Mushers, fans gather for world’s most famous sled dog race

FILE - In this March 16, 2015, file photo, volunteers help raise the Iditarod finishers banner at the burled arch finish line in Nome, Alaska. The 46th running of Alaska's famed Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race kicks off Saturday, March 3, 2018, amid the most turbulent year for organizers beset by multiple problems, including a champion's dog doping scandal, the loss of major sponsors, discontent among race participants and escalating pressure from animal rights activists, who say the dogs are run to death or left with serious injuries. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen, File)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Hundreds of barking dogs and excited fans are converging on Alaska’s largest city for Saturday’s ceremonial start of the famed Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

The morning trek along snow-heaped streets in downtown Anchorage gives fans a chance to mingle with mushers and their furry teams before the competitive portion of the 1,000-mile (1,600-kilometer) race to Nome begins Sunday in the community of Willow to the north.

The event comes amid a plethora of troubles for race organizers, including a former winner’s dog doping scandal, the loss of a major sponsor and increasing pressure from animal rights activists following the deaths of five dogs connected to last year’s race.

Iditarod officials acknowledge the problems have been a growing process for organizers.

Perhaps the most challenging issue was the October disclosure that four dogs belonging to four-time winner Dallas Seavey tested positive for a banned substance, the opioid painkiller tramadol, after his second-place finish last March behind his father, Mitch Seavey. The race’s leadership faced criticism for not releasing the information sooner.

The Iditarod said it couldn’t prove Dallas Seavey administered the drugs to his dogs, and didn’t punish him. Since then, the rules have been changed to hold mushers liable for any positive drug test unless they can show something beyond their control happened.

Seavey has denied administering tramadol to his dogs. He is sitting out this year’s race in protest over the handling of the doping investigation. Instead, he is in Norway to participate in another sled dog race, the Finnmarkslopet, which begins next week.

For this year’s Iditarod, 67 teams are signed up to vie for a total purse of $500,000. Organizers say the winner’s share of the prize money will be determined later in the race.

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, a longtime Iditarod critic, has said about a dozen of its members will gather to protest at the ceremonial and competitive starts and at the finish line in Nome. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others and keep the conversation on topic and civil. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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