Lance Mackey’s team seeks Iditarod four peat

Posted on March 1, 2008 by



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Six of Mackey’s dogs go for a four-peat in Last Great Race of the

When Lance Mackey strings his team along Fourth Avenue for this morning’s Iditarod ceremonial start, a non-timed, 11-mile puppy parade through Anchorage’s streets and urban trails, six of his dogs will begin their chase for an unprecedented four-peat.

Led by superstars Larry and Hobo, the Comeback Kennel seeks its fourth straight ultramarathon sled dog race victory. But only six of his 90-some dogs have trotted each step of the way, winning two Yukon Quest International Sled Dog races and one Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race over the last 13 months.

Even if the Comeback Kennel doesn’t four-peat, if all six cross the finish line in Nome they could set a new standard for dog durability. This six-pack — Larry, Hobo, Rapper, Foster, Lippy and Hansom — is a well-oiled machine that proved racing the Yukon Quest before the Iditarod isn’t such a bad thing after all.

“If you talk to any musher who’s run both races, they all say the Quest dogs they used in their Iditarod teams wind up being the tougher dogs at the end of the Iditarod,” said Fairbanks musher Ken Anderson, who finished second in the Quest behind Mackey less than two weeks ago.

The four-peat journey began in 2007 when Mackey captured his third straight 1,000-mile Yukon Quest. Less than a month later, the Fairbanks musher made history in the 1,100-mile Iditarod, becoming the first to win both long-distance races in the same year.

In this year’s Iditarod, he’ll leave behind three dogs — Boycuz, Fudge and Zorro — who pulled double-duty in last year’s Idita-Quest title run. Zorro, Mackey’s most-prized dog and the kennel’s main stud, nearly died of pneumonia in last year’s Iditarod. Veterinarians didn’t hold out much hope for the male leader after he got sick.

A year later, the 9-year-old had regained enough strength to finish the Yukon Quest.

“It’s incredible,” Mackey said Thursday. “A lot of veterinarians are still shaking their heads … that he’s still able to run.”

Zorro’s final race will be the All-Alaska Sweepstakes, a 408-mile race that takes place two weeks after the Iditarod in Nome. Mackey hopes Zorro and the rest of his team will have enough juice in the tank to propel them to the $100,000 winner-take-all championship, the largest winning payout in the history of Alaska sports.

“I’m trying to split up (the dogs) as equally as possible, where I have a good team in all three races,” Mackey said. “Unfortunately, all of my best dogs aren’t going into one team because I’m stretching them out.”

On the Iditarod, Mackey said, he’s taking seven dogs that his stepson, Cain Carter, used in last week’s Junior Iditarod. Cain finished second, only two seconds behind Jessica Klejka.

“I’m very proud of him, just ecstatic that he came in with 10 dogs.” Mackey said. “Those dogs are more suitable for running the Iditarod than the Quest.”

Running the Yukon Quest has become a training ground for some mushers before the Iditarod. Anderson and Kelly Griffin of Wasilla will test this theory today, both running back-to-back ultramarathons for the first time. Griffin is attempting to become the first woman to complete the Quest-Iditarod double; she was sixth in the 2008 Quest.

Of the 16 dogs in Anderson’s Iditarod team, all but one raced in the Yukon Quest. But not all of them finished the 1,000-mile race from Fairbanks to Whitehorse, Yukon. Former handler Julie Estey raced with eight of Anderson’s dogs in the Quest and scratched 259 miles into the race.

“Getting the dogs through (the Quest) should make them tougher for the Iditarod and we’ll be able to race more aggressively,” said Anderson, 35. “If you look at statistics, it points to (the Quest) as a good warm-up for the Iditarod, even though it goes against your intuition.

“I don’t think we give these dogs enough credit with how tough they are. We’re just on the cusp of understanding their physiology and how they adapt to the rigors of long-distance racing.”

Mackey and his six Idita-Quest dogs have adapted just fine. The real question is how they will adapt to the seven fresh faces coming off the 140-mile Junior Iditarod.

Mackey confidently issued a warning to his competitors Thursday night, while he picked bib No. 6 out of a mukluk during the Iditarod banquet at Sullivan Arena.

“For those who thought I burned out my dogs on the Quest, you’re in for a race,” Mackey said.


Find Kevin Klott online at adn.com/contact/kklott or call 257-4335.


RAPPER

Age: 4 Gender: Male

Position: Team/Wheel Dog

Notable: Mackey named him Rapper after catching him in front of the stereo speaker, howling and barking. His stepson, Cain Carter, likes rap music, and Rapper would almost dance to it.

LIPPY

Age: 5 Gender: Female

Position: Leader

Notable: She’s Hobo’s sister, a two-time Yukon Quest Golden Harness winner. Lippy got her name because she’s a lippy little girl, Mackey said. She states her opinion and was the dominant dog of the litter.

HOBO

Age: 5 Gender: Male

Position: Leader

Notable: He was the speed in the 2007 Iditarod team, a hard driver who won the Quest’s Golden Harness Award twice.

FOSTER

Age: 6 Gender: Male

Position: Team dog

Notable: Named after the beer, along with two others in the kennel, Pauli (as in St. Pauli Girl) and Molson (who ran the 2007 Iditarod). Foster’s very strong and has never been dropped.

LARRY

Age: 7 Gender: Male

Position: Leader

Notable: “Larry needs no introduction,” Mackey said. He’s finished nine 1,000-mile races — five Iditarods and four Yukon Quests. He started as a yearling (less than 2) leading. In the 2003 Iditarod, he was with Mackey’s former Kasilof neighbor Paul Gebhardt.

HANSOM

Age: 4 Gender: Male

Position: Leader

Notable: Mackey said Hansom was easy to name: He was the handsomest puppy Mackey ever had. Hansom’s the only dog in Mackey’s breed that goes back to his dad’s breed in 1978, the year Dick Mackey won the Iditarod. Six dogs are chasing a four-peat

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