ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Brent Sass is the leader in the early stages of this year’s Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

Sass was the first musher to leave the Nikolai checkpoint. He and his team of 13 dogs rested just eight minutes in Nikolai, which is 263 miles (423.26 kilometers) into the nearly 1,000-mile (1,609-kilometer) race.

He left Nikolai with an eight-minute lead over defending champion Dallas Seavey.

Aaron Burmeister, who was first into Nikolai, left about two hours behind the two leaders. Also out of Nikolai are Ryan Redington, Richie Diehl, Mille Porsild and three-time champion Mitch Seavey.

The race started Sunday in Willow. The winner is expected sometime early next week in Nome, on Alaska’s western coast.