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Dallas Seavey clinches 6th Iditarod championship, breaking record for most wins

Mar. 13—NOME — Dallas Seavey won a record-breaking sixth Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race championship Tuesday, arriving under the burled arch in Nome to a cheering crowd at 5:16 p.m.

He completed the nearly 1,000-mile race in 9 days, 2 hours, 16 minutes and 8 seconds, crossing the finish line behind his team of 10 dogs, with leaders Sebastian and Aero up front. The win pushed Seavey past the record of five wins established in 1991 by Rick Swenson.

Seavey, 37, said Tuesday evening that he feels "like we just opened up new territory. And that's kind of a cool feeling."

"There's always an opportunity to learn and grow and adapt, and that's what keeps coming back easier. Maybe there will be a seventh, maybe there will be more," he told reporters. "I hope to dwell on it when I'm not able to do it. In the meantime, I'm going to keep doing it."

Seavey's Iditarod got off to a chaotic early start when he had a fatal encounter with a moose within the first 24 hours of the race. He shot and killed the animal after it attacked his team, injuring one of his sled dogs, and he was handed a two-hour penalty for insufficiently gutting the animal under Iditarod rules. The moose run-in happened on March 4, Seavey's 37th birthday.

The Talkeetna musher dominated the Iditarod's final stages, pulling away from the rest of the pack once the race reached the Norton Sound coast. On Tuesday morning he'd left the checkpoint of White Mountain, 77 miles from Nome, more than three hours ahead of his closest competitor, Matt Hall of Two Rivers.

"The first Iditarod that I won was a super special one ... and that one proved we can win the Iditarod," Seavey said after reaching the finish line. "When we got the second one, it proved it's not a fluke. We're supposed to be here."

Winning his fifth Iditarod in 2021 "was super special," Seavey said. To earn a sixth championship, "this one was supposed to be hard. It had to be special. It had to be more than just the normal Iditarod — and for me, it was," he said.

For his victory, Seavey will receive $55,600, on top of other awards he's collected along the race trail.

Seavey belongs to one of mushing's dynastic families. His grandfather, Dan Seavey, finished the first Iditarod in third place in 1973. His father, Mitch, has won the race three times, and in 2016 finished second behind Dallas — part of a stretch from 2012 to 2017 when the race was won exclusively by Seaveys.

Dallas Seavey became the youngest musher to win the Iditarod with his first victory in 2012, when he was just 25 years old. Since then, he's finished first or second in all but one of the Iditarods he's entered.

While Seavey said he's been asked about the record dating back to his first win, it wasn't until after winning his fifth in 2021 that setting the new mark became a goal of his.

"The mentality all along has been, let's win the next one, and eventually, five will be the next one," he said. "Up until 2021, five was the big number. Is anyone going to catch up with Swenson? ... After we got No. 5, this became the next one."

As his son was closing in on the last stretch of trail, Mitch Seavey said Tuesday afternoon in Nome that he was "very, very proud" and was "happy to see him have a moment of success here this year after some bad things that happened."

In November, two dogs from Dallas Seavey's kennel died and another seven were injured when a snowmachine collided with the sled dog team, which was being driven by another musher, on the Denali Highway. Seavey and another musher were there at the time, driving two other dog teams when the incident occurred.

Mitch Seavey said the dogs his son lost in the snowmachine incident were some of his best.

In Nome, Dallas Seavey referenced the impact it had on his team, saying of his current roster: "It wasn't the core group of super, super athletes. What these guys had was a lot of heart," he said. Six of the dogs are from his father's kennel, and at the finish line, Dallas described how they all worked together on the trail.

"This was a really tough year, and these guys, they brought it home for all of us," he added, his voice filled with emotion.

Seavey had previously stepped away from the race for three years after a mysterious doping scandal, in which four of his dogs tested positive for a banned painkiller immediately following the 2017 race. He vigorously denied giving the substance to his animals and fought back in public against a race organization that he claimed was corrupt. Ultimately, the Iditarod's governing body absolved Seavey and issued a formal apology about its handling of the investigation.

Seavey returned to the Iditarod in 2021 and won his fifth championship — this time on a shortened route dubbed the "Gold Loop Trail," which followed an out-and-back course that was altered due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

His father said that some of Dallas' strongest traits are his resilience and tactical approach.

"He doesn't get down, he doesn't get feeling sorry for himself because that's really toxic," Mitch Seavey said. "Look at the best possible next move, regardless of whether things are good or bad or fair or unjust or — none of that matters. Life doesn't care. Everybody's going to get their ups and downs. So every moment, figure out: What's the next best move?"

He said Dallas' accomplishment is "an outgrowth of the life that he's lived and who he is and how he views things. So I'm proud of who he is."

This year's Iditarod has been shadowed by three sled dog deaths. Two of the deaths occurred Sunday — the first in the race since 2019 — while Iditarod officials announced the third on Tuesday as Seavey was approaching Nome.

"It's obviously very disheartening for our community," Iditarod CEO Rob Urbach said Tuesday night.

Urbach said the organization is waiting to get full necropsy reports from the dogs and will act based on those results.

"If we can learn anything, we will," he said. "When we get all the reports back, we'll see if there's anything. I can assure you if we do, we'll apply those learnings."

Animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, a longtime critic of the Iditarod, on Tuesday evening condemned Seavey's treatment of his dogs and reiterated its call for the race to permanently come to a halt.

[Third dog dies in the 2024 Iditarod]

In the run-up to the start of the 2024 race, the Iditarod was also embroiled in a debate over the eligibility of two competitors. The Iditarod disqualified former champion Brent Sass following the emergence of sexual assault allegations against him, which he has denied, and musher Eddie Burke pulled out of the race after he was disqualified, then reinstated, after assault charges filed against him were dropped by the state.

The Daily News' Chris Bieri reported from Nome and Zachariah Hughes reported from Anchorage.