Update, 8 p.m. Wednesday:
Veteran musher Brent Sass ran next to his sled as he and his 13-dog team pulled into the Iditarod’s halfway point Wednesday in first place.
Video from Iditarod Insider showed a smiling and laughing Sass greeting race officials, and commenting on the powdery snow.
“Some mashed potatoes you guys have in here,” he said.
Sass, who trains mostly at a remote homestead north of Fairbanks in Eureka, arrived in the abandoned mining town of Cripple at 3:50 p.m. He won his choice of $3,000 worth of gold nuggets or a smartphone with a year of free service. He planned to take his mandatory 24-hour rest at the checkpoint.
While putting booties on his dogs at the prior checkpoint, in Ophir, Sass told Iditarod Insider that he’s running his own race and not focusing on his closest competition, Dallas Seavey. He said he’s made that mistake before.
“It’s easy to do especially late in the game,” he said. “Right now there’s no excuse for it, ’cause it’s so early in the race still and the race hasn’t started yet really. We’re kinda just setting ourselves up for the race.”
Sass, who’s coming off a strong season of mid-distance victories, passed Seavey along the trail between Ophir and Cripple early Wednesday.
Sass is gunning for his first Iditarod victory.
While Seavey is trying to get his sixth. That’d be a new record.
Seavey and his 12-dog team arrived at Cripple Wednesday evening about three hours behind Sass. He also opted to take his 24-hour rest there.
“We’re going to be here for long-term parking, if I needed to say that,” he said.
Hugh Neff and his 12 dogs raced into Cripple two hours behind Seavey, at 8:41 p.m.
Some of the other top teams took their required 24-hour breaks earlier in the trail, including Aaron Burmeister, who took his in McGrath.
Iditarod leaders were leapfrogging each other down the trail on Wednesday, as mushers continue to jockey for position in the early part of the race, and lead changes are common.
Defending champion Dallas Seavey was the first musher to leave the ghost town of Ophir.
Ophir is 352 miles into the nearly 1,000-mile race. Seavey left there at 3:49 a.m. Wednesday with 12 dogs. He had an 18-minute lead over the second-place musher, Brent Sass, who has 13 dogs remaining on his team.
Sass later passed Seavey while he was resting near the trail, according to the Iditarod tracker.
There’s 73 miles of trail between Ophir and the next checkpoint, Cripple at race mile 425. It’s the longest leg of the race. The trail runs along the Innoko River. There aren’t any particularly tricky sections of this stretch of trail, but it can feel monotonous.
“It’s a safe bet you won’t have the faintest idea where you are for much this leg,” says a description on the Iditarod website. “Even if you sneak a GPS along with you it won’t help much because every hill and creek seems the same as the one before and the one ahead.”
Sass, the race’s 2012 Rookie of the Year, is looking for his first Iditarod title.
Seavey is tied with Rick Swenson with the most Iditarod titles, at five apiece. Swenson won his fifth title in 1991, and the now-71-year-old musher last ran the Iditarod in 2012.
Seavey earlier told The Associated Press that win or lose, he will likely take a break from the race after this year to spend time with his daughter.
By Wednesday afternoon, Sass had a roughly 20 mile lead on Seavey, according to the Iditarod race tracker. Hugh Neff, Mitch Seavey and Ryan Redington chased the leaders. Behind them, many teams were stopped in Ophir or McGrath to take their required 24-hour break.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.