Sass Wins, Otto Surprise Second
Lex Treinen, KUAC
(Fairbanks, Ak) Brent Sass and his Wild and Free team are this year’s Yukon Quest 550 sled dog race champions.
Sass crossed the finish line at the Chena Pump House at 7:45 p.m. on Wednesday evening pulled by 12 dogs for his fifth Yukon Quest win.
He was greeted by a crowd of dozens of cheering fans in the finish chute after going through his mandatory gear check. Sass led from early on in the race. He said his run-rest schedule was key to his victory.
“The big thing for me was to keep the runs shorter, 50 to 60 miles and not to the big pushes between checkpoints,” he said in the finish chute, surrounded by handlers and supporters.
Sass was led into Fairbanks by Slater and Pink, two brothers and veterans from his Iditarod champion team last year.
“Slater’s the best sled dog I’ll probably ever drive,” said Sass.
The 7-year-old is nearing the end of his racing career, and Sass said he was trying to enjoy every moment he could with him, but he’s also excited about the future.
“I’ve got like 13 of his sons and daughters right now, so I have high hopes for the future,” he said.
He said the race was a good training run for his dogs before this year’s Iditarod, which starts the first weekend of March and that the race helped make some final selections for that team.
For the win, Sass will take home $40,000 dollars, part of a $100,000 prize purse in this year’s Quest.
Just before midnight, Sass’s team was followed by surprise second place finisher, 28-year-old Amanda Otto.
Otto’s team yelped in the finish line and pulled in their harnesses, apparently eager to keep running down the trail.
The dog’s energy was especially impressive considering Otto had made the second to last run -- 100 miles -- from Two Rivers to Nenana without stopping to camp. Along the way, she slingshotted in front of some top teams of Nic Petit and Wade Marrs. Otto was played down the run, despite being the only musher to try the strategy.
“At the end of the day I was just out there running the dogs, snacking, watering, running dogs for 100 miles,” she said at the finish.
She said she’d thought about the plan beforehand, but ultimately just watched the dogs. She overtook Marrs and Petit even after their teams had camped on trail.
“I wouldn’t normally do that long of run, but they were up for the challenge and they excelled,” she said.
Otto, a former semi-pro soccer player who was running a team from four-time Iditarod Champion Jeff King’s kennel, where she’s worked for the past several years.
King, who handled for Otto along the trail, said he’s been impressed with Otto’s athleticism and commitment to the minute needs of the dogs. He said he could picture her on top of the Iditarod podium some day.
“Easily,” he said. “She’s got the head of a champion.”
He said he suspects Otto’s success at the Quest will inspire her to keep racing.
Otto said she’s not sure what she’ll do with her $30,000 in winnings.
“It’ll probably go back to the dogs,” she said.
Wade Marrs of Wisconsin finished in third place, followed by Cody Strathe, Nic Petit and Riley Dyche. ###