KALTAG -- Defending champion Doug Swingley set a blistering pace down the Yukon River Saturday to reclaim the lead in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
Swingley, from Lincoln, Mont., covered the 42-mile stretch of trail from Nulato to Kaltag in a little over three hours, arriving at 1:05 p.m.
Kaltag is about 350 miles from the Iditarod finish line in Nome.
Paul Gebhardt of Kasilof drove his 10 dogs out of Nulato at 9:27 a.m., and Swingley followed 23 minutes later. Both mushers made only brief stops at the Yukon River village.
From Kaltag, the race continues 90 miles through the Nulato Hills to Unalakleet on the Norton Sound coast.
Charlie Boulding of Manley left Nulato at 2 p.m. Saturday. Six other mushers -- including former winners Jeff King of Denali Park, Rick Swenson of Two Rivers, Martin Buser of Big Lake and Rick Mackey of Nenana -- were all into Nulato by midafternoon Saturday.
Another nine mushers were on the trail from Galena to Nulato. That group includes Mitch Seavey of Seward, Tim Osmar of Clam Gulch and DeeDee Jonrowe of Willow.
Mackey said while Swingley's team was strong, it is not as dominant as it was last year, when it powered away from the field and won by more than eight hours.
''He's just got another dog team, like the rest of us,'' he told KNOM radio. ''They seem to be making good time, but maybe he's taking a lot out of them. He's trying hard to win.''
King said the contenders would be sorted out from the pretenders by the time the race reached the coast.
''We'll find out on the (Yukon) river who's really going to be in this race or not,'' he said before leaving Ruby. ''Historically, the first team to Unalakleet wins the Iditarod, and we're awful close.''
Swingley has said he considers Swenson his main competition this year, and predicted that Swenson's team will pick up speed on the Yukon.
Swingley said he had gotten a good look at Swenson's dogs and thought they had a lot of drive.
Eighty-one mushers began the race, which had its ceremonial start at Anchorage on March 4.
Seven mushers have scratched so far.
Shane Goosen of Wasilla, David Straub of Willow, Rich Bosela of Anchorage and Nelson Shughart of Newtown, Pa., all dropped out of the race in McGrath late Friday or Saturday.
The race purse is $525,000, with the winner taking home $60,000 and a new pickup truck. Prize money will be paid to the first 30 finishers.
Standings as of 9:30 p.m. Saturday
Musher Chpt Dogs Time In Time Out
1. D. Swingley Kaltag 12 1:05 p.m. 6:07 p.m.
2. P. Gebhardt Kaltag 10 7:39 p.m. 7:51 p.m.
3. C. Boulding Kaltag 8 5:53 p.m.
4. R. Brooks Nulato 11 11:07 a.m. 4:55 p.m.
5. J. King Nulato 11 11:49 a.m. 4:16 p.m.
6. M. Seavey Nulato 10 6:08 p.m. 6:24 p.m.
7. M. Buser Nulato 10 1:21 p.m. 6:38 p.m.
8. R. Swendon Nulato 10 12:50 p.m. 6:51 p.m.
9. R. Mackey Nulato 13 2:29 p.m. 6:52 p.m.
10. B. Cotter Nulato 12 1:56 p.m.
11. J. Barron Nulato 15 7:35 p.m.
12. Jerry Riley Nulato 9 7:36 p.m.
13. H. Gatt Galena 13 12:04 p.m. 12:10 p.m.
14. R. Redington Galena 11 1:32 p.m. 1:37 p.m.
15. J. Alcina Galena 11 1:35 p.m. 1:44 p.m.
16. T. Osmar Galena 11 9:13 a.m. 2:50 p.m.
17. D. Jonrowe Galena 11 9:20 a.m. 3:13 p.m.
18. B. Lee Galena 10 9:36 a.m. 3:30 p.m.
19. S. King Galena 12 10:18 a.m. 3:44 p.m.
20. J. Little Galena 12 1:36 p.m. 6:38 p.m.
Other peninsula mushers
50. J. Bramante Cripple 13 9:35 a.m.
59. B. Hempstead Ophir 13 9:50 p.m. 5:50 a.m.
61. J. Wheeler Ophir 14 2:25 a.m. 6:50 a.m.
63. C. Banse Ophir 15 9:30 p.m. 8:41 a.m.
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