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NOME, Alaska – In a year marked by dangerous conditions, the final stages of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race were coming down to either a record-tying number of titles or the first woman to claim victory in 24 years.

One of those appeared to be the likely outcome of this year’s nearly 1,000-mile race across Alaska, as the first two mushers arrived at the second-to-last checkpoint Monday. They were Jeff King, 58, and Aliy Zirkle, 44, both of Alaska.

King, a four-time champion, is attempting to equal Rick Swenson’s record of five victories.

Zirkle, who has finished second in the past two Iditarods, left the White Mountain checkpoint — 77 miles from the finish line in Nome — 58 minutes after King.

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“I know I have a lot fans rooting for me,” Zirkle said. “Believe me, I am trying.”

The last woman to win the Iditarod was four-time champion Susan Butcher in 1990.

The mushers are on a record pace and could reach the finish line in the wee hours Tuesday.

“We were flying through there,” King told the Iditarod website after Sunday’s run between the checkpoints in Elim and Koyuk.

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