ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Mushers from around the world gathered in downtown Anchorage on Saturday for the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

About 2,000 dogs belonging to 72 mushers are waiting their turn to hit the trail this year. The race spans nearly 1,000 miles of Alaska wilderness, including the last stretch when the teams battle the frozen Bering Sea coast en route to the finish line in Nome.

The ceremonial start is a fan-friendly event designed to show off mushing to fans in Alaska’s largest city. Spectators can pet the dogs, mingle with mushers and even grab an autograph or two.

Racers then leave the downtown every two minutes in a staggered start with an Iditarider – people who won auctions for a prime spot in a competitor’s sled – for an 11-mile course on city trails and streets. The official start of the race is Monday.

Dallas Seavey, who turned 30 on Saturday, has won four of the last five Iditarods. He’s looking to join Rick Swenson as the race’s only five-time winners. Five other mushers have four wins. but no one in the past quarter-century has captured the elusive fifth title.