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Iditarod dogsled race begins in Alaska but feels the strain of recession

March 8, 2009 | 11:53 am

Iditarodface

The Iditarod Trail Dog Sled Race, the grueling annual race over more than 1,000 miles of Alaskan wilderness, has been praised by some as the pinnacle of human-animal collaboration and derided by others as cruelty to animals. 

This year's race kicked off yesterday in Anchorage, and -- for better or for worse -- is as affected as any aspect of American culture by economic troubles.  Reuters reports:

The purse for the grueling 1,100-mile trek to Nome, which commemorates a lifesaving medicine relay in 1925, has been slashed to about $650,000, from $900,000 last year.

That is mostly because of the smaller field of racers, each of whom has to pay a $4,000 entry fee. Only 67 mushers and their dog teams are scheduled to start Alaska's most important sporting event, down from last year's record field of 96....

Zack Steer, 35, a promising young competitor who will not be among those lining up with their dog teams at the downtown Anchorage start line on Saturday, said he and others made a financial calculation to sit out this year's race, and "spend some time at home and save some money" instead.

Time spent pursuing Iditarod dreams is costly, said Steer, who has finished as high as third. "It's a minimum of a $20,000 cash outlay. You can spend a lot more than that if you want," he said. "Your biggest cost is actually lost income."

This year, Lance Mackey will try to win the Iditarod for the third time in a row. 

The race commemorates the "Great Race of Mercy," when dog sleds carried sorely needed diphtheria serum to Nome in 1925.

--Lindsay Barnett

Photo: Ryan Redington puts booties on his sled dog Columbia as he gets ready to leave the Takotna, Alaska, checkpoint in the Iditarod race.

Credit: Al Grillo / Associated Press

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