RUBY, Alaska (AP) _ The dog team of three-time Iditarod winner Jeff King pulled to the front of the field Saturday after leaving the Yukon River town of Galena.
King took the lead from Kasilof musher Paul Gebhardt, who halted his dogs in Galena for a mandatory 24-hour rest after leading since the halfway point, about 140 miles earlier in Cripple. Every other musher in the top half of the 76-team field has taken the day-long break, and many expect to pass Gebhardt in Galena.
King said he's just following his own schedule for the 1,100-mile race from Anchorage to Nome.
``I'm very happy about it, but I didn't do anything to make it happen,'' said King of Denali. ``I'm just running them the way I think they should be going.''
Many top teams traveled 50 miles along Alaska's longest river from the Ruby checkpoint to reach Galena early Saturday morning, such as four-time winner Doug Swingley of Lincoln, Mont.; DeeDee Jonrowe of Willow, a favorite Alaska musher who has finished second twice; and John Baker of Kotzebue, who has finished in the top 10 every year since 2001.
Baker arrived at the Galena checkpoint just two minutes ahead of Aliy Zirkle, 36, a former biologist with an Ivy League degree.
Four-time Iditarod winner Susan Butcher, who is undergoing treatment for cancer, flew into the Ruby checkpoint Friday from her home near Fairbanks to cheer on friends and former rivals.
Butcher, 51, has lost most of her hair, but went without a wig as she sat with her two daughters in the spruce log community center and chatted with local race fans.
``I've been pretty tired,'' said Butcher, who follows the race every year. ``It's hit me pretty hard.'' She said she will return April 6 to a Seattle hospital and has a bone marrow transplant scheduled for May 16.
Before he left for the Galena checkpoint and his 24-hour rest, Gebhardt was treated to a seven-course meal for being the first musher to arrive in Ruby.
He seemed unhurried as he clinked wine glasses and quietly traded dog mushing tales with his chosen guest, 1975 Iditarod winner and Ruby resident Emmitt Peters.
``I like the wine, but I can't drink it, or I'd be the first musher on the Yukon to get a DUI,'' Gebhardt joked, as a crowd in the community center watched him pick through dishes including portobello bruschetta, rosemary lamb loin and peach crepes cooked in cognac.
Competitors in the world's longest sled dog race pass through 24 checkpoints between Anchorage and the old gold mining town of Nome on the state's western coast. Top finishers usually arrive in Nome in nine to 10 days.
The race started Sunday in Willow after a ceremonial start 60 miles south in Anchorage.
Eight mushers have scratched from the race.