Neff says he was bullied, forced to scratch; Iditarod race marshal disagrees

Published: Mar. 13, 2022 at 5:53 PM AKDT
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RUBY, Alaska (KTUU) - Hugh Neff was hoping to make it to Nome in his first Iditarod appearance since 2018, but scratched in Ruby on Friday after advancing from the 49th position in the race to second. Neff says he was forced out of the race. Iditarod Race Marshal Mark Nordman disagrees with Neff’s assessment of the events that led to his scratch and says that the dogs are his top concern.

After one of Neff’s dogs died of aspiration during the 2018 Yukon Quest, Neff was suspended from the race for the next year, as well as other subsequent suspensions. Back in the Iditarod for the first time in three years and running veteran Iditarod musher Jim Lanier’s dogs, Neff had dropped dogs from his team at four consecutive checkpoints, but remained among the top five teams in the Iditarod.

“Back in Cripple I think there was some concern about some of his dog team and stuff, you know, some of their weights on their dogs and it was interesting because when I went up to Hugh and talked to him about it, it was you know of course he didn’t agree with me, but we’re always here trying to take in the best interest of the dogs,” Nordman said.

Neff took his mandatory 24-hour break in Cripple and told Alaska’s News Source in an interview that he was told 38 minutes before he left Cripple that his dogs were “skinny.” In Ruby, Neff felt that the veterinarian staff that were checking on his dogs did not raise any health issues at the time he arrived in the checkpoint.

“The vets seemed like they were going to let me go onto the next checkpoint, Galena, but then the race marshal showed up, and he didn’t really mention anything they had to say at all. It was all just about the decision he had already previously made,” Neff said while still in Ruby.

Neff said he was running his 33rd 1,000 mile long sled dog race, and was honoring the late Hobo Jim with his traverse along the Iditarod Trail. Neff said that many of his dogs were suffering from diarrhea, and that other mushers had seen similar symptoms on their dog teams.

“I pleaded with him, you know, if I had to stay longer… I really didn’t care what place I finished, I just wanted to get to Nome for Hobo Jim and to honor his legacy… and he said, ‘no, get out, you’re out,’” Neff said. “It is what it is. I love the Iditarod. Unfortunately, some of the folks involved with Iditarod don’t really care for me too much.”

Nordman disagreed with Neff’s description of the events leading up to his scratch at the Ruby checkpoint. Nordman said in an interview that every musher’s application is reviewed prior to the race and that no special attention was paid to Neff’s request by the Qualifying Review Board. Nordman said that he spoke with Neff in Cripple and was told by Neff himself about his team’s struggles in Ruby.

“Hugh had told me that he had been struggling from issues from early on in the race and he felt that they were getting better, but you know for the best interest of his dogs and Iditarod and the sport, it was time for him to leave,” Nordman said. “If he didn’t scratch I would disqualify him.”

Neff said that his pleas to be given extra time to rest his team in Ruby before getting back on the trail were not heard, and that he still hopes to celebrate Hobo Jim’s life in Nome.

“This is in Ruby. It’s a long way from Nome and it was obvious that he was struggling and I didn’t know how much he was struggling until he told me that,” Nordman said.

Nordman said that the Iditarod was working to transport Neff and the dogs back to Anchorage as quickly as possible, and that if Neff applied to race the Iditarod in future years his application would be reviewed the same as any other musher.

“To not even be given a chance seemed really disheartening, and it will probably be the last of me in the Iditarod until hopefully things change in the future,” Neff said.

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