By Eric Wing for woodbine.com
TORONTO, September 20 – In 2016, Ali T. Aksoy twice thought he would win contests at Woodbine. Both times he opened up sizable leads only to be caught late en route to second- and fourth-place finishes.
“I was crushed. Those two losses stayed with me the rest of the year,” said the 70-year-old retired exporter and translator who moved to Toronto from his native Turkey several years after studying at the University of Pittsburgh. “I had seven or eight winners and made the lead each time, but I didn’t make big enough bets to get further in front.“
It was Ali’s wife Aisha who helped get Ali back on a positive path. She encouraged him not only to put the painful defeats behind him, but to learn from them.
“Since then,” Ali said, “I pointed to the Woodbine Mile Day tournament like a horse points to a stakes race.”
[Read our previous profile of Ali T. Aksoy, at this link.]
After that September 16 competition, there was only cause for celebration.
Players started the $3,500-buy-in contest with a $2,000 live bankroll. They were mandated to play $400 each on their choice of five Woodbine races, plus they were required to bet at least have of their existing bankroll on one of the two final races (either the Race 12 Woodbine Mile or Race 13).
Largely on the strength of a pair of wining daily double bets, Aksoy worked his bankroll up to $4,500—good for second place—heading into the Woodbine Mile. And in the big race, he liked multiple stakes winner World Approval.
“I had read where his trainer Mark Casse said that he preferred to have a horse to run at, and I thought things would set up perfectly for him,” said Aksoy. “I bet $3,000 on the race, including $500 to win and $2,500 to show on World Approval. I thought John Velazquez would have to fall off for him not to run at least third.”
When World Approval won and paid $6.70 to win and $3.00 to show, Aksoy found himself leading the field with $5,702.50–$404 more than his nearest competitor Chris Littlemore of Whitby, Ontario.
“It turns out that this time I too did well having a horse to run at—just like World Approval!” Aksoy said of chasing down Littlemore.
But what should he do now? The year before, in this very same tournament, Aksoy stood pat at the end and wound up dropping from first to fourth place. He didn’t want to get passed for a second straight year so he made a $300 place bet on what he thought was the race’s most likely winner, Prized Bourbon. When Prized Bourbon won and paid $4.60 to place as a 3-1 win proposition, Aksoy was alone at the top with $6,092.50. And it’s a good thing he didn’t sit out that 13th race. Littlemore used it to up his total to $5,861.50. Had Aksoy skipped the race, it would have meant another bridesmaid finish.
Instead, Aksoy won his final bankroll plus an additional $15,322 in prize-pool money along with a coveted $10,000 seat plus travel expenses to November’s Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge (BCBC) at Del Mar. And if he manages to win that event, Aksoy will win a special $500,000 Woodbine bonus for capturing both the Woodbine Mile tournament and the BCBC.
It will be his first trip to the rich Breeders’ Cup competition. Joining him there will be runner up Chris Littlemore. And earning berths to the 2018 National Horseplayers Championship (for which Aksoy is already double-qualified) by virtue of their Woodbine Mile tournament performances were 3rd-, 4th- 5th- and 6th-place finishers Gregory Ritza, Paul Shurman, Mark Fienberg and Michael Eisen. Eisen also won a $6,500 bonus as the Woodbine Player of the Year champion based on his performance throughout the track’s four high-profile handicapping contests in 2017. (Aksoy finished third in the overall Player of the Year standings.)
On the heels of his richest tournament score ever (approximately $35,000 in cash and prizes), Aksoy is optimistic that another winning performance at a prestigious “major” competition like the BCBC or NHC is not beyond his grasp.
“Woodbine somehow spawns really good players,” he said. “Brian Troop won the 2010 NHC. Tommy Massis won the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge. Ray Arsenault won the last NHC. Beyond that, a lot of famous composers, artists, newsmakers and actors have come from Canada. Canada seems like a very fertile environment for these things!”
Contest play has clearly proven to be fertile ground for Aksoy and his handicapping acumen. Regardless of what happens at the BCBC, Canada—and Woodbine—can already lay claim to yet another of North America’s very best horseplayers.
Eric Wing is the Communications Director at HorseTourneys and the longtime emcee at the National Handicapping Championship. Prior to joining HorseTourneys, Wing headed up Communications at the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and The New York Racing Association. Eric’s Player Profile will be published monthly on the last Friday of each month on woodbine.com.