American Musher Wins Yukon Quest Sled Dog Race in 9 Days

February 17, 2016 Updated: February 18, 2016

WHITEHORSE—An Alaskan musher says it’s not just luck that propelled him to win a gruelling 1,600-kilometre sled dog race.

Hugh Neff was the first person to cross the 2016 Yukon Quest finish line in Whitehorse, Yukon, around 2:30 p.m. PT on Monday, Feb. 15—nine days after the race began in Fairbanks, Alaska.

The 48-year-old won the annual race once before in 2012, and finished fifth in last year’s contest.

Personally, I think I should have won it five or six times by now.
— Hugh Neff

“I wanted to prove to people that it was more than just luck that I could do it once,” Neff told reporters at the finish line. “Personally, I think I should have won it five or six times by now.”

The veteran musher said leading the entire race was never part of his game plan.

Hugh Neff’s handler and girlfriend Nicole Faille gives him a peck on the cheek after he crossed the finish line of the 2016 Yukon Quest in Whitehorse, Yukon, on Feb. 15, 2016. (Erik Simanis)

He took the lead at the halfway point, pushing last year’s winner Brent Sass to second place when Sass had trouble with his sled. Sass went on to finish the race second, about an hour and a half behind Neff.

Neff said the runner-up is clearly committed to the sport.

“[Sass] is easily the most dedicated musher there is probably in the world right now,” he said. “He had more than 3,000 miles [more] training than me. Think about that—3,000.”

Yukon resident Ed Hopkins, one of five Canadian competitors, was in fifth place at the halfway point and remained solidly in that position.

Contestants were challenged by blizzards, equipment troubles, and sick dogs throughout the gruelling race.

The top 10 finishers will split a prize of $115,000, and Neff will take home about $35,000.

But speaking to reporters at a checkpoint in Braeburn, Yukon, on Sunday, Neff said he was really trying to enjoy the moment.

“This stuff is amazing, but in the flick of an eye it’s gone and it’s just history,” he said.

With files from The Canadian Press, CKRW, and The Whitehorse Star