CRIPPLE, Alaska (AP) -- Linwood Fiedler was feeding his dogs and Martin Buser was playing with his team as a brisk wind blew through the Cripple checkpoint Thursday.
Buser, the three-time Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race champion from Big Lake, arrived at the race's halfway mark about an hour and a half in front of Fiedler, the Willow musher finished second last year to four-time champion Doug Swingley of Lincoln, Mont.
''Your team looks awesome. I've never seen a dog team look so good,'' Fiedler said to Buser.
''Don't they,'' Buser replied.
Buser and Fiedler, along with a slew of front-runners, settled into Cripple to take a mandatory 24-hour rest.
DeeDee Jonrowe of Willow; Ramy Brooks of Healy; Jerry Riley of Nenana; John Baker of Kotzebue; Ramey Smyth of Big Lake; Ray Redington Jr. of Fairbanks; John Barron of Helmville, Mont.; and Jim Lanier of Chugiak filled out the top 10.
''We're going to try to be as competitive as we can be,'' said Redington, who is the grandson of Joe Redington, Sr., the man who got a shorter version of the race started in 1967 and was key to establishing the longer race to Nome in 1973.
Barron, 52, who ran his first Iditarod in 1979 and has run every year except one, was asked how much longer he will run the 1,100 mile race from Anchorage to Nome.
''Oh, I think until I've got another foot in the grave I will be,'' Barron said.
Meanwhile, Jeff King of Denali Park and Charlie Boulding of Manley had pulled into Ophir after taking their 24-hour breaks in McGrath. King, going for his fourth Iditarod win, arrived in Ophir at 3:31 a.m. Thursday. Boulding pulled in at 4:40 a.m.
However, other top contenders who have taken their 24-hour rest beat them out of Ophir for the 60-mile run to Cripple. Vern Halter of Willow departed from Ophir at 5:17 a.m., Mitch Seavey of Seward left at 7:05 a.m. and Sonny King of Spartanburg, S.C., pulled out at 7:09 a.m.
The trail to Cripple winds along the Innoko River and crosses the river twice before heading northeast. The run is mostly flat with sparse scrub spruce except for a few rolling hills as mushers approach Cripple.
From Cripple, the trail goes through more rolling hills to the village of Ruby, the first checkpoint on the Yukon River. The first musher to reach Ruby will get a $3,500 cash prize and a seven-course gourmet meal.
Buser, a three-time Iditarod champion, was the first musher into Cripple early Wednesday night, claiming $3,000 in gold nuggets and a trophy for being the first to the halfway point.
''I didn't plan on being the first but I guess that's a bonus,'' Buser said.
The winner is expected to cross the finish line in Nome sometime Tuesday. But with unusually good trail conditions, some mushers say, the race record of 9 days, 58 minutes, set by Swingley in 2000 could be broken.
Swingley is in the race this year but is intentionally lagging far behind the leaders. He said he is running a sightseeing trek instead of going for a fourth consecutive win.
The winner will take home the top prize of nearly $63,000 and a pickup truck. The top 30 finishers will share a $550,000 purse.
Sixty-two of 64 teams that began the 30th running of the Iditarod remain on the trail. Burt Bomhoff of Chugiak and Perry Solomonson of Plain, Wash., have dropped out.
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