ANCHORAGE - The race is on between Lance Mackey and Jeff King.
Two years ago, King, a four-time champion, appeared on his way to a fifth win in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race with a faster team when he was snookered by Mackey, who went on to win.
On Saturday, Mackey, the defending champion with three back-to-back wins, again snatched the lead, according to global satellite positioning information.
King had been leading the race but Mackey grabbed the lead by being the first musher to leave the Kaltag checkpoint. The front-runners now head toward the Bering Sea coastline in the 1,100-mile race from Anchorage to Nome.
The Iditarod's GPS tracker map showed Mackey in the lead just outside the Kaltag checkpoint shortly after noontime about two-thirds of the way into the race.
King was the first musher to arrive at the Kaltag checkpoint at 11:42 a.m. Mackey arrived 12:28 p.m. and stayed just seven minutes before getting back on the trail.
In 2008, Mackey and King were battling for the lead when King fell victim to an old musher's trick just 123 miles from the finish. Mackey arrived at the checkpoint 3 minutes ahead of King, drank coffee and acted like he was settling in for a long nap. He told checkpoint volunteers to wake him in an hour. But with King snoring, Mackey sneaked out ahead of his opponent and eventually won the race.
King, no doubt, would like this year's race to end differently. The 54-year-old musher has said this will be his last Iditarod.
Mackey left Kaltag at 12:35 p.m. King remained in the checkpoint resting his team, along with Hugh Neff of Tok and 2004 Iditarod champion Mitch Seavey of Seward.
Hans Gatt was in fifth place. The Whitehorse, Canada, musher is fresh off his fourth win in the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race in February. Mackey finished second in the Quest and Neff was third.
Gatt was followed Saturday by John Baker of Kotzebue and Ken Anderson of Fairbanks.
Sonny Lindner of Two Rivers, winner of the very first Quest, was in eighth place. He finished sixth in this year's Quest.
Mackey, who lives in Fairbanks, is a four-time Quest champion and finished second this year in the 1,000-mile race between Alaska and Canada.
His father, Dick, won the Iditarod by one second in 1983, edging out by the narrowest of margins Rick Swenson of Two Rivers, the race's only five-time winner. Swenson was in 14th position on Saturday. Mackey's brother, Rick, also is an Iditarod champion.
Kaltag is a few hundred miles from the finish line in Nome, where it was a chilly 30 degrees below zero on Saturday morning. It had warmed up to 15 below by midday.
After leaving Nulato, Iditarod teams embark on a 42-mile run along the frozen Yukon River to the Kaltag checkpoint, where mushers then head for the Bering Sea coast and the sizable town of Unalakleet. The distance between the Kaltag and Unalakleet checkpoints is 90 miles, one of the longer stretches between checkpoints in the race.
Unalakleet is about 260 miles from the finish.
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