From 1917 when Tud Kent won the first American Dog Derby during a blinding blizzard to this year’s 90th-anniversary races, the running of the dogs in Ashton, Idaho is an exciting event rich in history.
The first race, held March 4, 1917, was run from West Yellowstone, MT to Ashton, a distance of 55 miles. The five participants stayed overnight at a fish hatchery when a blizzard slowed the course.
By 1921 an estimated crowd of 10,000 gathered to watch the races, now held entirely in the Ashton area. Special trains brought in hoards of spectators including motion picture companies. Hotels were overflowing. Bars and restaurants as well as gambling spots thrived during the event.
During the depression in 1933 the purse was below average, the entries were few and the course only 16 miles. By 1934 the abundance of snow the previous year gave way to lack of snow, and the race was run with wheels. The mushers bolted their sleds to scooter wagons and ran on the highway leading out of Ashton.
The race discontinued during WWII but fully resumed in 1946. In 1948 musher Lewis Price dropped his dogs via parachute from a plane to the starting line! The big snow winter of 1949 had no races as the roads were blocked for an entire month. Even trains were unable to get through. The races struggled on during the 1950’s with the last race held in 1961. Interest in the dog sled races waned as snowmobiles gained popularity.
In 1993 the Ambassador’s Cup Sports Foundation reinstituted the races. Twenty-one mushers participated that year on a 2-day, round-trip course from Ashton to Island Park. The course has now been changed to the fields and forest east of Ashton. Participation since 1994 has been increasing as mushers come from all parts of the United States to run their dogs in this historic sled dog race.