Martin Buser’s decision to take an early 24-hour layover in the 2013 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race apparently paid off as he took the race’s lead Thursday, leaving one question on observers’ minds: Can he keep it?

As of 2:45 p.m. Thursday, race standings showed Buser as the first musher out of Iditarod at exactly 2 p.m.

Lance Mackey claimed a $3,000 prize and a seven-course meal for reaching the race’s midpoint at 8:36 p.m. Wednesday, making the 80-mile run from Ophir to Iditarod in 14 hours, 51 minutes. He last won the gold nuggets in 2007, the first of his championship years.

Neither Mackey nor the two other mushers to arrive in Iditarod before Buser -- Sonny Lindner and Jeff King -- have yet left the checkpoint, or completed their 24-hour layovers.

A post on Sebastian Schnuelle’s race blog just before 10 a.m. Thursday, describing the gathering of four-time race champions Mackey, King and Buser in Iditarod as “Iditarod royalty,” notes the increasing importance of layover decisions as the race continues.

“After all Lance decided to take his (24-hour) layover here, as trail reports are not great going to Shageluk,” Schnuelle wrote.

As of 1:30 p.m. Thursday, only one other musher had reached Iditarod, but he could derail Buser’s plan. Although Aaron Burmeister didn’t arrive until 12:46 p.m., he is the only other musher at the checkpoint who has taken his 24-hour layover.

Buser reached the Rohn checkpoint in a breakneck dash Monday and promptly took his required one-day layover, a provocative move that denied his team a major source of rest later during the race and left dozens of teams passing him. Since returning to the field he has made good time, rising to eighth place as of Wednesday afternoon.

The Iditarod saw its third scratched musher Thursday out of the 65 teams which took the field in Big Lake Sunday, with David Sawatzsky leaving the race for the welfare of his 13 dogs.

Watch Channel 2’s special Iditarod section and Channel 2 Sports for full coverage of the 2013 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

Channel 2's Kevin Wells contributed information to this story.

Contact Chris Klint