Kaiser repeats as Kusko 300 champ on hard, icy trail

Full Article: http://www.newsminer.com/mushing/kaiser-repeats-as-kusko-champ-on-hard-icy-trail/article_03f01416-bd56-11e5-acc4-236271ac2532.htmlBETHEL, Alaska — Hometown hero Pete Kaiser won his second Kuskokwim 300 sled dog race in a row Sunday morning, defending his 2015 championship, when he was the first Bethel musher in 30 years to win the race.Kaiser takes home $25,000 for the feat, beating a strong field of many veteran mushers over a 300-mile windswept course of river ice, overflow, tussocks and open water in spots from here to Aniak and back.As Kaiser approached the finish line, the local fans cheered and a few chanted, “Re-Pete! Re-Pete!” He ended the race with seven of his 12 dogs from the Friday night start.”It was probably one of the tougher courses I’ve ever seen,” said the soft-spoken Kaiser, an Iditarod veteran, as a mob of people crowded around him and his dogs in the finish chute. “Kind of a small team. I’m proud of the ones that got me here.”Eureka musher Brent Sass — the 2015 Yukon Quest champ and also an Iditarod veteran — passed Willow’s Joar Ulsom in the final two miles to take second place and $17,000. Sass finished just eight minutes behind Kaiser, and Ulsom was eight minutes behind Sass.Ulsom won $11,500. The Kusko pays out a total purse of $130,000 to the top 20 positions.The race started a little after dusk Friday with 25 mushers. Fairbanks’ Brenda Mackey scratched early Saturday with worries that she had frostbitten her cornea, and Anchorage musher Scott Janssen scratched late Saturday or early Sunday due to illness.Pushing a steady pace throughout the race, Kaiser took the lead Saturday with about 100 miles to go. That was in Kalskag, where Sass, the previous leader, had to complete three of his six hours of mandatory rest time, while Kaiser and Ulsom had only one hour of mandatory rest left and were able to slip past.In the final leg, Ulsom was running only six dogs and his half-mile lead on Sass dwindled, as Sass still had nine dogs in his team. Sass closed the gap approaching “No Man’s Land,” an area nearing the end of the race where a musher is no longer required to stop and let a team hot on their heels pass them.“I didn’t want to pass him too early and give him something to chase,” Sass said at the finish line. “I decided just before the No Man’s Land sign that I should pass. The dogs were amazing. They picked right up.”Sass almost sat out the race after his main leader, Basin, died a week earlier. Basin’s collar was tied to his sled for the Kusko 300.“He’s very, very missed. There were definitely a lot of times out there on the trail that I wished I had him,” Sass said. “But the other dogs really stepped it up, and I’m very proud of them all.”Sass said the race had helped him heal emotionally from his prized dog’s death.“I had hours out there to think about it, focus on my dogs and remembering Basin. It was the best move, now more than ever, to get off my butt and come out here to Bethel to run this race,” Sass said.Sass said he had changed leaders toward the end of the race, relying on trusty, big males Merc and Krypton to get him past Ulsom’s team down the stretch.Kaiser named his male leader Palmer as his most valuable dog. Palmer also led Kaiser’s 2015 Kusko-winning team, and most of the rest of his champion team this year, almost all four-year-olds now, were the same, too, he said.“(Palmer) is pretty awesome. He gets a lot of the credit for this win, getting us through all that glare ice, and everywhere I wanted him to go, he went,” Kaiser said, joking later that he felt like his sled had been on its side for something like a third of the race.Along with the first-place finish, Kaiser won the Best of the West award and, with it, two round-trip tickets to anywhere Alaska Airlines flies. He is also the race’s only Bethel-born champion and the only musher to post wins in all three races that run on the same weekend — the Akiak Dash, Bogus Creek 150 and Kuskokwim 300 — referred to as the K300 Triple Crown.Asked when he felt like he thought he might have this year’s Kusko 300 in the bag, Kaiser said it was not until he crossed the finish line.“You can’t really start to think that until you get here,” Kaiser said. “Now that I’m here, it feels good to be here first, but these dog races are hard to predict.”Full Article: http://www.newsminer.com/mushing/kaiser-repeats-as-kusko-champ-on-hard-icy-trail/article_03f01416-bd56-11e5-acc4-236271ac2532.html


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