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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Defending champion Mitch Seavey has grabbed the lead in Alaska’s Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

The three-time winner was the first to leave the village checkpoint of Nikolai (NIK-oh-leye) for the 48-mile (77-kilometer) run to the next checkpoint at McGrath.

Seavey departed Nikolai with 14 dogs at 12:49 p.m. in the 1,000-mile (1,600-kilometer) race.

He was followed shortly after by Joar Leifseth Ulsom of Norway and earlier leader Ryan Redington of Wasilla.

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Redington is the grandson of late race co-founder Joe Redington Sr.

The competitive portion of the race began with 67 teams on Sunday in Willow north of Anchorage. The ceremonial start was held in Anchorage Saturday with the teams taking a short sprint through town.

Two mushers have pulled out of the race. They include longtime Iditarod musher DeeDee Jonrowe, who has said this would be her last race.

Race officials said Jonrowe scratched Tuesday at the Rainy Pass checkpoint due to personal health reasons and concern for taking care of her dog team.

The 64-year-old Jonrowe entered her first Iditarod in 1980 and was running her 36th race when she withdrew from the running.

A crowd favorite, the Willow musher finished in the top 10 of the race 16 times. She placed second in 1993 and 1998.

The race route winds over frozen lakes and rivers, through mountain passes and over trails once used for delivery of mail and supplies to mining communities.