Alaska man wins 1,000-mile Yukon sled dog race

Brent Sass’s team digs in to start the 2020 Yukon Quest at the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center in Fairbanks, Alaska, on Feb. 1. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)
Brent Sass tends to his team at the Braeburn checkpoint on Feb. 10 during the 2020 Yukon Quest. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)
Brent Sass parks his team after being the first musher to arrive at the Braeburn checkpoint on Feb. 10 during the 2020 Yukon Quest. Sass and his team arrived at 3:37 p.m. for their mandatory eight-hour layover before continuing the final 160 kilometres to the finish in Whitehorse. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)
Brent Sass shares a moment with some of his dogs after reaching the Dawson City checkpoint on Feb. 6 during the 2020 Yukon Quest. Sass was the first musher to Dawson, arriving at 5:43 a.m. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)
One of Brent Sass’s dogs takes a moment to lie down at the Dawson City checkpoint on Feb. 6 during the 2020 Yukon Quest. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)
Some of Brent Sass’s dogs lick each other’s faces at the Dawson City checkpoint on Feb. 6 during the 2020 Yukon Quest. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)
Brent Sass’s team leaves the restart point in Dawson City on Feb. 7 during the 2020 Yukon Quest. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)
Brent Sass and his team approach the Pelly Crossing checkpoint along the Pelly River on Feb. 9 during the 2020 Yukon Quest. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)
Brent Sass and his team approach the Pelly Crossing checkpoint along the Pelly River on Feb. 9 during the 2020 Yukon Quest. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)
Brent Sass and his team leave the Pelly Crossing checkpoint on Feb. 9 during the 2020 Yukon Quest. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)
Brent Sass and his team approach the Pelly Crossing checkpoint along the Pelly River on Feb. 9 during the 2020 Yukon Quest. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)
Brent Sass crosses the Yukon Quest 1,000 Mile International Sled Dog Race finish line in Whitehorse on Feb.11 just before 3 p.m. to claim a first place victory for his second year in a row. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Brent Sass poses with his lead dogs after crossing the finish line in Whitehorse on Feb. 11 to win his third Yukon Quest. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Brent Sass takes a moment to lie down next to one of his dogs, Hero, after winning the 2020 Yukon Quest on Feb. 11 in Whitehorse. The victory was the third for Sass in the race. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News)

A little over 10 days after he started, Alaska’s Brent Sass is the 2020 Yukon Quest 1,000 Mile International Sled Dog Race winner after crossing the finish line in Whitehorse at 2:51 p.m. on Feb. 11 with 11 dogs on the line.

Yukon musher Michelle Phillips is approximately 30 kilometres behind Sass and is expected to finish second.

“I definitely earned this one,” said Sass. “It was really fun. I had a really good time. I think that both of us didn’t really know what the outcome was going to be until right now. It was a hell of a battle. She has a really good dog team.”

He was led in this year by dogs Morello and Woody.

“Morello has been one of my main leaders for a couple of years but Woody had never run in lead in a race before this race,” said Sass. “We had run him in lead a little bit this season but I just started experimenting with leaders on the Yukon (River) just because it was such hard trailbreaking a lot of different conditions. I just started experimenting with leaders and he just started shining the whole second half of the race.”

This year’s race started in Fairbanks, Alaska, and covered nearly 1,600 kilometres of trail before ending in Whitehorse.

Sass was the last musher to start this year’s race after drawing bib number 15 at the Start and Draw Banquet in Fairbanks on Jan. 30.

He was the 11th musher into the first checkpoint in Two Rivers, Alaska, but had taken the lead by the time his team cleared Rosebud Summit and reached the Mile 101 checkpoint.

At that time, he was nine minutes ahead of Tagish’s Michelle Phillips when he arrived.

He was again the first musher into the Central, Alaska, checkpoint, arriving 19 minutes ahead of Phillips after descending down Eagle Summit.

When he reached Circle, Alaska, he was 44 minutes behind Phillips who made up time on the notorious Birch Creek section of trail.

Sass was the first musher into Eagle, Alaska, arriving an hour before Phillips, and he was the first musher into Dawson, arriving an hour and 11 minutes before Phillips.

Phillips was the first musher into Pelly Crossing, arriving more than three hours before Sass due to the two teams adopting different strategies for the 338-km stretch from Dawson.

In Carmacks, it was again Phillips arriving first, just over an hour ahead of Sass.

Sass retook the lead on the trail to Braeburn, arriving 37 minutes ahead of Phillips.

For his victory, Sass will win US$18,930.

This year was Sass’s 12th Yukon Quest. He has finished the 10 times, won twice (in 2015 and 2019), scratched once in 2017 and withdrawn once in 2014.

Sass won the 2019 Quest in nine days, one hour and 13 minutes. He won the 2015 race in nine days, 12 hours and 49 minutes.

Only a handful of mushers have ever won the Yukon Quest three times or more.

Lance Mackey and Hans Gatt have each won the race a record four times — 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008 for Mackey, and 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2010 for Gatt.

Allen Moore, running this year’s race and currently in fourth position, won three times — in 2013, 2014 and 2018.

Last year, Sass’s dogs Jeep and Sluice won the Golden Harness award. Sass also won the 2019 Veterinarians’ Choice Award and the Dawson Award — two ounces of Klondike placer gold as the first musher to reach Dawson and finish the race.

As the first musher into Dawson again this year, he also won this year’s Dawson Award.

Contact John Hopkins-Hill at john.hopkinshill@yukon-news.com

Yukon Quest

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