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Defending champion Lance Mackey leads Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race

March 15, 2010 |  1:00 pm

Lance Mackey leaves the Unalakleet checkpoint in first place on Sunday during the 2010 Iditarod Sled Dog Race

The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is really heating up, with two race veterans currently in first and second place with less than 170 miles to Nome, each hoping to win the "last great race on Earth" and each looking to set race records.

Defending and three-time champion Lance Mackey is in the lead, though four-time champion Jeff King is hot on his trail, reports the Anchorage Daily News.

Both mushers have made it past the Shaktoolik-to-Koyuk leg, which runs mostly across the sea ice on the Northern Sound, and are on route to Elim, Golovin, and then White Mountain, where an eight-hour layover is mandatory to allow dog teams to rest before the final rush to Nome, approximately 75 miles away (with one more checkpoint along the way).

As of Monday morning, Mackey had extended his lead to 74 minutes over King. Should Mackey hold on, he will win his fourth consecutive Iditarod, setting a new record for consecutive victories.

King, who has stated that this will be his last year competing, is looking to win his fifth race and join musher Rick Swenson as the only musher in the history of the Iditarod to win five races.

"Lance and I have been parked in these same two spots a couple of times," King said in Shaktoolik. "It's fun to race a nice guy. He's very good at what he does."

Meanwhile, the third-place team of 2010 Yukon Quest champion Hans Gatt is closing in, making better time on the Shaktoolik-to-Koyuk leg than either Mackey or King, putting him within 67 minutes of second-place King.

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The Anchorage Daily News has been doing an awesome job of covering this 1,000-plus mile race, from keeping readers updated on mushers and their teams to providing breathtaking photos of the action, both in and out of checkpoints. In addition, a great feature offered on the paper's website has been the Live Leader Board, featuring standings, scratches and checkpoint information for each team.

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A happy ending to a missing dog tale: Musher Justin Savidis was reunited with his 3-year-old dog, Whitey, missing since March 10 between the Nikolai and McGrath checkpoints.

A group of McGrath residents helping Savidis look for his dog spotted an animal matching the description near town.

After being reunited with Savidis, who scratched Friday to continue the search for his dog, Whitey was checked over by a McGrath veterinarian, who said the dog was noticeably thinner and had what Savidis described as small injuries from being out in the woods.

Savidis hopes to return to the Iditarod next year and include Whitey, one of his stronger animals, on the team.

"I might put a GPS tracker on him, though," said Savidis.

-- Kelly Burgess

Photo: Lance Mackey leaves the Unalakleet checkpoint in first place on Sunday during the 2010 Iditarod Sled Dog Race. Credit: Bob Hallinen / Anchorage Daily News / Associated Press

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