ANCHORAGE — Defending champion Lance Mackey pulled into the checkpoint at Nikolai on Tuesday just two days into the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race and said a fifth victory does not look promising.
According to the Iditarod’s official Website, Mackey pulled into the checkpoint carrying two dogs in his sled, and had just put a third dog back in the team after carrying it for a ways. Mushers will carry dogs when they aren’t pulling well so they don’t slow down the team.
“I’ve had lots of bad luck,” Mackey told the website when asked how his race was going.
But the Fairbanks musher who has won the world’s longest sled dog race four consecutive times was quick to say, just like in previous Iditarods, his race could turn around and he could end up on top.
“I’m not saying I’m out of it by any means but it sure don’t look too promising at this point,” Mackey said.
Mackey left the Nikolai checkpoint about 350 miles from Anchorage with a 12-dog team, considered small for this early in the 1,150-mile race to Nome. Mushers normally begin the race with 16-dog teams and must finish with at least six. Mushers will leave dogs at checkpoints where they will be cared for and flown back to Anchorage if they are sick, injured or not performing well.
Mackey said he wasn’t driving his team hard or cutting rest and couldn’t explain why some of his veteran dogs — those that have gone to Nome before — were having difficulties, except to say the trail was demanding in certain places.
Mackey was in third place Tuesday, behind Sebastian Schnuelle and four-time champion Martin Buser who was leading the race.
Mackey wasn’t the only race-hardened veteran to be having trouble.
Buser lost valuable time when his dog team became entangled with Jamaican musher Newton Marshall’s team. Five of Buser’s dogs got loose. Another musher found three of the dogs and two trotted into the next checkpoint on their own, but the mishap cost Buser time as he waited for his dogs in the Rainy Pass checkpoint.
It looked like five-time champion Rick Swenson might scratch after crashing his sled and perhaps breaking his collarbone. Swenson was in 21st place and resting his team Tuesday afternoon in Nikolai.
Race spokesman Chas St. George said if Swenson decides to continue on to McGrath X-rays could be taken and he could see a doctor. If he decides he’s had enough, he could be flown to Anchorage to get medical treatment.
Veteran musher DeeDee Jonrowe veered off the trail and briefly was lost before turning around and returning to the checkpoint at Finger Lake. She was in 18th place.
St. George said the trail was hard and fast this year and it promised to be a fast race.
Buser holds the race record of eight days, 22 hours and 46 minutes set in 2002. His teams tend to do well on a hard and fast trail.
Mackey finished the 2010 race in eight days, 23 hours, 59 minutes — the second-fastest finish in Iditarod history.
Race officials also said Tuesday afternoon that veteran musher Paul Gebhardt scratched in Nikolai out of concern for his team. Gebhardt has twice finished the race in second place.