—It Don’t Take A Weatherman To Know Which Way The Wind Blows—
Barring something unforeseen Remy Coste will win this dog race. The performance of his program so far has been nothing short of amazing and defies a great deal of the conventional wisdom regarding capability, pace, race strategy, and many other things. Malo has also been running a powerful race and putting forth an impressive display of her programs talent, but it’s just not quite enough to overtake Coste. While this is still a close race by stage stop standards, the trend is clear.
Both driving small strings of 8 dogs (as possibly predicted by an especially handsome armchair analyst), Coste and Malo duked it out over 27 miles of fast, flat racing. The trail did not include the 3 miles of steep climbing and infamous switchbacks this year making it one of the least technical trails that we’ll see this year. Low snow and warm conditions indicate that the trail was likely hard packed, but with an abrasive surface and many teams wore boots on all or most dogs. A dogs foot is one of the key vectors for heat dissipation, and managing a team to perform well in warm conditions while bootied is a challenge in itself.
With only two stages left to run, Malo would need to win the remaining laps by significant margins to have a shot at victory. With Coste winning 4/5 of the race so far, it seems unlikely he will come apart now, especially with tomorrows rest day. Tight racing and come from behind victories have not been a strong point for the Malo-Rivest program, with few (possibly only one) instances of them winning a race that they did not handily lead from the opening laps in recent history. Not being in command of this race going into the closing stages is unfamiliar turf for her program as is the hard charging and accelerated pace that Coste has been pushing. One of the most interesting things, and also one of the most impressive displays, is the frequency that Coste loads and rotates dogs within his team. This is an unseen strategy in sprint racing, and loading a dog is usually a significant issue for a race team, as is the stopping and starting. Coste seems to do this with ease and regularity in this format of racing and still maintains an amazing pace.
Down the ballot there is some great racing going on! Many drivers opted to run smaller strings today, so I would expect bigger teams when racing resumes in Alpine, WY on Friday. Rachel Courtney put on a nice run and lead the next group of mushers by a minute. While she is coming on strong, there is a pretty significant gap to close on the teams ahead of her in the overall standings. Jess Moore ran 8 dogs and narrowly edged Laura Bontrager for the day and has less than a minute to make on Cathy Rivest in the overall. Jess’s team is familiar with the Alpine trail and with a bank of rested dogs I would expect for her to make a push on Friday. Laura Bontrager continues to execute a beautiful, consistent race. While she has a small cushion on the teams behind her, she should be looking to stay on her toes as the race comes to a close. The teams in 6th-12th place finished within 5 minutes of each other, showing the high level of talent in this years field.
It’s still a dog race and anything can happen, but at this rate it probably won’t. Will Malo double down and push for the win or begin conserving this team for the rest of the upcoming and highly competitive race season? With a comfortable lead and fully in control, will Coste continue to push the pace or back off and respond to moves as needed? What we don’t know could fill a book. What we do know is that we’re witnessing history.
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