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Veteran musher Hugh Neff wins Kobuk 440

Neff took the title in the 2022 race by just 2 minutes
Published: Apr. 10, 2022 at 4:51 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The last major sled dog race of the year was won by Hugh Neff, who claimed the 2022 Kobuk 440 title on Sunday. Richie Diehl, of Aniak, finished just 2 minutes behind Neff for runner-up honors.

The last leg of the last sizable sled dog racing event of the year proved to be an exciting one, as Diehl left the final checkpoint of Noorvik 2 hours and 2 minutes after Neff. Diehl was able to get right on Neff’s tail, finishing 2 minutes behind him in the end.

Neff’s total run time over the whole race was 49 hours and 56 minutes, while Diehl’s was 49 hours 58 minutes. Not far behind the two was rookie Eddie Burke, Jr., who finished third with a time of 51 hours and 14 minutes. At times, Burke even held the Kobuk 440 lead, putting forth an especially strong rookie campaign.

While the Kobuk title is officially Neff’s, controversy continues to surround him in the dog mushing world after Iditarod 50, during which Neff says he was forced to scratch from the race when his dogs were found to be in poor health by the Iditarod veterinarian team at the Ruby checkpoint. Iditarod Race Marshal Mark Nordman disagreed with Neff’s assessment of the events that led to his scratch, and said that the dogs are his top concern.

Neff doesn’t have his own dog team. As it was in Iditarod 50, he has been running the dogs of legendary musher Jim Lanier, who is now 81 years old but still runs his Northern Whites Kennel. Lanier told Alaska’s News Source on Sunday that he “didn’t have a second thought” about Neff running his team again, just weeks after the incident during the Iditarod.

“I‘m not going to tell you sour grapes about the Iditarod,” Lanier said. “Things happen, and you move on, but I think we kind of learned from that, and maybe Hugh did, too.”

Neff said he ran the exact same team as the one he ran in the Iditarod, adding that he “didn’t change a thing” about how he cares for the dogs from that race to this race.

The 2022 race marks Neff’s 15th running of the Kobuk 440. Winning the race, he said, has brought him some vindication.

“I think a lot of what happened on the in the Iditarod were the people in charge of the race were a bit shell-shocked that a Jim Lanier team, which isn’t known to be a competitive team, was up there playing with the big boys,” Neff said, “and I think we proved our point just a few short weeks later. It feels like Alaska karma is alive and well.”

This year’s Kobuk 440 was a night-and-day difference from last year’s race. The 2021 edition had to be paused after ground storms on the Kobuk River proved to be too dangerous for teams to cross through.

Ryan Redington won the last two Kobuk 440 races, which took place in 2021 and in 2019, with the 2020 race being cancelled because of concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic.

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