This article by Ben Matheson was originally published by Alaska Public Media. It was republished with permission through a partnership with KNOM.
Defending Iditarod champion Brent Sass has scratched from the 2023 race in Eagle Island due to health concerns.
Iditarod officials said in a statement that Sass felt he could not properly care for his team due to his personal “periodontal health.” Periodontal issues typically refer to problems associated with gum disease.
His 11-dog team is in good health, according to the statement, which said Sass officially scratched at 7:42 a.m. Saturday.
An Iditarod Insider video said a plane was headed to Eagle Island to get Sass off the trail. The checkpoint is nearly 600 miles into the race, located on a remote stretch of the Yukon River between Grayling and Kaltag.
Sass was the first team to pull into Eagle Island at 9:38 p.m. Friday, but he never left the checkpoint.
Reached by phone in Nome on Saturday, Sass’s father, Mark Sass, said he was still waiting to hear more about what had happened.
“Yeah, I’m pretty sad, but it is what it is,” he said. “I just want him to be OK.”
This is the second scratch of this year’s Iditarod. Rookie Jennifer LaBar scratched in Rainy Pass on Monday.
Thirty-one teams remained in the race as of Saturday morning.
Sass claimed his first Iditarod championship in 2022, mushing to the win after his sled, with a broken runner, tumbled down a hill during an intense windstorm in the final stretches of trail. His team was able to find their way just in time, before five-time champ Dallas Seavey could catch up.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.
Image at top: Brent Sass talks with a checkpoint official in Grayling on Friday, March 10. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)