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LOST TRAIL PASS — Even though Laura Daugereau came across the finish line in first place at the 12th annual Darby Dog Derby on Sunday, she still had work to do.

There was her team to attend to, after all.

"It's not like a snow machine, you can't just turn them off," Daugereau said shortly after feeding her eight-dog sled team a hearty meal of salmon, broth and water, and then settling a small tiff over some dog treats.

"They're like a bunch of 2-year-olds," she said, smiling.

Those pups did a great job for Daugereau, though, as the 26-year sled-dog racing veteran brought home both the eight-dog and four-dog title at the weekend Darby Dog Derby at Lost Trail Pass. The Port Gamble, Washington, native (and Great Falls resident in the winter) was racing in her fourth Darby Derby. Her herd of Alaskan huskies took to the trail — groomed by Lost Trail — and didn't let up despite overnight snow, fog and wind that made for slower traveling.

"...We know them from puppies; they’re our best buddies, so when we go out and do something like this on the trail together it’s like you’re just out there with eight of your best friends going and running a race," said Daugereau, who has raced in the Iditarod. "They know they’re in a race, too, they get pretty jacked about it."

That was evident Sunday at Gibbons Pass Road just off the intersection of US Highways 93 and 43. The dogs — the athletes — literally howled with anticipation before their races.

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The races took place Saturday and Sunday, with the two-day times accumulating into the final total. Along with the eight-dog and four-dog races, the Darby Dog Derby features a six-dog race as well as a pair of skijoring events where dogs pull skiers.

"It's been great," race marshall Nicki Arndt said Sunday. "We've had really good competition, really close times. (There's been) sportsmanship, an awesome trail — Lost Trail did it again — they put in an awesome trail."

Spectator turnout wasn't as high as in previous years, but a group of would-be cross country skiers stopped in after seeing the commotion of sled dogs and racers and hunkered down to watch. More turned out Saturday, as the derby also hosts a peewee sled dog race each year.

"That’s where anyone’s kids — we do limit it to 10 because we don’t have that many dogs — but they come up, they don’t need a sled or dogs, we provide that, and they get to run a 100-yard (race) and win a prize and be a musher," Arndt said.

And being a musher is a labor of love.

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Rob Greger, of Anduril Kennels in Bozeman, stopped at the Darby Dog Derby with his understudy and Polson native Charmayne Morrison ahead of a somewhat sled-dog tour they are embarking on.

"Next weekend we’ll run the eight-dog stage style then we’ll run the 100-mile Race to the Sky and I think we’re going to Ashton," said Morrison, who finished third in the eight-dog and fourth in the six-dog. "It’s kind of what we do every winter: We train dogs and we race."

The eight-dog race was 37 miles over two days, while the six-dog was 14 miles each day.

And the stop in Darby — which is a sprint by sled-dog standards — is a crucial stopping point. It's one of just three sled dog events in the state of Montana, according to visitmt.com.

But it's one of Daugereau's favorites anywhere.

"To not sound too cheesy, but I love the community. ...That's the thing that keeps me coming back year after year," she said. "Mushers, we’re out on the trail a lot, so to get the community and get to be with the other mushers, it’s a lot of fun and it’s kind of a good gear up for other races in the season."

For more information on the Darby Dog Derby or other local sled dog events visit: http://www.bitterrootmushers.org

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