Winning the Quest is all about the gameplan

Consistency is an emerging theme amongst dog teams moving along the Yukon Quest trail. A number of teams are sticking to the race plans they laid out from the beginning. Still, other mushers are having trouble keeping an even pace.

Nearly everyone is curious about 2012 Champion Hugh Neff’s strategy. He trains dogs specifically to run 1000 miles races, so his run-rest schedule is different compared with teams that also run in mid-distance races. By the time Neff pulled into Carmacks, 177 miles down the trail, he’d only rested for four hours. Neff says he’s try to keep his distance from the competition.

“One thing I’ve learned through the years is you know what they start doing is they start messing with you. That’s why I’m avoiding my buddy Lance and my buddy Allen and everybody else. We all might camp together sooner or later, but you know what, when it comes down to it, this is a race and we all gotta do our own thing,” Neff says.

But Neff only briefly relinquished his lead to Allen Moore at the McCabe Creek Dog Drop, roughly 40 miles outside Carmacks. He says it’s all part of his game plan.

“It will be fun for my leaders. I think they’re getting bored up there a little bit,” Neff says.

Allen Moore isn’t swayed by other musher’s decisions.

“I can’t let Hugh dictate what I’m doing because he’s running forever without any rest. Usually that bites you in the butt in the end and if he keeps doing it, I’ll bet a lot of money it bites him again,” Moore says.

Based on his run-rest pattern, Moore’s arrival in Pelly Crossing was so predictable, it was clear was paying very close attention.

Consistency may also explain why Moore’s dogs were jumping in harness when they pulled the Two Rivers musher into the race’s third checkpoint.

Brent Sass is known for running and resting his team consistently. He likes to run 50 to 60 miles and then rest for roughly for hours. He says he’ll stick to that for the first half of the race, regardless of the competition.

“I am blocking it completely out. If you start chasing Hugh Neff right now, I know I’d be getting myself into trouble. I’m trying to completely forget about my competitors at this point, get a real healthy team into Dawson and go from there,” Sass says.

Jake Berkowitz is also running a consistent run-rest schedule. He blew through Carmacks so fast, his wife, Robin had to answer for him as his team of energetic dogs nearly jumped out of their harnesses before they sped away .

“That’s the plan so far, that’s all I can tell you. He’s right on schedule,” Robin Berkowitz says.

Four-time Quest champion Lance Mackey hasn’t been able to pull together consistent runs. He has a few dehydrated dogs who have taken to dipping for mouthfuls of snow on their way down the trail.

“I don’t think the dipping would be so bad if it wasn’t the acrobatics that have come with it. They’re jerking each other all over the place, in the ditches, just back and forth. I think some of them are injuring one another just by doing that,” Mackey says.

Mackey was visibly disappointed. The more he has to stop and rest his dogs, the farther away his competition gets.

“Allen is probably gonna have to fall in a hole in the Yukon to get caught,” Mackey says.

A good musher never divulges their complete race plan, but most of them seem to think running steady could win this year’s race and they’re all biding their time until they reach the half-way mark in Dawson City. Teams should stop arriving there today.



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