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At Baker’s Heels: Smyth, Gatt, Neff

text by David Dodman; audio by Laureli Kinneen

In Unalakleet Sunday morning, veteran musher Aaron Burmeister said of John Baker, “this is his race.” That may yet be true, but as Day 8 of Iditarod 39 comes to a close, Baker’s lead has narrowed.

Departing Unalakleet, Baker had a comfortable 3-hour cushion over Hans Gatt, with three and a half to four hours separating him from Ramey Smyth, Hugh Neff and Sebastian Schnuelle.

Leaving Shaktoolik, however, the standings tightened. Baker took almost three hours of rest in Shaktoolik, giving the rest of the top five – Smyth, Neff, Gatt and Schnuelle – the chance to close the gap. And they did.

The other four mushers took only short rests in Shaktoolik – Ramey Smyth only a minute, just enough time to check in and check out again – and by 6:30pm Sunday, Baker’s lead was down to 41 minutes.

In Unalakleet, KNOM trail reporter Laureli Kinneen caught up with three of the mushers that, as of Sunday night, could upset Baker’s lead: Ramey Smyth, Hans Gatt, and Hugh Neff.

Smyth explained his decision to take a longer rest in Unalakleet and said his dogs were eating and resting well. He also bemoaned the rough trail from Kaltag to Unalakleet and, with regards to his competitors, vowed to “race the hell out of ‘em”:

In contrast to Ramey Smyth, Hans Gatt seemed much more willing to concede first position.

Talking with KNOM’s Laureli Kinneen, the Canadian musher said he felt like “the slowest guy out there” and couldn’t believe his times were as fast as they were. With regards to John Baker, Gatt was full of praise. Baker’s team “looks great,” Gatt said, and “shouldn’t have any problems”; unless something unusual happens, there’s “no way that anybody will catch him (Baker).”

Of course, that was all before Gatt pulled within an hour of first position. Here’s Gatt’s interview with Laureli:

Hugh Neff was feeling good about his run to Unalakleet, where he arrived in 4th position and departed 5th. Neff talked with Laureli about how he snacks his dogs, his experience in making the 90-mile run from Kaltag, and his outlook on the trail ahead:

As of Sunday night, Ramey Smyth is in 2nd position; he departed Shaktoolik at 6:21pm with 11 dogs.

Hans Gatt is 3rd position; he left Shaktoolik with 13 dogs at 6:25pm, just four minutes after Smyth.

Hugh Neff dropped one dog in Shaktoolik and departed with 9 dogs at 7:11pm; he’s now in 4th position.