From Kyle Hopkins in Nikolai --
Defending champion Lance Mackey dropped three dogs minutes after arriving in this chilly village checkpoint -- a move he says dampens his chances of winning a historic fifth-straight Iditarod.
“I’m not going to get discouraged at this point, but it doesn’t look too promising at this time," he said as he piled straw among his dwindling team and carried a dog from the rear of the team to the front.
“Last year at this time, I kind of had some symptoms and issues too, and it turned out alright," Mackey said.
He dropped Jester, Pimp, who Mackey describes as "one of my veteran superstars," and Lippy.
I talked to Mackey about 9-year-old, 70-pound Lippy yesterday in Rainy Pass.
"She's got nine 1,000-mile victories. She's got probably close to 40,000 trail miles on her," he said.
She's the daughter of Zorro and was the oldest dog on Mackey's team.
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But the three dogs weren't pulling or eating well. They seem sore, Mackey said.
“They’re not right and I’m not one to jeopardize the future of my dogs just for my own personal satisfaction," he said.
Still, Mackey says he can "go a long ways and do some damage" with a 12-dog roster.
“I’m not taking myself out of it yet. We’re just going to kind of put ourselves in defense mode and try to get these 12 dogs to Nome as healthy and happy as possible," he said. "If it puts me there first, great, if it put me there 21st, well that’s the way it is right?”
“You can’t win them all … I’m damn sure going to try, but not at the expense of my team," he said.
Lance Mackey is down to 12 dogs after dropping three at Nikolai this morning, a day after he dropped last year's Golden Harness winner in Rainy Pass.
Mackey isn't counting himself out as a contender, he told Daily News reporter Kyle Hopkins in Nikolai. But keeping up with a fast-paced race might be difficult with just a dozen dogs.
Mackey said he's dropping the dogs because they aren't eating well and they aren't pulling well.
Among those who won't make the trip to Nome is Maple, who led Mackey to his fourth straight victory last year. She earned the coveted Golden Harness Award for her performance in lead. Mackey dropped Maple from the team on Monday.
The three dropped today include Lippy, a veteran of numerous 1,000-mile races. Mackey told the Daily News prior to the race that Lippy would retire after the Iditarod. Call this an early retirement.
Also dropped were Jester and Pimp.