FAIRBANKS - Thirty-five mushers have signed up for the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race and one-third of them are rookies.
The field includes two-time defending champion Hans Gatt of Atlin, British Columbia. Gatt has won the race for the past two years and will attempt to become the first musher in the 21-year history of the race to win it three times.
The race is set to start from Fairbanks on Feb. 14 and finishes in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, about nine to 14 days later.
"It's going to be a sweetheart of a race," said Layne St. John, the executive director of the Fairbanks staff.
The race will be dedicated to Leo Olesen, who died of cancer in May and was involved in the Yukon Quest since it began in 1984. He did just about everything for the Quest except race in it.
Oleson served as a race judge in the first race and he sat on the rules committee from 1984 to the time of his death. He was race marshal from 1985 to 1987 and race manager from 1996 to 2001.
Frank Turner, the only musher to enter every Quest, is signed up again. The Whitehorse musher won the Quest in record-setting time in 1995 when he completed the course in 10 days, 16 hours and 20 minutes.
Thomas Tetz of Tagish, Yukon, who finished third in last year's race and was runner-up in 2000, was the last to register before the deadline Monday at about 4:45 p.m., Whitehorse race officials said.
St. John said he received Wasilla musher and rookie David Armstrong's entry in the mail Monday. Mark May of North Pole, the 1999 runner-up, also signed up on the last day to enter the race, as did Fox musher Gwen Holdmann and Dan Kaduce of Chatanika.
Mushers are competing for $125,000 in prize money with the winner taking home a $30,000 paycheck. The top 15 finishers share in the prize money.
Rookies slated to start the Fairbanks-to-Whitehorse race are: Eric Butcher of Fairbanks; Sebastian Schnuelle of Whitehorse; Michelle Phillips of Tagish; Marcel Marin of Yellowknife, Northwest Territories; Zach Steer of Palmer; Rod Boyce of Two Rivers; Agate Franczak of Dawson City, Yukon; Emil Inauen of Davos, Germany; Gerry Willomitzer, of Shallow Bay, Yukon; Dieter Dolif of Two Rivers; Jennifer Cochran of Fairbanks; and Crispin Studer of Whitehorse.
Other veterans include last year's red lantern, Whitehorse dentist Paul Geoffrion; Bruce Milne of Two Rivers; Terry Asbury of Healy; Tom Benson of Dubois, Wyo.; Catherine Pinard of Carcross, Yukon; Tony Blanford of Two Rivers; Peter Ledwidge, Dawson City; David Dalton of Healy; Kelley Griffin of Wasilla; Jack Berry of Salcha; Kyla Boivin of Dawson City; Eric Nicolier of Fairbanks; Trevor Braun of Mendenhall, Yukon; Daniel Bourassa of Quebec; last year's runner-up William Kleedehn of Carcross, Yukon; and Abbie West of Fairbanks.