Who can deny Dallas Seavey another Iditarod victory? Andre Jute checks the confidence behind the smiles.

So what will it take to win the 2017 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race and who can do it?

Yesterday, we considered whether one of the currently dominant Seaveys, Dallas (left) or Mitch (right), can win a straight sixth victory in the 2017 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. What we saw was that the Seaveys have plenty of experience in winning.

We concluded that what decides the outcome among all these hard men and women is a small quantum of luck, the weather — and experience.

Luck and the weather are, by definition, outside of the mushers’ control. That leaves experience.

We’re not talking about skill or gritty commitment here. For practical purposes all the possible winners are equally skilled and equally gritty as competitors.

In most sports, what predicts the likelihood of success is — previous success. The question is choosing the right kind of success, because not every kind of success defines an overall winner.

What predicts an Iditarod winner more certainly than anything else is top ten finishes, preferably recent top ten finishes. Sure, a rookie can come along and temporarily upset the rule, as Robert Sorlie did with a rookie win earlier in this century; but Sorlie was a musher’s musher, a racer with huge depth of experience of winning in Scandinavia. His “rookie” status was artificial, to say the least.

So here we go.

Nearest thing to a sure thing?

Dallas Seavey, with a side bet on his dad, Mitch Seavey. Been there, done that. There are more interesting questions to answer.

An upset winner?

I was very impressed with Jessie Royer’s run into fourth place in 2015, a bad year for mushers; she’s 40, in her prime as a musher, with experienced dogs she rested eight hours for every five they ran in the  Yukon Quest! Those pups are just warmed up and raring to go. Melinda Shore also picks Jessie for an upset.

[I wrote this article before the race, and I publish it unchanged on the evening of the second day of the actual race as most of the mushers are on the trail from Tenana to Ruby. Jessie lies 11th on the road, but because she has not taken the mandatory 8 hours to rest the dogs yet, Martin Buser, who has, while behind her on the trail, is in fact about 7h15 ahead of her (including the starting differential adjustment), and the same applies to all the mushers who’ve served the 8-hour break as far back as Dave Branholm currently 39th on the trail.

All the same, I publish the article as I wrote it. You have to take your chances and I’m betting Jessie knows what she’s doing putting off that mandatory break to keep up with the real contenders. It’s a lesson in how tricky it is for the mushers on the trail, who don’t have even a fraction of the information you and I have to hand.]

Joar Leifseth Ulsom is 29, the right age to make his mark, and has a stunning record of four top-7 finishes in four Iditarod starts. He’s the most promising runner in the race, but we’d like to see him deliver a credible threat to the mushers in front, and soon, or he’ll be perceived as a technically competent and athletic competitor who lacks the killer instinct a top athlete must possess.

The usual top-ten suspects, ex-champions,  habitual front-runners, and another Norwegian

These all finished under 9 hours last year, as of course did both Seaveys and Ulsom, a distinction shared by only 13 mushers (including those named here) in the entire history of the Iditarod. In the order in which they finished in 2016:

From the top, left to right, more top ten finishers who in 2016 crossed under the arch in Front Street, Nome, under 9 hours: Aliy Zirkle — a multiple runner-up, Wade Marrs, Peter Kaiser, Nicholas Petit — three young lions who everyone expects sooner or later to be champions, and Ralph Johannessen — current Norwegian champion. Plus Jeff King, a four-time champion — only 46 seconds north of nine hours!

This is as frightening a collection of smiling hard cases as any defending Iditarod champion would rather not meet on the trail.

Of these, Wade Marrs [just checking into Ruby as I post this!], who’s been improving radically year by year, is a dark horse whose time could arrive at any moment.

And Nicholas Petit has won several middle-distance races this season to give his team confidence. Any edge is worth having when you go up against competitors riding high for five years already.

Expect to see most of these in the top ten, or challenging for the win.

This is basically the same list as Jake Berkowitz published in the Alaska Dispatch News, and for the same reasons. Berkowitz has a top ten finish in the Iditarod himself, and a bunch of mushing awards, so he’s a talent spotter who merits respect. Berkowitz includes another strong finisher in his list:

“Richie Diehl: The only musher on this list who has never been in the Top 10, Diehl’s best Iditarod was last year’s 12th-place finish. But Diehl had another strong performance in this year’s Kuskokwim 300, surging in the second half and taking third. Look for him to come on strong along the Bering Sea Coast.”

What with the weather this year, I think Berkowitz is right: a fast finish could be the making of a surprise winner.

IDITAROD a novel of The Greatest Race on Earth by Andre Jute
IDITAROD a novel of The Greatest Race on Earth by Andre Jute

Andre Jute is the author of Iditarod a Novel of the Greatest Race on Earth, available in paperback and ebook. Get it at:

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andre_jute_singapore André operates a special page for live Iditarod race reports where you’re welcome to join him.

 

 

Is this what a memorial to Nash could look like, a doggie Mount Rushmore?

Nash, one of Jeff King’s sled dogs, was killed by a drunken snowmobiler during the 2016 Iditarod. Here I’ve imagined the start of a sort of Iditarod Sled Dogs’ Mount Rushmore, with Nash just emerging from the raw rock as its first inhabitant. And didn’t one of the Colonel’s pound-find Iditarod dogs go to Mass with the Pope? It’s not such a bizarre idea at all!

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Andre Jute: Statue of Jeff King’s Nash, killed on Iditarod 2016 by a drunken snowmobiler, emerges from the rock. Watercolor, octavo on cotton paper, March 2016.

IDITAROD a novel of The Greatest Race on Earth by Andre Jute
IDITAROD a novel of The Greatest Race on Earth by Andre Jute

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Andre Jute is the author of Iditarod a Novel of the Greatest Race on Earth, available in paperback and ebook. Get it at:

eBOOKS
iTunes Smashwords Kobo B&N
PAPERBACKS
Createspace Amazon USA UK

andre_jute_singapore
Andre operates a special page for live Iditarod race reports where you’re welcome to join him.

Come join me at the IDITAROD: The greatest race on earth since Marathon — and a bookie’s nightmare

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Every year I take a busman’s holiday at the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. I have a page that helps people follow the race. In theory my presence and the helpful page promotes my novel about the race. In practice the book, long since a best seller, promotes itself, and is anyway better promoted by enthusiastic readers than by the author, and I maintain the page to help myself keep track of a confusing race spread over 1046 miles (approximately) of the most inaccessible and dangerous terrain on earth, and share it with others of like mind. The other thing I do every year just before the Iditarod is amusing: I try to pick some outsiders who will do well; I’m proud of an outstanding track record, for intance picking Aliy Zirkle in each of the years she came second. Obvious now, but this woman, already over forty, with small dogs, in the beginning just wasn’t an obvious choice against the hard men with their brawny dogs. Another example: I picked the poster boy, the Iditarod heart-throb, Joar Leifseth Ulsom, when he came from nowhere, with no track record at this level of mushing.

So, why am I bragging about past triumphs? Because this year the organizers, by accepting so many novices, have made it almost impossible to pick genuine outsiders, short of sticking a pin into the entry list, or laboriously tracing the provenance of each musher. And I intend “provenance” in the precise dictionary meaning: that a musher grew up in a mushing household and community clearly matters in winning the Iditarod, as does the learning experience of the race itself. It’s a dangerous race, so the organizers, terrified someone will die on their race, let in only those with experience and a track record in other tough races. This in turn makes it even more difficult to pick the newcomer who will emerge from the pack.

I wouldn’t bet tuppence of my own money on a race as long, and over such terrain, and through such uncertain weather, as the Iditarod. But if I were staking serious money, I’d grit my teeth and accept the short odds on Dallas Seavey to take a third win. Lance Mackey and Jeff King, both four-time winners, stand at the head of a line of contenders who think they’re finishing the Seavey’s run — Dallas’s dad Mitch is also a two-time winner and a current contender to be reckoned with. There, let’s leave the list of hard, experienced men, several more with victories or many high finishes on their record, and look at the outsiders.

At the beginning of the Iditarod last year (2014), Aliy Zirkle was all set, by her record of two second places, to leave the list of underdogs and outside chances for the permanent powers that be, the perennial threats. But events in the closing stages of the 2014 race have raised the question whether she is only a nice lady with athletic gifts — or whether she’s a winner. After Jeff King was blown off the trail and was forced to scratch only 25 miles from a fifth victory to protect his dogs, it was Aliy Zirkle’s race to lose. And she did lose it by not being ready when the gritty, relentless competitor Dallas Seavey arrived from nearly two hours behind to blow without rest through Safety, where Aliy was resting. Dallas staggered on to victory in Nome.

1924633_754426211236322_206420366_nDallas Seavey, winning the 1000+ mile 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race from 1h49m behind 77 miles before the finish.

That Aliy, had she not relaxed into champion mode already in Safety, could have caught the worn Dallas and his tired dogs is shown by the fact that, starting from 17 minutes behind in Safety, 22 miles later in Nome Aliy was only 2m22s behind Dallas, an otherwise incredible gain that tells us much about their relative condition.

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The popular Aliy Zirkle, runner-up for the third year running in 2014.

Dallas won that race because he is first and foremost a winner.  Which is how come we pick him to win again. He’s a pretty obvious choice: young and hard, yet hugely experienced, a proven winner.

And once more I pick Aliy to upset the running behind Dallas, possibly to be second again, especially of there is a settled weather over all or most of the race to favour her light, fast dogs. Who knows, she may have learned her lesson last year: the race isn’t over till you cross the line, and use her chances better this year. We’re due for a woman winner, and Aliy is still the best-placed woman to deliver that victory.

For newcomers, the Iditarod is one of the very few great sporting events in the world where men and women compete on equal terms. As the saying goes, “Alaska, where men are men, and women win the Iditarod.” The late Susan Butcher has four victories too.

And for a new champion from among the outsiders? Once again I fancy the impressive Norwegian  Joar Leifseth Ulsom. This is no longer a daring prediction because everyone knows his time will come, but I’m betting on sooner rather than later.

An underdog who could easily choose this year to become a top ten top dog is Nathan Schroeder, the 2014 Iditarod Rookie of the Year.

If the ladies want someone interesting to follow besides Aliy, try DeeDee Jonrowe, a veteran runner with an enviable record of high finishes, still a threat for the top places. And don’t forget the grittily courageous Cindy Gallea, 63, who last year was forced to scratch through illness.

Fewer people have finished the Iditarod than have ascended to the summit of Mount Everest.

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The toughest race in the world, a race of attrition because of trail and weather conditions just short of the Artic Circle.

My page Iditarod follows the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race live, as it happens. You’re cordially invited to join us.

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André Jute is the author of the much-loved, multi-award-winning bestselling novel IDITAROD a novel of the Greatest Race on Earth, available in paperback and all ebook formats.

Iditarod, toughest race in the world, stressfree from your armchair

For a zero stress Iditarod you need these three pages open and only these three. Close any pages you refer to instantly you finish with them or you’ll soon be lost in a tide of pages.
* IDITAROD. Here you find the most important and exciting race reports in comprehensible format.  Come join the best party going. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Iditarod-a-novel-of-The-Greatest-Race-on-Earth/193084334057961?ref=hl
* Alaskan clock, scales with the window. Most mushers take elective breaks during the Alaskan daytime hours. http://www.timeanddate.com/worldclock/fullscreen.html?n=18
* Iditarod Race Map, so you can see where your favourites have reached and how far they have to go. Total race distance is about 1000m. Click on the map and a bigger version will open on your screen. http://coolmainpress.com/iditarodcompmap.html
* IDITAROD a novel of the Greatest Race on Earth: a bestselling story to read in downtime from the race when you are too excited to sleep. Yeah, it’s that addictive. http://coolmainpress.com/iditarod1.html

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Right, let’s pick my five likely winners of the Iditarod 2013

There are  so many multiple champions because experience matters. You therefore must include the defending champion, Dallas Seavey. It’s his race to lose. The target is on his back. Unfortunately for his competitors, Dallas is pretty level-headed and, despite his apparent youth, a very experienced musher, the third generation of his family, the son of another champion. Any front runner will be asking what Dallas is doing. Big, sturdy all-weather dogs.

Next, another champion, Big John Baker, champion before Dallas, a musher who positively relishes the foulest weather. If the weather turns nasty, and he’s in position, Big John will be a threat. He holds the record for finishing in the shortest time ever, and he took it over the longer, Southern Route, raced in odd years. With Big John, slow and certain, and long killer stints on the trail, add up to fast from checkpoint to checkpoint.

Ally Zirkle, leading the 1200 mile Iditarod in 2012, cutting a corner tighty, fighting to keep her sled upright

If the weather’s fine and the trail is good, smaller, faster dogs come into play. Last year Aliy Zirkle ran out front almost all the way, to be overtaken by Dallas Seavey near the end. Men and women run on equal terms, and you have to weight up whether Aliy, lighter and riding the runners, going like the clappers, will be faster than Dallas, heavier, running for hours behind his sled so the dogs don’t have to pull his muscle along, going like the clappers, has the better clappers. I suspect we’ll see on the run from Anvik through Grayling to Eagle Island, up the Yukon with the wind in their faces.

Only an idiot rules out Jeff King, the most scientific of the mushers, a multiple winner. Every likely winner has a shortlist of three mushers who can take the race from him. Jeff King features on each and every one of those shortlists. Don’t count out Jeff King because he gives away thirty years to Dallas Seavey.

I was away from the Iditarod between 1989 and the 2011 race, but one of the first guys I picked when I returned was Ramey Smyth, because he looked so much like the beau ideal of the profesional mushers coming in just then. I’ve been watching Ramey from afar, and this could be his year. Smiling, charming Ramey is a relentless competitor.

Nothing startling about this list. These mushers are in every informed observer’s top ten.

Every year I also choose a couple of outsiders. I’ve for instance chosen Peter Kaiser one year, but he’s no longer a young turk, he’s on everyone’s top ten list, high up on some.  It would be a cheat to pick him again on the principle that “I told you he was a comer.”

So this year I’ll choose a rookie, and an outsider, a Norwegian. I reckon Joar Leifseth Ulsom, the hearthrob or Roros, Norway, 26, is, on the record of past Norwegian entries, worth a bet for an early entry into the top ten, perhaps this year.

I’ve also picked DeeDee Jonrowe as a personal favorite for the last two yard, and last year she came in just outside the top ten. DeeDee is hard as nails and very experienced. “Veteran” hardly describes a woman who has 3o or so Iditarods to her credit and has won half a million dollars in this event. If there’s an upset, DeeDee, 59, another fast lady, could show some of those boys her heels.

Now there are screams of outrage from the peanut gallery. How can I not choose Lance Mackey, the most recently dominant racer? Well, it’s that luck thing. Mackey had such a bad race last year, he was joking about a champion become the Red Lantern, the back marker. It takes a while for your confidence to recover from such a setback.

How can I not choose Aaron Burmeister, on his pre-Iditarod form a likely winner, or Martin Buser, always a threat, even more so now that he has his son Rohn’s best dogs in his team as well?

Well, if you choose five plus two outsiders, you run out of spots. I blame the organizers of the Iditarod. They should make it easier, not put up a slate of 66 winners.

So that’s my slate of five, in no particular order:

Dallas Seavey, defending champion
John Baker, immediately past victor
Aliy Zirkle, spectacular challenger, 2nd last year
Jeff King, multiple champion, scientific musher
Ramey Smyth, a champion in waiting

Plus, since five is simply an impossible limit,  a couple of bets with marginally longer odds:

DeeDee Jonrowe,  perpetual threat
Joar Leifseth Ulsom, worth a bet for a rookie Top 10 finish

We’ll see under the arch in Front Street in Nome in about 12 days whether I’m right.