- Associated Press - Friday, January 31, 2014

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) - A Canadian musher has drawn the first position in the start of the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race.

Normand Casavant of Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, selected the No. 1 spot from a bunny boot during the Yukon Quest start banquet Thursday in Fairbanks.

Casavant considers the position a good omen. He picked the seventh position last year and finished seventh. In 2012, he picked the 10th position and finished in 10th place, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner (https://is.gd/ASQ3y6) reported.

“That’s good,” Casavant said. “I love supernatural things, the little things that make it special.”

In the small race field of 18, Ontario musher Hank DeBruin claimed the No. 18 spot.

The race begins Saturday in Fairbanks, and instead of finishing in Whitehorse, it will end 18 miles to the north at Takhini Hot Springs because of thin ice on the Yukon River.

The race could be fast. There are reports of freezing rain on top of snow that has left trails icy and hard.

That means there’s also the potential for spectacular crashes if mushers lose control of their teams.

Fairbanks musher Tony Angelo said one challenge may be to slow dogs down for what looks to be a fast track in warm conditions.

High temperatures forced changes at the start and finish of the race. The start had to be moved off the Chena River because of open water.

A low position on the start doesn’t give mushers a race advantage. To offset staggered starts, rest times are adjusted at early checkpoints.

Starting second in the race is Eureka musher Brent Sass. Casavant said he would be fine if Sass passes him soon after the start.

“I’m having no problem with that,” Casavant said. “I prefer that Brent Sass pass me now rather than later.”

Quest veteran, two-time winner John Schandelmeier, is returning to the race after a seven-year absence. He said his wife prodded him into returning, despite a team that he joked includes five puppies.

“She said, ‘By the time you get there, don’t worry, they’ll be fully grown,’ ” he said, drawing laughs from the banquet crowd.

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Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, https://www.newsminer.com

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