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Something for everyone at Eldorado sled dog races

By Justin Medve [6]

ELDORADO – Sometimes, dog sledding is more about the ride than who finishes first, according to participants in Sunday’s installment of Eldorado’s annual sled dog races. [7]

The two-day event was kicked off Saturday when four teams ran 20 miles of Hastings Heritage Trail [8], starting and finishing at Eldorado Community Hall [9], north of Belleville.

Sunday saw a higher attendance and a different venue, with seven teams running 10 miles in Eldorado local Robert Derry’s backyard.

Robert Derry hosted Sunday’s race and helped prepare teams whenever he had the chance. Photo by Justin Medve, QNet News

Derry said his property was ideal not only for bringing the races away from the snowmobile traffic of a public trail, but also for adding a personal element to the event.

“Most of the people that are into this are family-oriented, and I think it makes it a lot better for them. They feel a little more comfortable,” he said.

A shorter race also called for running a six-dog team instead of the eight dogs recommended for a longer run like Saturday’s. Most contenders finished in well under an hour.

This took pressure off newcomer Josh Wiley, who said he decided that Sunday would be the day of his first-ever race only the night before.

He ended up placing third, joined by his wife, Erin for moral support and father to help with the dogs.

Wiley said training his dogs in cold weather made the race a bit different.

“It was a little bit trickier, a little slower and a little harder,” he said.

Although Eldorado’s racing conditions were on the warm side, Wiley and other racers said they were disappointed when freezing rain led to a previous sled meet in Marmora being cancelled [10].

“There aren’t that many places where you can put on races anymore,” said Frank Caldwell, who travelled to Eldorado from New York State: a six-hour drive.

Frank Caldwell drove from New York state to attend Saturday and Sunday’s races. Photo by Justin Medve, QNet News

He explained that dog sledders have to take advantage of the weather in areas where snowfall is affected by surrounding lakes.

“Once you get the snow, you have to pack it down. You really can’t run them on the powder,” he said.

Caldwell said he ran races both Saturday and Sunday to make it worth the trip for him, his wife Regina and their dogs.

Frank Horn, who said he has been racing for nearly a decade, had his only other race this season in Québec. He was able to race a different team of dogs Saturday and Sunday, only reusing one to lead the pack.

“Some of the ones from yesterday, they were anxious to come along too,” he said.

Frank Horn straps up his sled for the drive home. Photo by Justin Medve, QNet News

Horn had a lot to share about the excitement of his races, from snow and branches blocking his view to his dogs picking up pace after spotting a bird or deer.

But he said how he and his dogs bond is “just being in the truck and going here and there.”

Both days of Eldorado’s races had local crafts and food for sale, with proceeds going to the Madoc Lions Club [11] for Saturday and to the Madoc Dog Park [12] for Sunday.

Thirteen children also took part in shorter sprint races on Saturday. Two of those children were racing organizer Shane Cox’s son and daughter.

Organizer Shane Cox and his children. Cox’s daughter, Charity, and son, Nolan, have already had a fair share of dog sledding experience. Photo by Justin Medve, QNet News

In 2015, Cox rallied support and took on the task of bringing sled dog races back to Eldorado [13] after a four-year absence.

“The races were dwindling. There wasn’t too many more around, and it was kind of hard when we lost it,” Cox said.

He succeeded, and enough interest was renewed to add a race on Sunday for the first time last year.

Cox said he is glad both races attract a different crowd.

“It takes a lot of work, but it was worth it,” he said.