Man riding with his sled dogs

Brent Sass has tightened his grip on the lead in the Iditarod, blazing the trail ahead of five-time champion Dallas Seavey.

Alaska Public Media’s Lex Treinen reports:

Sass charged across the ice of Norton Sound to arrive in the Koyuk checkpoint, at race mile 804, in first place shortly before 7 p.m. Sunday.

On the way into the checkpoint, Sass was seen kicking and ski poling to help propel his team forward. 

A sled dog team on ice and snow
Brent Sass kicks his way across Norton Sound into a strong headwind on their way into Koyuk. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

The team also stopped outside Koyuk for a few hours on the unprotected ice, bypassing a cabin on a rocky promontory that is the only spot protected from the wind on the 50-mile run in between checkpoints. 

“I bundled the dogs all up so they were just in one big pile,” said Sass. “I put ‘em behind the sled, put straw down and they had a great rest.”

He said the move was a preplanned tactical decision.  

“I wanted to break this next run to get into White Mountain a little bit more equally and the cabin was too close and Dallas was gonna go there, and I didn’t want Dallas to see me,” he said. 

a snowy outcropping
A cabin on a rocky outcrop was the only protection against the wind on the 50-mile run from Shaktoolik to Koyuk that top mushers completed in headwinds in excess of 30 mph. Dallas Seavey rested there, while Brent Sass turned his sled on its side and rested on the exposed sea ice. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

Sass stopped in Koyuk for a few minutes to pile some supplies in his sled. 

He said his 12 dogs have been doing well, even across glare ice and into head winds exceeding 30 miles per hour. He said they’ve been eating “really, really, really, well” over the last few runs, after he worried about their appetites earlier on the trail. 

He didn’t seem too worried about Seavey, who’s chased him for much of the race.

“He will always be there, you can never count Dallas out,” said Sass. “But he’s back there quite a ways.”

A musher on back of a sled
Brent Sass and his 12 dogs in Koyuk. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

As for Seavey, he was feeling a little less hopeful about catching Sass when he pulled into Koyuk Sunday night, about two and a half hours behind. 

“We’re gonna keep on doing everything we can, but I find it unlikely that’s gonna be enough,” he said. 

A sled dog team on ice and snow
Dallas Seavey crouched at the back of his sled to get out of the headwind and reduce the drap on his team on the way into Koyuk on Sunday in second place. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

Unless, Seavey said, Sass makes a mistake.

Seavey stopped in Koyuk to give his dogs some frozen meat snacks and filled his thermos with coffee inside the checkpoint. He looked at Sass’ checkpoint times.

He and his 10 dogs dashed out at 9:26 p.m.

From Koyuk, teams have four more checkpoints until Nome. They must all take an eight-hour rest in White Mountain, about 80 miles from the finish. 

By 8 a.m. Monday, Sass had about 25 miles to go to White Mountain and Seavey was 20 miles behind, according to the race tracker.

Image at top: Brent Sass and his 12 dogs, led by Kutuk and Arlo slide along the coastal ice on their way into Koyuk, at race mile 804, in first place. He pulled into the checkpoint at 6:52 p.m. Sunday, stopping for just four minutes. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)