Update, 10 p.m.:
Iditarod musher Brent Sass and his 13-dog team left the race’s halfway point at Cripple in first place at 4:36 p.m. on Thursday. They’re fresh off a 24-hour break.
They’re chased by five-time champ Dallas Seavey, Jessie Holmes, Hugh Neff and Richie Diehl, according to the Iditarod race tracker.
The top five mushers in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race appear to be taking an extended break in the ghost town of Cripple.
All mushers in the nearly 1,000-mile race across Alaska must take three mandatory rest periods: a 24-hour layover at any checkpoint, an eight-hour layover somewhere along the Yukon River and another eight-hour layover at White Mountain, which is 77 miles from the finish line.
Five mushers and their dog teams arrived Wednesday, and none had left as of Thursday afternoon.
Brent Sass was the first musher to reach Cripple Wednesday afternoon, winning $3,000 in gold nuggets for the feat.
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.
He was followed into Cripple about three hours later by defending champion Dallas Seavey, who is trying to win his sixth championship. That would be the most ever by a musher in the world’s most famous sled dog race.
When Seavey arrived in Cripple, he asked race officials where long-term parking was, as he declared he was taking his 24-hour layover there, according to video posted on the Iditarod website.
Other mushers who arrived in Cripple Wednesday night were Hugh Neff, Ryan Redington and Mitch Seavey, a three-time champion and Dallas Seavey’s father.
Eleven other mushers were en route to Cripple from the previous checkpoint of Ophir, where they all had completed their 24-hour layover.
The race started for 49 mushers Sunday in Willow, just north of Anchorage.
Late Wednesday evening, musher Anja Radano of Talkeetna withdrew from the race, saying the decision was in the best interest of her dog team. She scratched at the Nikolai checkpoint, and she had 12 dogs in harness.
The route for the remaining mushers will take them over two mountain ranges, the frozen Yukon River, along Alaska’s windswept western coast and onto the treacherous Bering Sea ice to the finish line in Nome.
The winner is expected under the burled arch finish line sometime next week.