April 30, 2017

Eye on the Trail: 17th Dog Racers in Nome

Michael Baker and Leaders

Prior to sunrise on Saturday morning, the announcer standing at the Burled Arch was reading the biography of Matthew Failor but the musher who drove into the chute and parked under the Arch was Michael Baker. The last anybody saw on the GPS tracker was that Failor was ahead of Baker by a mile or less. What couldn’t be seen was the exchange of leads. Failor stopped short of the ramp up to Front Street to spend a moment with his dogs and praise them for a job well done. Failor was also carrying a necklace for a friend who asked him to carry it to Nome in memory of his wife. Matthew had one of his leaders wear it into Nome. In the meantime, along came Michael Baker to take the lead. The two did share Arch space together and the canine athletes were excited to see their pals from the kennel.

Matthew Failor and Leaders

Matt Failor owns and operates 17th Dog Kennel. Michael Baker is Failor’s right hand man. Failor says about Baker, “He’s a tremendous help, a top-notch dog handler and musher, and I’m very happy he joined the team. I couldn’t do this without him.”

Baker is dedicating his rookie run to his son, Siris in hopes of demonstrating that through hard work and determination, dreams can come true and you can do anything you put your mind to. In the future, Baker hopes to return to the lower 48 and establish his own kennel. Baker and the 17th Dog team he ran to Nome shared their rookie experience together. Through patient mentoring and coaching, the young puppies of 17th Dog may turn into future champions.

Matt Failor also ran a puppy team to Nome. Matt is establishing and breeding a line of dogs he hopes will one day take him to the winner’s circle. That process of creating a championship caliber kennel takes years. Giving puppies a positive experience on the trail is key to growing them into a successful race team.

As rookies, Baker and Failor have had similar experiences. While handling for Martin Buser, Matt ran the Happy Trails Kennel puppy team to Nome as Buser’s apprentice.  Failor has a perfect Iditarod record with 6 starts and 6 finishes. Failor is also a Yukon Quest Veteran.

Michael Baker and Matthew FAilor of 17th Dog Kennel

Baker and Failor came to the arch in 58th and 59th place with three minutes between the finishes. As the teams were parked next to each other under the arch, the pups from one team were very happy to see the pups from the other team. Tails were wagging in greeting as they tried to get a little playtime in before heading to the Nome dog lot for gourmet meals, massage and naps in the sun.