It appears Mitch Seavey had to drop his reigning Golden Harness lead sled dog Pilot at the Skwentna Checkpoint, just 83 miles into the 1000 mile race. Pilot is already being flown back to Anchorage by the Iditarod Air Force, but the defending champs are now without their main lead sled dog.
We haven’t talked to Mitch, but he alluded to an issue with Pilot on the last training run leading up to the race.
Then the video of him arriving in the Rainy Pass checkpoint showed 15 Alaska sled dogs running, and we’re all waiting for confirmation, but 99% sure it’s Pilot who’s missing. Pilot’s two litter mates Port and Train will now join last years’ co-MVP Crisp in lead.
In principle, the team should be fine. Mitch had a similar issue in 2016 when he had to leave Crisp in Willow and Port in Finger Lake, before Pilot became a leader. That had a big impact on his team that year, and Mitch felt he may have won otherwise. Further, it’s well known around the kennel that Mitch’s mood and emotional well being are directly related to Pilot. I just got off the phone with Ryan Santiago, the team’s assistant coach. He alluded to the ‘only time he’s seen Mitch visibly affected emotionally is if someone says anything about Pilot or his health.’ So at least on that level, this will affect Mitch.
*UPDATE: Just got Pilot back to Anchorage! – 3:47pm
Photo of Mitch and Pilot by Jon Taylor, Artistic Puppy Creative