UNALAKLEET -- Defending champion Doug Swingley is using the same strategy that worked so well the previous two years in extending his lead over competitors in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
Swingley, from Lincoln, Mont., arrived in Unalakleet at 3:19 p.m. Sunday, approximately five hours ahead of Jeff King of Denali Park.
''Last night I made it to Kaltag faster than he did,'' Swingley said of a stretch of trail from Eagle Island.
King left Kaltag at 10:48 a.m. Sunday and was still on the 90-mile stretch to Unalakleet into the evening. Unalakleet, on the Norton Sound, is 261 miles from the Nome finish line.
Swingley said he's running the same schedule -- dominating the race after the Iditarod checkpoint -- that worked so well for him last year and in 1999 when he was first to Nome.
A rougher trail this year, marked by glare ice and too little snow, will likely prevent Swingley from breaking his record-setting pace of nine days and 58 minutes in the 2000 race.
Here's how the other front-runners stacked up Sunday evening:
Early leader Linwood Fiedler left Kaltag at 12:31 p.m. Sunday. Jerry Riley left that checkpoint at 4:28 p.m.
After Riley came Rick Swenson, John Baker, Gebhardt, Sonny King and Dee Dee Jonrowe, followed by Rick Mackey, Buser and Ramy Brooks and Hans Gatt. One of Gatt's dogs died Friday, apparently of pulmonary edema.
Race officials said preliminary findings of a necropsy performed on the three-year male named Dan showed fluid in the lungs.
Another dog also died Friday. That death was from Kasilof musher Jon Little's team.
The musher dropped the dog, named Carhartt, Tuesday because it looked tired and wasn't eating well. It was flown to Anchorage, and then released to a co-worker of Little's on Thursday. She found the dog dead in her yard the following morning. Vets determined the dog contracted an uncommon bacterial infection.
Fifty nine mushers remained in the race Sunday. Eight have scratched so far, and one was withdrawn for having an noncompetitive team.
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