CENTRAL, Alaska — 2015 Yukon Quest champion Brent Sass of Eureka, Alaska, scratched Sunday evening in Central after requesting assistance for two of his dogs.
Sass had been in second place at the time, approaching the Central checkpoint behind leader Matt Hall.
At about 1 p.m., Sass used his SPOT tracker to summon help for his dogs from Medicine Lake — about 16 trail miles short of the Central checkpoint and near the road-accessible Circle Hot Springs.
Veterinarians checked Sass’ dogs Caputo and Healy, who are now in stable condition, according to a statement from the race.
Sass officially scratched at 7:02 p.m.
Quest officials sent an email a few minutes later announcing Sass had scratched, ending hours of speculation about his status here at the bar that’s used as the Central checkpoint.
Sass has several friends and family members following him along the trail here, but all left the Central checkpoint before Sass’ scratch was announced.
Officials suspected Sass had a problem with his dogs because he used the device’s “help” buttons instead of the “SOS” button. Race judge Devan Currier spoke to Sass before he decided to scratch.
“When I did go out, he was pretty ready to be done with the race,” Currier said in an interview Sunday. “He just basically didn’t like the experience he had with the two dogs.
“I’m not real clear exactly how it all took place, but they weren’t doing well and he was carrying them by the time he met with the vets,” he said.
Yukon Quest rules prohibit mushers from receiving outside assistance except where a race marshal declares an emergency.
A decision about whether to declare an emergency hadn’t been made when Sass pre-empted the decision by asking for his dog truck to be brought to the Circle Hot Springs Road instead of mushing into the Central checkpoint under the power of his remaining dogs.
A veterinarian with information about what happened to the dogs wasn’t immediately available to comment.
By Sam Friedman
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner