Hugh Neff scratches from Iditarod halfway into the race

A man and his dogs
Hugh Neff and his team prepare to leave the Ruby dog yard after scratching from the 2022 Iditarod. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

RUBY — Hugh Neff, one of the top mushers in this year’s Iditarod, has scratched. 

Race officials say Neff decided to drop out of the race on Friday afternoon in Ruby.

“In conjunction with Iditarod Race Marshal Mark Nordman, Neff made the decision to scratch due to their concern for his race team,” said a brief statement from the Iditarod Friday evening.

Neff and his 11 dogs were the second team into Ruby Friday morning. Ruby is the first checkpoint on the Yukon River, roughly halfway into the race. Neff came in about two hours behind race leader Brent Sass and decided to take an eight-hour rest. 

Neff, in an interview in Ruby, said race officials then gave him a choice. 

“I was told I had a choice of scratching or being disqualified,” he said. “For the sake of the mushing community, I told them I was a scratch.”

A man looking at his hand
Hugh Neff in Cripple during his 24-hour rest. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

Neff said veterinarians told him his dogs weren’t in good enough condition to run, and that there were no other options like taking a longer rest in Ruby. He said his dogs had diarrhea when he arrived in Ruby, but they had started to recover.

“I was on brakes most of the time. These girls are fast dogs,” he said. “Whatever happens to me happens to me — I love these dogs.”

Neff said he was upset he had to call it quits. He planned to take his dogs to a friend’s house in Ruby to decide what to do next.

“It’s a very surreal situation that I’m in right now,” he said.

Neff was borrowing the dogs from Iditarod race veteran Jim Lanier.

Neff was banned from the Iditarod in 2019 after one of his dogs died during the Yukon Quest. 

Iditarod race officials issued a brief three-sentence statement about Neff dropping out of the race. They did not provide additional details about the concerns for Neff’s dogs and Nordman did not respond to requests for comment. 

Neff is the fourth musher to scratch in this year’s Iditarod. Anja Radano scratched in Nikolai, and Julie Ahnen and Ryne Olson scratched in McGrath. 

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Lex Treinen covers culture, homelessness, politics and corrections for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at ltreinen@alaskapublic.org.