updated 5/3/2009 9:41:22 AM ET 2009-05-03T13:41:22

The ice on Alaska's Tanana River has broken apart and now two lucky winners who guessed the timing of that much-awaited annual event will split a jackpot of nearly $284,000.

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"My reaction was disbelief," Claudia Russell said Saturday after learning she was a co-winner of the Nenana Ice Classic. "When I realized it was real, I was ecstatic."

Cherrie Forness, manager of the betting game that is an annual rite in Alaska, said the ice "went out" Friday at 8:41 p.m. local time.

Russell, a Juneau resident, and Stephen Gregory, of Galena, were the only ones to pick the exact time of the ice breakup.

Russell has placed bets on the classic since 1966 and said in a telephone interview that she once came within a minute of the correct time.

This year's jackpot was $283,723, down from nearly $304,000 in 2008.

As for her share of the cash, Russell said, "I'm just going to look at it for a while."

A huge wooden tripod is set up on the river ice and wired to a clock in a watchtower on shore. The winning time is determined when the ice moves enough to tighten the wire and trip the clock. Forness said a 71-degree high in Nenana last Monday raised the chances that the ice breakup was in the offing.

The Ice Classic was launched in 1917 by Alaska Railroad workers trying to pass the long northern winter while waiting for spring breakup. Now thousands of Alaskans — and even some outside the state — participate in the classic.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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