Slopping food out of a large cooler for her tired dogs Saturday at Lower Slide Lake, Anny Malo lauded her team’s efforts just moments after wrapping up the Pedigree Stage Stop dog sled championship.
“They were amazing all the way through the seven stages,” Malo said. “I can’t believe how strong they were, and I was really pleased with all the team. All 14 dogs are still in good shape.”
With enough separation from the rest of the field on Saturday, all she needed to do was complete the run without any real hiccups. She placed ninth in the final stage and still cruised to the overall title, edging second place Emilie Entrikin by nearly 40 cumulative minutes.
But while the final stage allowed the Quebec native to take in the scenery and cruise, the first five stages showed a three-way race for the title. Lina Streeper entered Friday’s stage in Driggs, Idaho, atop the field, looking for her third-consecutive win at the Stage Stop. Just behind her was Malo, and trailing Malo was Erick Laforce, a fellow newcomer and winner of the first and third stages.
That congestion loosened in Driggs in heartbreaking fashion. Four mushers veered off the trail, Malo, Streeper and Laforce among them. Malo recognized the mistake, got back to the trail and finished third. Streeper and Laforce were not so fortunate. By the time the two front-running mushers realized the error, it was too late; they finished the stage second to last and last. While Malo hit the finish line in 2:12:55 that day, Streeper finished in 3:34:41 and Laforce came across in 3:51:33.
For Malo, there’s no celebrating another musher’s misfortune, even if it did clear a smooth path to victory after a grind through the first six stages.
“I saw that I was in the wrong trail pretty soon, so I was able to turn around the team and go back on the good trail,” Malo said. “But you know the other teams didn’t, so they lost a lot of time. It’s kind of sad because then the race was like a little over for the first three teams who were very close.
“But I guess that happens sometimes and we cannot do anything about it.”
It was unclear how the mistake was made, though Malo suggested maybe a snowmobile or another team hit a previously visible marker. She said she initially went down the wrong trail due to its shape, with her dogs naturally hugging the side of the trail that veered in the wrong direction.
Race marshal Warren Palfrey said there were no issues with the trail markings, and the misfortune of the teams that went awry put a slightly sour note on an otherwise eventful 24th running of the race.
“Well, it’s just an unfortunate thing that happened,” he said. “Things happen during races. It’s real unfortunate they went so far down an unmarked trail before they turned around and got on the right trail.
“It is what it is. Nobody wanted to see that, nobody hoped for that, obviously, but it does happen periodically.”
The hit in the overall standings caused a serious hit to the purse winnings of Streeper and Laforce, too.
Streeper ended up eighth overall, pocketing $6,708. Laforce finished 12th, netting $4,229.
Had the standings heading into Driggs held up, Streeper’s purse would have been in the neighborhood of $15,000. Laforce would have netted around $11,000.
But as Palfrey noted, mishaps are a part of sled dog racing, and the mushers will look to move on quickly. Malo pocketed $14,400 for her team’s performance, and she now presses onward. She said she’ll be racing north of Manitoba in Canada the next three weeks, with her eyes on the Open North American Championships in March in Alaska.