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The smallest field ever of competing sled dog teams takes off in the Iditarod race

Mark Thiessen/AP
Attentive sled dogs await the start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race's ceremonial start in downtown Anchorage, Alaska, on Saturday, March 4, 2023. The smallest field ever of only 33 mushers will start the competitive portion of the Iditarod Sunday, March 5, 2023, in Willow, Alaska.

WILLOW, Alaska — The race to Nome began Sunday for 33 mushers in this year's Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Alaska.

Jessie Holmes. an Alabama native living in the Alaska community of Brushkana, was the first musher to leave across a frozen lake about 70 miles (112 kilometers) north of Anchorage. Holmes works as a carpenter and appears on the reality television show "Life Below Zero."

Other mushers left in two-minute intervals. They will travel nearly 1,000 miles (1,609 kilometers) over the unforgiving Alaska winterscape, climbing over two mountain ranges, mushing on frozen rivers and streams and across the treacherous Bering Sea ice. The winner is expected to drive their sled dog team down Nome's Front Street to the iconic burled arch finish line in about 10 days.

Leading the charge will be defending champion Brent Sass, a kennel owner and wilderness guide who lives on a homestead about a four-hour drive northwest of Fairbanks.

Also competing is Pete Kaiser, the 2019 champion. The 33 mushers in the race is the smallest field ever. The very first race, held in 1973, had 34 mushers, but the average number of starters in the first 50 races was 63.

Only having two former champions in the race this year is a rarity.

Several veteran mushers have decided to retire or take a break from the Iditarod, including five-time champion Dallas Seavey, four-time winners Martin Buser and Jeff King and three-time champ Mitch Seavey.

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