A first-day record of 65 mushers turned in their registration forms during Saturday's opening day for signing up for the 2003 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
G.B. Jones of Wasilla was the first musher to turn in an entry form during Saturday's festivities at Iditarod Headquarters in Wasilla. The event included a steak feed and the annual meeting of the Iditarod Trail Committee. More than 500 people attended the event, which also honored race volunteers.
While some entries arrive in the mail in advance, the mushers waiting in line when the door opens on the last Saturday of June are the first to officially register for the next year's race. The mail-in forms are entered later. The order of Saturday's registration will be the same used this winter when mushers draw for bib numbers for the 1,165-mile sled dog race from Anchorage to Nome.
Four former Iditarod champions entered Saturday, led by defending and four-time champion Martin Buser of Big Lake (1992, 1994, 1997 and 2002). Five-time winner Rick Swenson of Two Rivers (1977, 1979, 1980, 1982 and 1991) is also in the field, as are three-time winner Jeff King of Denali Park (1993, 1996 and 1998) and one-time champ Jerry Riley (1976).
Also entering the Iditarod were 10 former winners of the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race, the other 1,000-mile-plus mushing event to take place in Alaska. That list includes 2002 Quest champ Hans Gatt of Atlin, British Columbia, and 2001 winner Tim Osmar of Ninilchik, who both competed in both races last year. Other former Yukon Quest champions registered in the Iditarod are Aliy Zirkle of Two Rivers (2000), Ramy Brooks of Healy (1999), Bruce Lee of Denali Park (1998), two-time winner Charlie Boulding of Manley (1991 and 1993), Vern Halter of Willow (1990), King (1989), Dave Monson of Fairbanks (1988) and Sonny Lindner of Fairbanks (1984).
No mushers from Southeast Alaska are entered in the Iditarod so far, but Willow musher Linwood Fiedler has ties to Juneau. This is the sixth summer Fiedler -- who took second place in 2001 and led early last year before he had to scratch when a virus made too many of his dogs sick -- has been running dog tours on Norris Glacier just south of Juneau. Fiedler called his glacier tour concession his "Juneau advantage," because his dogs are running on snow while other mushers' dogs are idle for much of the summer.
Mushers can still enter the race through 5 p.m. on Dec. 2, but several incentives were made to get mushers to register early. Rick Horstmann of Willow, a rookie, won the use of a new full-size pick-up truck for a year. Two mushers -- rookie Dexter Kancer of Nenana and veteran Burt Bomhoff of Chugiak -- had their $1,850 entry fees paid for by the ITC.
Rookie mushers have to complete at least two preliminary races totaling at least 500 miles combined before they are allowed to actually start the Iditarod, with each preliminary race being at least 200 miles long. On Saturday a total of 46 veteran mushers and 19 rookies entered the race.
The 2003 Iditarod will hold its ceremonial start at 10 a.m. on March 1 in Anchorage, with the actual start at 11 a.m. on March 2 in Wasilla. An updated list of entries is available on the Internet at http://www.iditarod.com.