This weekend there will be "mush ado" about sled dogs in Kasilof as the annual Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race returns for the 24th running, and this year again with an extremely talented field of mushers.
"We've got a very good field this year," said Todd Stone, T-200 president.
Deadline for sign-up was Friday at midnight, and 25 mushers had entered, but Stone said a few more dog drivers had called to say they were mailing in their entries.
"I suspect we'll still have a couple more coming," he said.
Of the 25 mushers already signed up, it is difficult to say who will have the team to beat. There are three past Iditarod champions signed up, one of which is Mitch Seavey of Sterling, who has placed as high as second in the T-200.
Lance Mackey, the current and only "IditaQuest" champion also is signed up and has said he is coming to win. Like Seavey, Mackey has placed as high as second in the T-200, but said he believes he has fixed the problem that has kept him from being a winner in the toughest 200-mile race in the state.
Mackey, a former Kasilof resident, said he used to train on the T-200 race trail out of his cabin in the Caribou Hills. Since the dogs were used to stopping there, Mackey always had a difficult time passing by this area without the dogs slowing down during the course of the race.
However, now that he has lived in Fairbanks for the past several years, and raised and trained a few litters of dogs that have never stepped a paw in the Caribou Hills, Mackey said he thinks he will be able to run a fluid race without this problem.
The third past Iditarod champion signed up, Joe Runyan, also has won the Yukon Quest and the European Alpirod. While he now lives in Boise, Idaho, he has come out of sled dog retirement to assist Rachael Scdoris, the legally blind musher from Bend, Ore.
"He's an experienced musher that will be serving as her eyes," Stone said.
Runyan, who no longer has his own sled dogs, will be leading Scdoris by running a team of huskies owned by Tim Osmar of Ninilchik. Osmar himself had intended to lead Scdoris, as he did when he served as her visual interpreter in the 2006 T-200 and Iditarod. However, Osmar is still recuperating from injuries he sustained when he shattered his ankle while attempting to save his family's home from the 55,000 acre wildfire that consumed much of the Caribou Hills last summer.
Ken Anderson of Fairbanks, and last year's T-200 champion also will be back to defend his title, as will Tom Lesatz of Two River, who is the kennel partner of the 2005 and 2006 T-200 champ Jessica Hendricks. Lesatz listed on his entry form that his team will be led by Buster and Oden, two of the seasoned dogs that led Hendricks to victory both years she won.
There also are several potential sleepers to watch during this year's race, one of which will be Ryan Redington of Wasilla, who earlier this month not only won the Knik 200, but set a new course record for the fastest time in doing so.
Bill Steyer of Homer may be another team to keep an eye on. Steyer won the T-100 last year, and has shown well already this year, by placing second in the Gin Gin 200 last month in Paxson. Anjanette Steer of Sheep Mountain, and Robert Bundtzen of Anchorage, may be dark horses, as well since they share a kennel with Zack Steer, who last year placed third in Iditarod. Steer and Bundtzen also always have dogs ready to tackle the Caribou Hills after months of training in the rugged Sheep and Takleetna mountains.
"Everything is also coming together pretty well for the T-100 and Jr. T races," Stone said.
The T-100, which runs simultaneous to the T-200, is an out-and-back race, and while 100 miles shorter, it still is no easy feat as the mushers have to carry their own food and supplies rather than having them waiting at a checkpoint as in the T-200.
This year 17 mushers have signed up including Vern Halter, an Iditarod veteran from Willow, and Jack Berry, a Yukon Quest veteran from Homer.
Four mushers also have signed up for the Jr. T, inlcuding last year's champion Marissa Osmar of Ninilchik. The Jr. T began last year and is a race for mushers under 18. It is a 50-mile, out-and-back course with a three-hour break between the two legs.
For more information on the Tustumena 200, visit the race's Web site at www.tustumena200.com.
This year's race is scheduled to start on Saturday at 11 a.m. in front of the Tustumena Lodge in Kasilof.
Joseph Robertia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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