Iditarod veteran Hugh Neff denied entry for 2023 race

A man in a cat in the hat hat on the sled of a dog team
Hugh Neff heads out on trail at the official start of the 2022 Iditarod in Willow. Neff was later forced to scratch from the race. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race has denied entry to veteran long-distance dog musher Hugh Neff.

That’s despite having the smallest-ever field of mushers signed up for the 2023 Iditarod.

Formerly of Tok and more recently based in Fairbanks and Anchorage, Neff has finished the Iditarod 13 times, placing as high as 5th in 2011. But over the past few years, Neff has had trouble in both the Iditarod and the Yukon Quest, another 1,000-mile race, which he’s won twice.

A dog on Neff’s 2018 Quest team died in the race. After finding what they described as signs of poor dog care, which Neff denied, Quest officials later announced they were banning him from entering the 2019 race.

Neff had to re-qualify and ran the 2021 Yukon Quest, which was shortened to 300 miles due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Then Neff was forced to scratch in the 2022 Iditarod — his first thousand-miler since the Quest ban — due to race officials’ concern over his dogs’ health midway through the race. Neff had been running dogs from another veteran musher, Jim Lanier.

Then, less than a month later, Neff won the Kobuk 440 with the same dog team, saying at the time it was vindication.

Neff submitted paperwork to enter the 2023 Iditarod, but the officials notified him in early December they were denying his entry. A race spokesperson said that was a decision by the Iditarod’s Qualifying Review Board and based on Neff having been asked to scratch due to the dogs’ poor health in the prior race.

“We are committed to ensuring a culture of exemplary dog care, and we demand the same commitment of all teams who enter the race,” the Iditarod said in a statement.

Asked if there was a path forward for Neff to enter the Iditarod again in the future, an Iditarod spokesperson only said that the review board looks over every musher’s application on a yearly basis for each upcoming race.

Neff did not respond to multiple messages seeking comment.

Casey Grove is the host of Alaska News Nightly and a general assignment reporter at Alaska Public Media with an emphasis on crime and courts.

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