by Tommy Wells
Matthew Failor did what every musher dreams to accomplish. He won the Kuskokwim 300 Sled Dog Race and set a new record.
It was a close race.
Failor, backed by the speed of having 11 dogs in harness, etched his name into the winner’s list in the state’s premier mid-distance race by guiding his team to the quickest time in the race’s 40-year-history. When he powered his team across the finish line in Bethel at 7:02 a.m., he completed the 300-mile race in a time of 36 hours and 32 minutes. His time edged out a bevy of other mushers who crossed the finish line within a few minutes of his time, including Nicolas Petit and Kaiser.
With the win, Failor takes home $25,000 of the K-300’s $160,000 prize total. His win came in just his second-ever appearance in the race.
Failor, competing on a hard, fast trail under almost perfect conditions, had to run down both Petit and Kaiser over the final 150 miles of the race in order to secure his place in the history books. His overall time bettered Martin Buser’s previous record for the race of 37 hours and four minutes.
Petit, who raced his way to the Copper Basin title just a week ago, finished just under two minutes behind Failor in the standings. The mushing veteran said he may have cost himself a chance at a win late in the race when he accidentally got off the official trail about 10 miles from the finish line and going on Church Slough.
“It’s what I do. I get lost,” said Petit, who also got off the marked trail in last year’s Iditarod. He informed race officials shortly after finishing and congratulating Failor on the win.
Petit, who finished with six dogs in harness, completed the race in a time of 36:34:03.
Shortly after Petit had finished race officials assessed a 1-hour penalty to his final time, dropping him to fourth overall. Race rules require all mushers who deviate from the trail to re-enter the race at the point they left the trail prior to continuing.
Officials said while reviewing the situation it was determined that “the trail showed numerous markers, including a bright orange highway light near the point where Petit left the trail.” Race officials said Petit acknowledged he saw the light but informed judges he was running without his headlight when he initially left the trail. Officials also noted that several other racers who were also running without the use of their light, had also left the trail at the same location but that they all backtracked and returned to the trail upon learning their error.
The decision pushed Kaiser to second in the standings, ending a four-year streak in which the Bethel standout had won the race.
“(I) might have sandbagged a little too much at the beginning, but that gave us some extra power at the end” said Kaiser, who leapfrogged several mushers over the final 150 miles. His team of 10 dogs posted the second-fastest time from the Tuluksak to Bethel finish line, covering the final leg in 4:46 – one minute slower than Failor. “That was our gamble and it didn’t work out perfect. I’m still happy with our finish.”
Kaiser had entered the race looking to become the first musher in 40 years to win the race five straight times.
He finished just 14:59 behind Failor in the final standings.
Jessie Holmes, who had led for much of the first half of the race, checked in third overall. He mushed his way across the finish line just six minutes after Kaiser at 7:23 a.m.
K-300 legend Jeff King finished fifth, checking in at 8:30 a.m. He finished five minutes ahead of Joar Leifseth Ulson, last year’s Iditarod champion.
Overall, 18 mushers competed in the Kuskokwim 300 this season, including veteran Mike Williams Jr. who finished 11th. Nome’s Aaron Burmeister was ninth.
Still enroute as of Sunday night are Dennis Kananowicz of Glennallen, Matt Scott and Victoria Hardwick of Bethel, and David Fitka of Marshall.
2019 K300 Results
1 Matthew Failor 36:32:33
3 Peter Kaiser 36:47:32
4 Jessie Holmes 36:53:38
2 Nicolas Petit 37:34:03
5 Jeff King 38:00:00
6 Joar Leirseth Ulsom 38:05:00
7 Richie Diehl 38:51:31
8 Wade Marrs 39:17:55
9 Aaron Burmeister 41:03:20
10 Will Rhodes 41:52:41
11 Mike Jr Williams 42:58:22
12 Ramey Smyth 43:04:26
13 John George 46:07:18
14 Isaac Underwood 48:47:00
15 Dennis Kananowicz enroute
16 Matt Scott enroute
17 Victoria Hardwick enroute
18 David Fitka enroute