FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Four-time Iditarod champion Doug Swingley has dropped out of this year's Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race.
The Montana musher cited too many uncertainties with the race as a reason. He e-mailed Quest officials Thursday of his decision.
Swingley was the second top contender to drop out of the race. Last year's runner-up, Tok musher Peter Butteri, withdrew last week.
Swingley, 51, said the combination of questionable trail conditions on the 1,000-mile race and the purse amount were the reasons he dropped out before what would have been his first Quest.
''I'll just have to run the Quest next year,'' Swingley said. ''I'll sit out of distance racing completely this year. It's a shame, leaving one of the best dog teams in the world sitting in the dog yard.''
After announcing his intention to quit competing in the Iditarod last year, on the way to a 40th-place finish, Swingley set out to run the Quest this year with a plan to try to win both long-distance races in 2004.
''I'll get back in the swing of things next year,'' he said. ''It wouldn't be the first race I've won on the first try.''
Talk that the race might start farther up the trail, perhaps in Braeburn or Carmacks, didn't please Swingley.
''That's not my bag,'' he said. ''I like to run for records, not for records with an asterisk.'' Open water on the Yukon might cause alterations in the trail, race officials have said.
Swingley said training has also been tougher than in past years. The Montana area where he trains has received only a foot of snow, when it would normally have 10.
''It's not a good year for me to decide to go up there and run a brand new race,'' Swingley said.
Swingley, who says he's semi-retired from dog mushing, will give more support to his wife, Melanie Shirilla, who's doing most of the racing this year, including the Iditarod in March.
''It's Melanie's year,'' Swingley said. She won the AttaBoy 300 Sled Dog Race in Bend, Ore., Jan. 13. Swingley won the inaugural AttaBoy 300 last year and finished ninth this year. ''I'm involved, but Melanie is the big focus, especially this year. ... I'm kind of out of the loop.''
With both Swingley and Butteri out of the Yukon Quest, the field is down to 25.
Austrian Hans Gatt, the 2002 winner, will defend his title. Other top racers are Thomas Tetz and William Kleedehn, who placed third and fifth last year; Fairbanksan Bill Steyer, who placed sixth last year; two-time Quest champion John Schandelmeier; and Frank Turner, the 1995 champion.
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