KALTAG -- The reigning king of the Iditarod Tral Sled Dog Race has conceded this year's competition. Long live the king.
Lance Mackey from Fairbanks, who ran off an unprecedented string of four straight victories, said here late Saturday that he has no hope of catching race leaders John Baker from Kotzebue and Ramey Smyth from Wasilla.
"I'm out of it for a victory,'' Mackey said, "and I know that. It's a reality. I will be back with a vengenance.''
Mackey was the ninth musher into this, the last of the Yukon River checkpoint before the race turns overland on the portage to Unalakleet on the Bering Sea. He arrived about five hours behind Baker, battling to hold off surging 23-year-old Dallas Seavey from Wasilla.
Ahead of him, Baker was already on the trail to Unakaleet, and Smyth, Hugh Neff from Tok, Sebastian Schnuelle from Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada, and a few others were ramping up for departure.
"It would be foolish and very selfish to think that I could have another perfect win,'' Mackey said.
Where for years everything seemed to go right for Mackey, this year things went wrong. He had to drop seven of the 16 dogs in his team early because of nicks, bumps or simple fatigue, and he's now battling to keep another dog -- Rev -- going. Rev, Mackey said, has problems with harness chafe because of what vets call the dog's "big package.'' Mackey said he's never before had a dog suffer for harness chafe.
But not since his early years as a back-of-the-pack musher has he had any of the problems of this year. Since Mackey won his first big race in 2005 -- the 1,000 mile Yukon Quest from Whitehorse to Fairbanks -- his teams have seemed bulletproof. Mackey won four straight Quest championships, which was, in and of itself, a feat.