There were two big returns to the Canadian Championship Dog Derby this past weekend. First one was the race itself, back after a one-year hiatus due to Covid-19.
The second was the return one of the elder statesmen of dog mushing to the race and he showed he still had what it takes.
Grant Beck is back on top of the hill when it comes to the race as he won the 10-dog, 150-mile main event on Sunday afternoon with a cumulative time of eight hours, 59 minutes and 30 seconds over three days of racing. He was the only musher to break the nine-hour mark and won himself a first-place cheque of $10,000 for being the fastest.
He also won the Yellowknifer Knife, which was handed out for the 48th time and is given to the top Yellowknife musher in the overall race.
Richard Beck, the winner of the 2019 race, finished in second place in a time of nine hours, two minutes and 11 seconds while Brent Beck was third, just shy of a minute behind Richard Beck.
In his remarks to the crowd following the race, Grant Beck said he enjoyed getting back into racing.
“It sure is nice to be back after so many years,” he said. “I enjoyed it back then, got away from it for some years, but it’s nice to be back here again.”
His grandson, Jaden Beck, held the reins while grand-dad watched from the sidelines and focused on the business side of things at Beck’s Kennels, though Grant Beck did say once things begin to get back to normal after Covid-19, he wouldn’t push the mushing to the side for as long as he did.
The one thing Grant Beck said he enjoyed seeing over the course of the weekend was the sportsmanship among everyone involved.
“That’s the sort of atmosphere I like to see in racing,” he said. “When you see the two-dog (mushers), starting to get them excited. The six-dog (mushers) are the same way – there’s all that competition but (all) in good fun and that’s the way for me. I like having fun on the trails and seeing the little mushers having fun. That’s important to me.”
Jordee Reid and Dianna Beck headed up the organizing committee, a job they’ve had for the past few years, and Reid said there were hardly any kinks at all this year.
“I think the only thing we had to do was adjust the start times for the second and third days because of the warmer weather,” she said.
The times were moved back from the original hour to take advantage of the colder climate at that time of day, she added.
“It would be like someone doing a long-distance run in a Canada Goose jacket,” she said. “We train the dogs in cold weather so they’re used to running when it’s cold. If the heat gets to be too much, it’s harder for them to run a long distance. You can get a dog used to the conditions but our dogs are used to cold.”
There was a breeze on day three and that helped to cool the dogs down, she said.
After one year away, Reid said there was a sense of relief to be able to get back out and compete.
“We’ve had a full year of racing on the NWT circuit this year and that’s been a big help,” she said. “We know a lot of other mushers across Canada and they can’t race at all. We know they have it tough and we’ve been lucky enough to be able to go out.”
One thing the race had this year was plenty of youth with Alexis Campbell, Taylor Beck and Taltson McQueen all a part of the main event and all in their 20s.
Reid said she can’t remember that many younger mushers involved in the big race but it bodes well for the future of the sport.
“I don’t say dog mushing is a dying sport but the mushers who are involved are aging,” she said. “I think seeing the younger mushers involved lifts the spirits of the older mushers and shows them that the young people are still interested in it.”