The race is on. Or at least it will be.
The 2001 Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race has been postponed from this weekend to the weekend of Feb. 3 and 4.
"We have officially postponed the race until the weekend of the third," said Nancy Kitchen, the T-200 secretary. "It all came down to the total lack of snow."
The race, which officially starts at the Tustumena Lodge in Kasilof, has drawn only 10 participants thus far, but race officials are confident that the number will increase.
"We are expecting more mushers to sign up," Kitchen said. "Many of them were waiting to see what we did (Sunday) night."
According to Kitchen, the T-200 usually draws around 20 mushers, but there is always room for more.
"We would like to see a big, nice field," she said. "With other races being canceled, we may be able to exceed our normal numbers. I really couldn't tell you an exact number, because you are never sure of what is going on in those mushers' heads."
Musher Jon Little of Kasilof, who also serves on the T-200 board, agreed.
"We'll probably get a few more teams signed up," he said. "Especially teams that need to qualify for the Iditarod, they'll find a way to make it."
Regardless of the size of the race field, there is a $25,000 purse waiting for those who want to brave the Caribou Hills course to claim their share of it. The musher and dog team that earns the victory this year will walk away with $10,000, while second place will get $5,000 and third will rake in $3,000. The prize money will drop from there, but cash prizes will be awarded to the next seven finishers.
Race officials stressed the reason they pushed back the T-200 was not only due to the lack of snow the area has received.
"We will not run a marginal race. Either it will be completely safe or it won't be run," Kitchen said. "There are places on the trail where there are ... sticks sticking up, and it is not safe for the dogs. Whatever we do, it has to be in the best interest of the dogs."
For rookies who are planning to run the T-200 to qualify for the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race and will not be able to race in February, it isn't too late to get their Iditarod entry fee refunded.
"Anybody who withdraws before the food drop, which I think is on Feb. 13, can still get their $1,500 entry fee returned to them," Iditarod race director Joanne Potts said. "Out of 31 rookies, there are only five left who need to run two qualifiers, and three who only need one."
Veteran racers like this year's Kuskokwim 300 winner and defending T-200 champ Jeff King, along with local favorites and Iditarod veterans Paul Gebhardt and Little, will take to the trails along with local musher Wendy Warren of Kasilof. Iditarod veterans David Milne and Mike Nosco are signed up, too, as is Blake Matray, Allen Cameron, Larry Carroll and Jim Lindau.
For now, mushers and board members alike seem to be hoping for at least one good snowfall.
"All we need is one good dump for the incoming and outgoing race and we'll be set," Little said. "I guess we will just have to wait a week and cross our fingers."
And if there is no snow for the rescheduled race?
"We would have to cancel, but we are not talking about that, we are thinking positively," Kitchen said. "Everyone should get out and do their snow dance, get out there and dance hard."
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