Montana musher has top dogs

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The final stage of the 11th annual International Pedigree Stage Stop Sled Dog Race

PARK CITY – It's all over but the howling and the baying.

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Mushers Melanie Shirilla and Katie Davis
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Musher Charlie Boulding, 63, and his wife Robin

But the final stage of the 11th annual International Pedigree Stage Stop Sled Dog Race drew hundreds Saturday to McPolin Farm at the edge of Utah's premier ski town. The mushers and their teams ran an eight-mile course on what is usually reserved for cross-country skiers.

"I love it once a year," said Park City resident Debbie Dunmire as she cheered on the sled teams. "But this is a ski track, and I don't think the skiers will give it up."

Nonetheless, the enthusiastic crowd got a glimpse at some of the best mushers in the world, including four-time Iditarod champ Doug Swingley, of Lincoln, Mont.

But it was Swingley's wife, Melanie Shirilla, who walked away with $10,000 in prize money for the best overall time for the eight-day stage race.

Behind the Iditarod, the contest is the second richest in sled dog racing with $100,000 in prize money, said organizer Frank Teasley. The event is run in separate stages like the Tour de France cycling race. Mushers win daily prizes as well as cash for combined times for all stages.

While it was elation for Shirilla, it was frustration for Wendi Davis, of Lander, Wyo. She was dropped to fourth place overall at the end of the day. Her team won the event last year.

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Charlie Boulding, Dan Carter, Doug Swingley, and Sam Perrino

The Park City stage was the last hurrah for veteran musher Charlie Boulding, 63, of Manly Hot Springs, Alaska, who has run some 20 Iditarods. The only Utah leg of the stage stop sled dog race that began last weekend in Jackson Hole, Wyo., was his last competitive race.

"This is it. This is the grand finish. This is my last professional race," he said. "So, if I'm back next year you can call me a liar."

But for rookie musher Stacey O'Neal, of Jackson Hole, it was just the beginning. Overall, she finished 16th of 20 teams. But she was running a sled dog team made up mostly of yearlings.

"Most of these dogs, it's their first race. I didn't want to push them," she said. "We were just showing them what it is all about. I'm just a pup, too."

Alaskan musher Jacques Philip said he was satisfied with his second-place overall time of 24 hours, 39 minutes, 51 seconds – almost 55 minutes slower than Shirilla for the course that traversed more than 250 miles.

"Melanie had the stronger team, so I was happy to be second," said the French Canadian musher who now lives in Fairbanks.

Two weeks ago, Philip won the 600-mile Le Grande Odyssee in the Alps. Now, he said, he will begin training his dogs for the Iditarod, which begins the first week of March.

It's serious business for professional sled dog racers who spend seven days a week year-round with the huskies. But it's nothing more than big fun for 7-year-old Lauren Haynes from Park City, who loves to watch the huskies run.

"They are really soft and nice and they don't bite," she said after the "Meet the Mushers" segment of Saturday's activities. She wants to be a musher someday.

Overall results

Melanie Shirilla, Lincoln, Mont.
Jacques Philip, Fairbanks, Alaska
Doug Swingley, Lincoln, Mont.
Wendi Davis, Lander, Wyo.
Sam Perrino, Yellowknife, Canada

Source: The Salt Lake Tribune

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