champion, had also been first in to the previous checkpoint at Ophir at 5:52 a.m. Wednesday morning. He rested as Fiedler cruised through at 7:36 a.m. without stopping.
Buser stayed at Ophir four hours and got back on the runners at 9:53 a.m.
Out of Ophir, the 60-mile trail to Cripple winds along the Innoko River and crosses the river twice before heading northeast. The run is mostly flat with sparse scrub spruce except for a few rolling hills as mushers approach Cripple.
Buser was the only musher among the leaders to pause for more than 19 minutes at Ophir.
Like Fiedler, Ramy Brooks of Healy quickly moved on. He arrived in Ophir at 9:02 a.m. and rolled out 10 minutes later after trimming his team from 13 dogs to 11.
John Baker arrived at 9:04 and left 17 minutes later. DeeDee Jonrowe of Willow was the next out, departing at 9:39 a.m. after a 19-minute rest. She dropped two dogs at the checkpoint and left with 12.
Jerry Riley of Nenana left Ophir in sixth place at 10:15 a.m. after dropping three dogs, leaving with just eight.
Ramey Smith of Big Lake was in seventh place out of Ophir at 11:44 a.m. In eighth was Ray Redington Jr. of Fairbanks, who left the checkpoint at 12:22 p.m.
Bill Cotter of Nenana and Jim Lanier of Chugiak remained in Ophir as of 8 p.m. Wednesday.
A winner is expected to cross the finish line in Nome sometime Tuesday. But with unusually good trail conditions, some mushers say, the race record of nine days, 58 minutes, set by reigning champion Doug Swingley in 2000 could be broken.
The winner will take home the top prize of nearly $63,000 and a new pickup truck. The top 30 finishers will share a $550,000 purse.
Sixty-two of 64 teams that began the 30th running of the Iditarod remain on the trail.
Burt Bomhoff of Chugiak and Perry Solomonson of Plain, Wash. have scratched.
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