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Competitive Mushing: American Dog Derby

Every mushing activity, from skijoring, to bikejoring, to carting has a competitive aspect. After all, what better way to show off a dog and owner’s skills than to gather and compete? It should be no surprise that the activity that started the urban mushing movement – dog sledding – has a number of high-profile races held annually. Among the most well-known are the Iditarod in Alaska, Yukon Quest held between Yukon and Alaska, and the Kobuk 440, also held in Alaska. But, what opportunities exist for mushers located in the continental United States? The American Dog Derby, held in Ashton, Idaho, is the oldest dogsled race held in America that continues to be held today in a multi-event format.

American Dog Derby History

The first American Dog Derby was held on March 4, 1917 and was competed from West Yellowstone, Montana to Ashton, Idaho. The race covered a distance of 55 miles, and the inaugural run was slowed considerably due to blizzards. Five teams participated, and the eventual winner was Tud Kent.

The derby was a boon to the local economy through the 1920’s, and approximately 10,000 people would flock to Ashton to spectate and bet on the event. However, by the mid-1930’s, interest in the race dwindled (no doubt due to the social, economic, and political landscape of the times), and the race stopped being run altogether during World War II.

From 1948 – 1961, the races continued to be held, but not with the same popularity they once had. As new technology, such as snowmobiles, was introduced, interest in dog sled activities diminished. In 1993 the race was revived by the Ambassador’s Cup Sport Foundation. Since the 1990’s, interest in the event has grown, which now boasts five races, as well as four other events!

The longest race of the weekend is the 100 mile “Tud” Kent Race, named after one of the founders of the American Dog Derby and the winner of the inaugural race. This race lasts two days, and is geared towards 9 – 12-dog teams of experienced mushers.

The 60 mile race is named after Ray Gordon, one of the most prolific modern-day American Derby participants. Mushers participating in this category compete with teams of 8 – 10 dogs.

The 40 mile, 4 – 8 dog “Cordingly” race is named after a father-son duo with a rich Ashton history based on a Canadian-American mushing war. In the late 1920’s, Canadian mushers competed in the American Dog Derby, and lost. After challenging the American mushers to a race on the Canadian home course, Warren Cordingly competed in the Banff Canadian race and won, setting new course records in the process. Warren’s son, Don, continued his father’s racing tradition and won the Ashton race three times.

The 24 mile Everett Heseman race commemorates the only person to have won five consecutive races, between 1940 and 1947. This race is for 3 – 6 dog teams.

Finally, a youth development race will also be part of the derby weekend, called the Warren Brown Junior Race. The 7.5 mile course is for children and teens 16 years old and younger manning 1 – 3 dog teams.

Throughout the weekend, a number of other activities will be held, such as a 100 yard mutt race, a weight pull competition, and a 4 mile skijor race. The American Dog Derby is reviving the sport of dog racing in the continental United State and offers cash prizes to fifteen competitors among the weekend’s five races. Whether competing or spectating, the two day event, held February 19 – 20, is a great place for sled dog enthusiasts to feel at home!

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