WASILLA - Three-time defending champion Lance Mackey and past winners Jeff King and Martin Buser have signed up in person for the 2010 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
Altogether, 58 mushers were registered to compete in the 1,100-mile race to Nome, with 22 showing up at Iditarod headquarters to turn in their entry forms on Saturday, the first day to sign up.
The overall number of first-day entries was down from 67 in 2007, 71 in 2008 and 68 in 2009, but above the 2006 first day entries of 54, according to Stan Hooley, executive director of the Iditarod Trail Committee.
The 43 race veterans and 15 rookies will be competing for a purse of about $630,000, with $610,000 earmarked for the top 30 contenders and $1,049 apiece for all other finishers.
Under new rules, mushers had the option of signing up Saturday at the annual Iditarod volunteers picnic, or submitting entry forms and the $4,000 race fee by mail in time to be recorded at the picnic, which gives them an edge in the race lineup. Among those signing up by mail was 2004 Iditarod winner Mitch Seavey.
In previous years, only mushers who signed up at the picnic were put into the so-called first tier to determine the order in which they would draw their actual starting positions. Those who sign up after Saturday will draw their starting positions in the order in which they register, said Iditarod spokesman Chas St. George.
The deadline to register is Nov. 30.
Race organizers in recent years have sharply increased the entry fee, from $1,875 in 2007 to $3,000 for 2008 and $4,000 for this year's race. They decided not to raise it again for next year's race, and Hooley said despite a tight economy he is optimistic that the financial support needed to pay about $1.65 million in costs for the race will be met.
"The sponsors have an emotional attachment to the race," Hooley said. "They believe in it. For those reasons we have a better chance of keeping and growing the budget."
Mackey said he was relieved that the entry fee was not raised at least for another year. Mackey is the only musher to win both back-to-races in the Iditarod and the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race, having won both in 2007 and 2008. He sat out the Quest this year.
"There are people here who would love to race, but can't afford it," Mackey said. "I think that by doubling the entry fee they obviously squished out the little guys. It costs at least $15,000 to run even if you are skimping."
King, a four-time Iditarod winner, said he felt the mushers were getting their money's worth for that $4,000 fee.
"I know what it takes to put on an event of this caliber and to guarantee the safety of the dogs," he said.
Buser, a four-time winner, said more effort should be made internationally to raise funds for the race.
"People everywhere are infatuated with the race," he said. "Alaska is one of those magical words. There is a global interest."
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