FAIRBANKS, Alaska — Two former champions joined the field for the Yukon Quest sled dog race.
Mushers Hugh Neff and John Schandelmeier entered Thursday, bolstering a lineup that included defending champion Allen Moore but no other former winners.
The annual 1,000-mile race between Fairbanks and Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, starts Feb. 1. The purse will be at least $115,000.
Neff, the 2012 champion from Tok, said after last year's race that he'd be taking a year off. That vow apparently didn't stick.
Schandelmeier's entry was even more unexpected. The Maclaren River musher won the race in 1992 and 1996 but hasn't done the Quest since an 11th-place finish in 2007.
"He said it was his 60-year-old present to himself," Quest executive director Marti Steury told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner (http://is.gd/LbPFAO ).
Friday was the final day for the Quest's early sign-up period, when mushers pay a $2,000 entry fee. The field of 22 could still grow until the final deadline on Jan. 3, but the additional $500 fee typically discourages late registrations.
Other notable entrants include Eureka musher Brent Sass, who took third place this year, and Ken Anderson of Fairbanks, whose three top-five showings include a runner-up finish in 2008.
Healy's Dave Dalton, who has 10 top-10 finishes, will participate in his record 24th Quest race.
Among the absentees is four-time champ Lance Mackey, who dominated the race from 2005-08. The Fairbanks musher plans to instead run the Denali Doubles, a mid-distance race from Paxson to Denali.
Demand to enter the Yukon Quest 300, the mid-distance cousin of the longer race, has increased this year. Mushers rapidly filled the 25-team limit, a rarity. The rugged 300-mile course, which starts in Fairbanks and ends in Central, typically draws about 19 teams.
Steury said the cancellation of several mid-distance races this year seems to have boosted interest in the 300. Those races serve as qualifiers for longer runs, such as the Yukon Quest and Iditarod.
"There's fewer races to qualify with," she said. "That's the only thing we can think of."
Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, http://www.newsminer.com