Iditarod ceremonial start brings celebration of dog mushing to Downtown Anchorage

ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - The Ceremonial Start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog race came to downtown Anchorage Saturday morning. Fifty-seven mushers and their teams departed the starting line and traveled through Anchorage through trails packed with fans to Campbell Airstrip, where they packed up to prepare for the race's timed start Sunday in Willow.

Fabio Berlusconi at Iditarod Ceremonial Start 2020 (KTUU)

The field this year features five previous Iditarod champions: Martin Buser, Lance Mackey, Mitch Seavey, Joar Leifseth Ulsom and the defending champion Peter Kaiser.

Martin Buser and Lance Mackey won't be joined on the trail by fellow four-time champion Jeff King, who underwent emergency surgery earlier this week. King's handler Sean Underwood was allowed to take his place on the trail.

Three-time champion Mitch Seavey's most recent victory came in 2017.

Kaiser was the first Yup'ik musher to win The Last Great Race in 2019. Leifseth Ulsom, who took second last year and will likely still be a strong contender, broke a streak of six Seavey wins --by both Mitch and son Dallas -- to win in 2018. He became just the second Norwegian to win the Iditarod. Robert Sorlie won in 2003 and 2005.

Nine of 2019's Top 10 mushers are racing again this year. Including Jessie Royer, who found her career-best finish last year at third place, behind Leifseth Ulsom. Fan-favorite Aliy Zirkle finished fourth last year -- the Two Rivers musher has two second-place finishes to her name. Paige Drobny of Fairbanks took 7th in the 2019 Iditarod, leaps and bounds above her career-best finish of 25th place, which came in just her second Iditarod in 2014.

No matter their record, all mushers are facing a significant amount of snow. Race Marshal Mark Nordman called the amount of snow on the trail "epic" earlier in the week, and snow fell in Anchorage Saturday and continued to fall in Willow.

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