The 38th running of the world's most famous sled dog race kicks off today with a ceremonial start in Anchorage amid depleted finances that have slashed the cash purse even as the cost of mushing climbs. Yet the mystique of the 1,100-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race keeps drawing mushers from around the world, including a first this year—a rookie from Jamaica.
Defending champ Lance Mackey, a throat cancer survivor from Fairbanks, is going for a fourth consecutive win. Mackey, who's acknowledged using medical marijuana, says he's abiding by a new rule barring mushers from using pot or alcohol—but thinks he's being singled out. The actual competition gets under way tomorrow in Willow, 50 miles to the north. The total purse is $590,000, down nearly half from 2008.