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Richie Diehl takes 2nd in Kobuk 440 Sled Dog Race, losing to Hugh Neff by 2 minutes

Zachariah Hughes

Musher Hugh Neff and his nine-dog team won their first Kobuk 440 in Kotzebue on April 10, crossing the finish line just two minutes ahead of Aniak's Richie Diehl.

The Kobuk 440 takes mushers on a roughly 400-mile trail from Kotzebue to Kobuk and back. Neff led almost the entire race and had a comfortable hour lead on Diehl out of the Kiana checkpoint, just 80 or so miles from the finish.

Diehl charged through the night to try to catch Neff. Neff said that he had no idea just how close Diehl got until the finish line.

“I'm like, ‘Man, I can't believe I won this thing so easily.’ And then like, two minutes later, there's Richie. I looked back and I just started giggling. I just couldn't believe it. He really was right behind me,” said Neff.

In a Facebook Live video from the finish of the race on April 10, Diehl said that he was tired.

“I’m a little pooped out after that,” said Diehl. “It was a long night chasing Hugh. Darn, we couldn’t get him. But, oh well.”

Neff is a longtime musher who currently lives in Anchorage. He said that his Kobuk 440 dog team was similar to the team he took on this year’s Iditarod. The dogs are from veteran musher Jim Lanier’s Chugiak-based kennel. Neff was forced to scratch from the Iditarod after race officials raised concerns about the health of his dogs.

He said that the Kobuk win felt good.

“Vindication. I don't want to be in any type of battle with people. But unfortunately, I am in a battle that wasn't of my choosing. And it’s something I’m not gonna back down from,” said Neff.

Among the Kobuk challenges this year: breaking trail. Neff said that his team cut a path through 4 to 6 inches of fresh snow, plus drifts of up to a foot during an 85-mile chunk of trail on the way back to Kotzebue. Also, the race started out with temperatures of under 30-below.

Neff credits the win to his 22-month-old dog Solo, who he had in lead for about 300 miles of the race.

“I put her up in front, we're going at least two to three miles an hour faster, at least,” he said. “She's really leggy. She's got a really nice, mellow gait, so she's very effortless. And she’s got that ‘it’ factor where she never gets tired.”

Neff said that after a six-hour nap, he was ready to go ice fishing for sheefish outside of Kotzebue. He’ll get a share of a $72,000 prize purse.

The Kobuk 440 is Alaska’s last major sled dog race of the season.

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