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2004 Iditarod champ takes lead in Alaska trek

Sunday - 3/10/2013, 10:24pm  ET

Ann Neglaska of Kaltag holds a sign that four-time Iditarod champion Martin Buser signed the last time he won the Iditarod in 2002. Buser autographed the sign again this year and she hopes he becomes a champion again. (AP Photo/Anchorage Daily News, Bill Roth)

MARY PEMBERTON
Associated Press

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) -- A former winner of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race took the lead early Sunday and held onto it as he pressed forward along the Bering Sea coastline. Another musher was just 15 minutes behind.

With less than 250 miles to the finish line, Mitch Seavey was the first musher to leave Unalakleet, where he pulled into town earlier at 10:13 a.m. and was able to rest his team for about five hours. Aaron Burmeister pulled into the checkpoint just 15 minutes after Seavey and was the same musher who followed him out.

The mushers arrived at the checkpoint after traveling from Kaltag, the last stop on the frozen Yukon River.

"It was a long run. I think my dogs are kind of tired from yesterday on the river," Seavey told the Iditarod Insider after pulling into Unalakleet. "So much deep snow and hot, but they are hanging in there. Not as quick as I would like to be, but quick enough for today I guess."

The 1,000-mile race to Nome began with 66 teams at a ceremonial start in Anchorage March 2, and the race's competitive start was the next day in Willow. Five mushers have scratched so far.

In Unalakleet, Seavey - the 2004 champion and the father of defending champion, Dallas Seavey - was greeted by dozens of townspeople and awarded $2,500 in gold nuggets and a trophy.

Four-time Iditarod winner Jeff King moved into third position. Jake Berkowitz was in fourth, followed by Aliy Zirkle and Ray Redington Jr., the grandson of race co-founder Joe Redington Sr. Rookie Joar Leifseth Ulsom of Norway was in seventh place.

Seavey, 53, made the 90-mile trip from Kaltag to the Bering Sea coastline in a little more than 12
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