2023 Iditarod trending toward second-lowest number of entries in race history

Only 34 mushers are currently signed up to run the 1,049 mile race to Nome
Iditarod sign up day has passed but more names may still be added to the list.
Published: Dec. 1, 2022 at 9:45 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Four veteran mushers beat the November 30 midnight deadline at the last second, but the field of 34 mushers who have signed up for the 2023 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is still among the smallest in race history.

“I think that has to do with a confluence of factors,” Iditarod CEO Rob Urbach said. “There is the economy — I think our mushing community remembers when a bale of hay was 3 bucks, now maybe 20 bucks. A bag of kibble was maybe 20 bucks, now it’s 60 or 70 bucks.”

“So unfortunately a big reason is inflation, and it’s also kind of a strange year. We’ve a number of mushers that just either retired or timed out, and several that are just taking the time off.”

The smallest-ever field in Iditarod history came in the first running with 24 mushers and the largest ever field was 96 racers in 2008. While the 34 musher field right now is larger then the smallest field and far from the largest, it’s also far from the average number of mushers who enter the race — 63 over the 50 races.

According to the Iditarod website, mushers “may apply after November 30, 2022, but will be subjected to a higher entry fee. No musher will be allowed to sign up after Feb. 11, 2023.” However, according to Urbach, the qualifying review board is still looking over some applicants — meaning more names may be added to the entry list in the coming days.

Among the later applicants is Hugh Neff, who said that his paperwork is being reviewed. Neff was taken out of last year’s race by the race marshal at the Ruby checkpoint.

“They sent me a deal saying they received all my info, and that they have to go through all the mushers and verify that they’re up to date on everything, then they’ll get back to you,” Neff said. “But I haven’t heard back from them yet. I sent that all in on Monday, so I’m expecting a message here sooner or later.”

Defending champion Brent Sass and 2019 winner Pete Kaiser are the only champions who will take on the 2023 race, which already includes nine rookies. There is also a sprinkling of multiple time top-10 finishers like Jessie Royer and Richie Diehl, who finished in sixth place in the 2022 Iditarod.

Diehl isn’t going to stress about the race this early into the dog sled racing season.

“Now that the sign-ups is over, it doesn’t really change anything. It was definitely good to see Pete and Jesse Royer sign up, but I mean yeah, it doesn’t really change anything at all,” Diehl said. “I mean this time of year, there’s so many other things going on in my life. You just keep training dogs and keep doing what you have to do to get prepared. Come February — late January, February is when you really start to think about it.”

The Iditarod has faced challenges in recent years, with the pandemic and sponsorship issues. Urbach says that they have some new initiatives that will come out in the next few months focusing on youth and designed to keep the Iditarod around for years to come.

“You know, my mission in life everyday is to get to future-proof the Iditarod and it’s a challenge, there’s no doubt about it,” Urbach said. “We continue to struggle for relevance, we continue to struggle for revenue, but I think were all turning the corner in terms of thought leadership, in terms of our dog care, in terms of our innovations, in terms of our ability to package Iditarod content that it can be disseminated all over the world to turn more people on to what we do.”

The 51st running of the Last Great Race is scheduled to start March 4.