ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) _ Jerry Austin, in his seventh Iditarod Sled Dog Race, led 70 other mushers in a 60-mile dash to Cripple as the 14th annual race neared its halfway mark Friday.

Austin, who arrived in Ophir about a half-hour ahead of Terry Adkins of Sand Coulee, Mont., on Thursday, left 59 minutes ahead of Adkins. The first one to Cripple wins a trophy and $2,500 in silver.

The 1,100-mile race from Anchorage to Nome has a purse of $200,000 for the first 20 finishers.

Meanwhile, 15th-place Vern Halter of Trapper Creek was fined $500 for beating a dog, said Burt Bomhoff, president of the Iditarod Trail Committee.

The dog was not injured, but another animal-care infraction will disqualify Halter from the race, Bomhoff said.

Halter was filmed hitting and kicking one of his lead dogs, apparently frustrated by its refusal to obey orders. The dog was later seen back in harness at the lead of the team.

''When I looked at the film, I thought the fine was probably appropriate,'' said Halter. ''It looked awful, didn't it? I didn't think I was hitting him that hard.''

Halter said he was not trying to injure the animal.

''He's my best leader,'' the veteran musher said. ''He's a pet. He runs around the house at home. I guess you hurt the ones you love the most.''

The top 20 mushers all had left Ophir by early Friday.

Groups of three and four mushers continued to depart Ophir through the night Thursday. The once-bustling Gold Rush community is 473 trail miles from the starting line in Anchorage.

Austin, a fuel distributor from St. Michael, has run the race from Anchorage to Nome seven times, finishing in the top 10 four times. He had 13 dogs when he left Ophir.

Adkins was running 17 dogs and third-place Susan Butcher of Manley had 16. When they reach Nome, mushers must still have at least half the number of dogs with which they started.

The racers continued to be blessed with clear, cold weather - ideal mushing conditions. Temperatures were expected to drop to 15 degrees below zero in the Ophir area, with clear skies.

The mushers were making the most of conditions, with most of the leaders averaging more than 10 mph.

Seventy-one of the 73 mushers who started the race still were in the running Friday, although some were nearly 200 miles behind the leaders.

All but 10 are Alaskans. Other than Adkins and two Minnesotans, there are three Norwegians, two Britons, an Italian and a Swiss.