FAIRBANKS - Brent Sass stole the show on Saturday morning as he became the first musher to register for the 2007 Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race at Pioneer Park.
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Sass arrived at the Yukon Quest store in the historical park at about 7 a.m. expecting defending champion Lance Mackey or someone else to be waiting to be the first to register. Instead, he found nobody else around.
Registration began at 9 a.m. and Sass, who is the dog yard manager at Chena Hot Springs Resort, was the first of at least 18 mushers to register for the 1,000-mile sled dog race from Whitehorse, Yukon to Fairbanks scheduled to start on Feb. 10.
"I've been waiting for this day for the last five months," Sass said as he plunked down a check for the $1,000 entry fee and $250 administrative fee that are required to enter the race. "I'm excited."
As of 6 p.m. Saturday, 18 mushers had either arrived at the Yukon Quest store, at race headquarters in the White Pass Railroad Station in Whitehorse or faxed their entry information to the race offices.
That's three more than signed up on the first day last year and there could be more if entries postmarked by Saturday arrive sometime this week.
Everyone who entered on Saturday will be eligible for the first Yukon Quest incentive drawing on Aug. 10, the winner of which will have their $1,000 entry fee returned.
Sass, 26, won the Yukon Quest 300 last year and figures now is the time to go all the way.
"I had an amazing time and I can't wait to see the rest of the trail," he said. "I want to finish and have fun. Where I finish really doesn't matter as long as I give it my all."
Sass said he began mushing about 312 years ago when, "I saw a guy mush by and figured that was something I wanted to do.
"I had the opportunity to train with Susan Butcher, so I got a lot of experience that way," Sass said. "I wasn't her handler, but I got to run her dogs and it was pretty amazing."
Butcher died on Saturday from a recurrence of leukemia from a bone marrow transplant.
Aaron Burmeister of Nenana and his kennel helper Benedikt Beisch of Germany were also in line when registration began.
Burmeister, who has run the Iditarod nine times and plans to run it again this year, said he wanted to try something new.
"It will be nice to see new country, meet new people and see the trail," said Burmeister, a project superintendent for Quality Asphalt Paving. "The way our kennel is set up this year, we have enough depth to enter two teams in the Quest and another in the Iditarod."
Burmeister said he plans to push the pace of the 2007 race.
"I want to force the pace to force the competition so that the winner will break the record in 2007," he said.
Beisch, who has been running dogs for four years now, lists his occupation as defecation manager for Burmeister's kennel in Nenana. He will be running the No. 2 Burmeister team when the race gets under way next February.
Mackey, the two-time defending champion who recently moved to the Interior, arrived to register at about 9:15 a.m. Saturday and was informed by June Ryan, the president of the Alaska board of directors, "Lance, you're not the first," to which the quick-witted Mackey responded, "Yeah, but I will be at the other end."
Mackey makes no bones about the fact that he wants to be the first musher to ever win the Quest and the Iditarod in the same year. A month after winning the 2006 Yukon Quest, Mackey placed 10th in the Iditarod.
"It's definitely possible and hopefully I'm going to be the guy to prove that," he said. "You can't do it with the same team, but I think we've got things worked to where we can accomplish that."
In addition to the first four mushers who registered in Fairbanks others to register on Saturday included: Gerry Willomitzer of Whitehorse; last year's third-place finisher, William Kleedehn of Carcross, Yukon; Greg Parvin of Nome; Devon Currier of Two Rivers; Sebastian Schnuelle of Whitehorse; J.T. Hessert of Whitehorse; Richie Beattie of Whitehorse; Tom Benson of Ely, Minn.; Catherine Pinard of Carcross; Peter Ledwidge of Dawson City, Yukon; Russ Bybee of Willow; Michelle Phillips of Tagish, Yukon; Paul Ellering of Grey Eagle, Minn.; and Bob McAlpin of Fairbanks.
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