Top 5 Mushers: Channel 2's Experts give their take on Iditarod 2019

Joar Leifseth Ulsom in Nome after winning the 2018 Iditarod.

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - While a young crop of mushers is coming up through the ranks of Iditarod, and took the trophy last year, when you ask Iditarod veterans, even the veteran champions are still ranked high on the list.

Channel 2’s three Iditarod veteran analysts this year — DeeDee Jonrowe, Libby Riddles and Jake Berkowitz — have picked their Top 5 mushers for the 2019 Iditarod, and their lists look very similar. Only one list has a musher not selected by the others. And a three-time champion, the oldest musher to have won the race — and the father of a four-time champion himself — still makes all their lists.

Mitch Seavey, who won his first Iditarod in 2004, and won again in 2013 and 2017, is in the Top 5 list of all three of our analysts. Since that 2004 win, Seavey hasn’t finished outside of the Top 10, though he scratched in 2011. The 59-year-old has finished all 24 of the other Iditarod races he has run since 1982.

Last year’s defending champion, Joar Leifseth Ulsom, 32, also made all three lists to finish in the top five. Ulsom’s victory came in his sixth Iditarod, and he’s never finished worse than seventh — his rookie finish.

Nicolas Petit, the 38-year-old musher originally from France, also made all three lists. Petit led much of the 2018 Iditarod before veering off the trail on Norton Sound, nearing Nome.

Pete Kaiser, a Bethel musher who has five Top-10 finishes in nine races, also made the lists. Kaiser has finished in fifth place three times.

Aliy Zirkle, a fan-favorite who has taken second place three times in a row in The Last Great Race, made two of our three analysts’ lists. Zirkle is the only woman to have won the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest. If Zirkle were to win the Iditarod, she’d be the first woman to do so since Susan Butcher in 1990. (Channel 2 analyst Libby Riddles was the first, in 1985, setting off a spur of five victories by women in six years). Zirkle’s six Top-10 finishes in a row from 2012 to 2017 make her an oft-rooted-for musher. She finished in 15th place last year.

Instead of Zirkle, Jake Berkowitz includes Ramey Smyth on his Top 5 list. Smyth, a 43-year-old musher out of Willow, has 10 Top-10 finishes, 21 finishes and just one scratch in his career that goes back to 1994.

DeeDee Jonrowe, our Iditarod veteran with the most recent race experience, added a wild card to her list: Matt Failor, who won this year’s Kuskokwim 300. The 36-year-old musher hasn’t cracked the Top 10 yet in his career, but a K300 win shows promise, and he finished in 13th place last year, in his seventh race.

Libby’s Top 5


  • Nic Petit

  • Joar Leifseth Ulsom

  • Mitch Seavey

  • Pete Kaiser

  • Aliy Zirkle

DeeDee’s Top 5


  • Nicolas Petit

  • Joar Leifseth Ulsom

  • Aliy Zirkle

  • Pete Kaiser

  • Mitch Seavey


Wild Card: Matt Failor

Jake’s Top 5


  • Mitch Seavey

  • Joar Leifseth Ulsom

  • Nicolas Petit

  • Pete Kaiser

  • Ramey Smyth




 
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