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Mackey leading Iditarod

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Four-time Iditarod champion Jeff King drives his team into Nulato, Alaska, on Saturday. He currently holds the second-place berth.

Four-time Iditarod champion Jeff King drives his team into Nulato, Alaska, on Saturday. He currently holds the second-place berth.

Al Grillo, Associated Press

NULATO, Alaska — Light snow fell Saturday as four-time champion Jeff King and all 16 of his dogs sailed into this Yukon River checkpoint as the second front-runner in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

The 51-year-old musher from Denali Park clocked in at 11:40 a.m., exactly two hours after defending champion Lance Mackey reached this old Russian trading post, 700 miles into the 1,100-mile race to Nome. At the nearby school, Mackey slept deeply, oblivious to race volunteers and others gathering inside the gymnasium.

Outside, King tended to his team, throwing the dogs a quick snack of frozen meat.

"Here you go," he said as he scattered straw on the snow. "That what you looking for?"

King warned the checkpoint veterinarian about two growly members of the team. Asked if there were any health problems with the dogs, he said, "They're all running the same."

Despite the long trek along the frozen Yukon River, the dogs looked alert and fresh, many standing until King bedded them down.

Earlier Saturday, a 7-year-old dog in rookie musher John Stetson's team died. It was the first dog death in this year's race.

Stetson, the Duluth, Minn., musher who was 60th in the standings Saturday afternoon, left the male named Zaster with officials at the Ophir checkpoint at 2 a.m. on Friday. The dog had been showing signs of pneumonia.

A necropsy will be conducted in an attempt to determine the cause of death, said Iditarod race marshal Mark Nordman.

Mackey arrived in Nulato with 14 dogs, which he says have been lagging because of unseasonably warm conditions this year.

Using many of the same dogs, Mackey last year became the first musher to record back-to-back wins in the 1,100-mile Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race and the Iditarod. He also won the Yukon Quest last month with many of the same dogs that are running this Iditarod.

Ten mushers also were heading to Nulato on Saturday after leaving the Galena checkpoint, including last year's Iditarod runner-up, Paul Gebhardt of Kasilof; 2004 winner Mitch Seavey of Seward; Rick Swenson of Two Rivers — the Iditarod's only five-time winner; four-time winner Martin Buser of Big Lake; three-time Yukon Quest winner Hans Gatt of Whitehorse, Yukon; and Kjetil Backen of Porsbrunn, Norway.

Six mushers have scratched since the start of the race, and one has been withdrawn. A record field of 89 mushers remains on the trail.

In its 36th running, the Iditarod commemorates a run by sled dogs in 1925 to deliver lifesaving diphtheria serum to Nome.

The modern-day Iditarod trail crosses frozen rivers, dense woods and two mountain ranges, then goes along the dangerous sea ice up the Bering Sea shore to Nome. Along the way, mushers can encounter blinding snow storms and temperatures far below zero.

Mushers are competing for a piece of an $875,000 purse, to be paid out among the top 30 finishers to reach Nome. The winner gets $69,000 and a new truck worth $45,000.