Hugh Neff, Iditarod officials offer some explanation for veteran’s rejected 2023 race application

Hugh Neff's Iditarod application has been denied
Published: Dec. 5, 2022 at 8:55 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Hugh Neff has been officially blocked from participating in the 2023 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race by the Iditarod’s Qualifying Review Board — and according to the Iditarod handbook, their decision is “final and binding”.

“It just a very simple process — you’re either accepted or not accepted — and it has been communicated to that individual musher,” said Iditarod CEO Rob Urbach.

Neff was out running dogs on Friday, Dec. 2 when he received an email from the Iditarod informing him that his application had been rejected based on his performance in the 2022 race. Neff also said that this is the first time that he has heard from the Iditarod since he scratched in last years race.

Letter sent to Neff informing him he has been denied
Letter sent to Neff informing him he has been denied(Austin SJong)

The email does not specifically state why Neff was rejected, was but this decision comes on the heels of Neff’s scratch from the 2022 race at the Ruby checkpoint. Neff says that he was told to either to scratch voluntarily or be withdrawn from the race and that if he scratched voluntarily he would be allowed to race in 2023.

“It is really about putting our north star — which is exemplary dog care — and if a musher doesn’t meet our standards, then they’re just not going to be running the Iditarod in this particular year,” Urbach said. “ It doesn’t mean they can’t run in the future if the review board determines that there has been a change in the mentality, or the treatment, or the culture of the treatment and the care for those dogs.”

According to the Iditarod official rules, the Qualifying Review Board is made up of five people appointed by the Board of Directors and any decision they come to is “final and binding” — meaning there is no chance for an appeal.

“I want to be a part of a team, a family that wants me there, and obviously they don’t want me there. I don’t think they wanted me there last year and I’m not sure — they want to blame it on dog care, but I don’t think it’s about that,” Neff said.

“They want to say my issues on the trail with dogs in the past but I’m not the only top-level, competitive championship musher that has had dog issues in the past,” Neff said. “So for them to be doing what they’re doing to me right now is, I look at it as more of aa witch hunt or a kangaroo court or something. It’s definitely about me and not the people’s dogs that I’m running.”

The Iditarod says that while Neff won’t be allowed to race in 2023, he can apply for the 2024 race and the Qualifying Review Board will look at his application the same way they look at everyone’s.

“There’s nothing that’s personal, there’s no agenda. It is a process done, is this particular musher fit to our standards,” said Urbach.

When asked if he was going to apply to run in the 2024 Iditarod, Neff didn’t have a concrete answer — but did say he will be running in the Knik 200 Joe Redington Sr. Memorial Sled Dog Race that starts on Knik Lake Jan. 7 and runs through the following day.

Neff’s rejection comes as the registration period for the race closed with just 34 mushers signed up to run, the second smallest field in race history.