North

Hugh Neff unrepentant after Iditarod bans him from 2019 race

An Alaskan musher says his family 'still disagrees with those in charge' after being banned from the 2019 Iditarod. Race officials say they've banned the musher from competition next year, citing concerns about dog care.

'We still disagree with those in charge,' says Neff, now banned from two sled dog races

Hugh Neff has competed in 14 Iditarod races and 18 Yukon Quests. He maintains a kennel in Tok, Alaska. (Julien Schroder/Yukon Quest)

Hugh Neff has been banned from mushing in the 2019 Iditarod sled dog race. 

The ban comes after Neff had already been banned from next year's Yukon Quest, a 1,600-kilometre international sled dog race. The decision was maintained after a review meeting.

The veteran musher is not apologizing.  

"We still disagree with those in charge of the Quest. Especially their rigged appeal hearing. Iditarod is just protecting itself," he wrote in an email to CBC News. 

One of Neff's dogs died near the halfway point of the 2018 Yukon Quest. Officals say the dog had medical conditions that could have been prevented.

In a statement, the Iditarod Trail Committee writes that Neff's application was denied "due to concerns over his lack of dog care during the 2018 Yukon Quest. The committee believes that the highest level of dog care must be achieved not only in its event but throughout the year."

The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is an annual long-distance sled dog race run

'It is all about dog care, clearly they took it as seriously as we did,' said Natalie Haltrichm, executive director of the Yukon Quest. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

The committee adds it did not do a separate investigation than the Yukon Quest, but that "the [Iditarod Trail Committee] felt positive about the process the [Yukon Quest] used."

Neff wrote on social media that he still intends for his dogs to run.

This would be allowed by the rules, as the censures don't affect the kennel but the individual musher.

"Our grandpa Leroy Shank was one of the main founders of [Yukon Quest], my wife Olivia is participating in [Yukon Quest] this year to honour him and the spirit of what mushing once was," Neff wrote.  

'Clearly they took it as seriously as we did'

Natalie Haltrich, executive director for the Yukon Quest, said the race stands by its decision.

"It's good to see that there is a process of review in place," she said. "It is all about dog care and clearly they took it as seriously as we did."

Haltrich added that the Iditarod's decision does not affect or compound the Yukon Quest's ban and that Neff would still be eligible to compete if he first completes a shorter race.

"We will welcome Hugh Neff back in future years should he be able to meet the requirements of the Yukon Quest," Haltrich said. 

As per race policy, all of Neff's dogs had passed inspection before the start of the 2018 Yukon Quest.