A dog in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race died on Saturday -- a 7-year-old male named Zaster, the Associated Press reported.

It was the first dog death in this year's race.

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Rookie musher John Stetson left the ailing dog with officials at the Ophir checkpoint early Friday. A necropsy determined aspiration pneumonia as the likely cause of death, according to race officials, who said more tests will be conducted.

Stetson was 60th in the standings. He has since pulled out of the race.

Defending champion Lance Mackey was the first musher out of the Nulato checkpoint Saturday in the 1,100-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, leaving with a team he said was not running at top form.

"I'm not sure they're going to have what it takes," Mackey said of his 14-dog team before leaving Nulato to head to Kaltag, 42 miles away. "But I'm not giving up. A lot can happen between now and Nome." Mackey said his own dogs were finally responding to medicine for lingering diarrhea.

The Sled Dog Action Coalition says that -- though the race officials have never been forthcoming with statistics -- an estimated 134 dogs have died in the race since it began.

For the latest AP account of the race, click here.

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