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Jamaica's Marshall challenges new frontier on Yukon Quest

Published:Saturday | March 6, 2010 | 12:00 AM


The 38th running of the world's most famous sled dog race kicks off today amid depleted finances that have slashed the cash purse even as the cost of competitive mushing continues to climb.

Yet the mystique of the 1,100-mile (1770-kilometre) Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race keeps drawing mushers from outside Alaska, including a first this year - a rookie from Jamaica, Newton Marshall, a native of St Ann who trains with dogs pulling him on an oversized tricycle along the beach at Chukka Cove.

Also running are five past winners, including defending champion Lance Mackey, a throat cancer survivor from Fairbanks who is going for a fourth consecutive win.

Another strong contender is Canadian Hans Gatt, who in February became a four-time winner of the 1,000-mile (1,600-kilometre) Yukon Quest race, which Mackey also has won four times.

Ceremonial start

The Iditarod begins with a ceremonial start in Anchorage, Alaska. The actual competition gets under way tomorrow in Willow, 50 miles (80 kilometres) to the north. From there, mushers leave festivities behind for a trail that crosses two mountain ranges, scores of Alaska native villages, then part of the frozen Bering Sea shore before it reaches the finish line in the old gold rush town of Nome on Alaska's western coast. It's a trail where temperatures can plunge to 50 below zero (minus 10 C) and fierce winds can wipe out visibility.

The total purse this year is $590,000 - down from a high of $925,000 in 2008 - with $50,000 of this year's prize money donated by four-time champion Jeff King, who also is in the running. Even the prize for the winner will be nearly $20,000 smaller than the $69,000 of past years. The winner still also receives a new truck.