Story by: Chris Lomon
TORONTO, June 18, 2021 – His first mount of the 2021 Woodbine season wasn’t a winning one, but for Sahin Civaci, it was a good start.
The fourth race on Woodbine’s opening day card on June 12 attracted a field 11 fillies and mares, 3-year-olds and up, including Pipestone, bred and owned by Chiefswood Stables.
A 4-year-old daughter of Munnings, the dark bay departed the gate as the 3-1 second choice in the seven-furlong journey over the Toronto oval Tapeta.
At the wire, Civaci and Pipestone settled for second prize, 4 ¼-lengths behind the favoured Shedat.
There was no winner’s circle photo, but for Civaci, simply being back in action, to reconnect with the feeling of being in the irons, was a victory in itself.
“Of course, the goal is to always win. But I was happy with the effort and I was happy to ride for Chiefswood and [trainer] Stuart Simon. This mare will be hard to beat next time out. Just to be back racing, it was such a good feeling for myself and for everyone else.”
After a successful run at his hometown oval, Hastings Park, which began in 2014, Civaci made the decision to set up shop in Toronto two years ago.
Being the new jockey on the block presented its share of challenges. But after a modest start at Canada’s Showplace of Racing, he would eventually find his stride.
“Coming to a big track like Woodbine can be intimidating to some people, even myself,” who was born in Vancouver but at the age of 10 moved with his parents to their native Ankara, Turkey. “That first year was a little difficult, getting adjusted to a new situation. After I got through all of that, I felt very comfortable. I feel very comfortable now and I’m very happy with where I am at.”
He can readily recall his first trip to the Woodbine winner’s circle and the trip itself.
The milestone moment came on June 5, 2019, aboard Phil’s Glory, an Ontario-bred daughter of Philanthropist.
Sent off at 7-2, Phil’s Glory, bred and then owned by Paul Buttigieg, rallied for a half-length score in the 1 1/16-mile main track race.
“I loved that race. We came from off the pace, we ran down the horse that was on the lead and got them at the wire. It was definitely rewarding. I got a lot of calls from people back at Hastings. I have a lot of support from back there, so it meant a lot to have so many people reach out to congratulate me.”
Civaci has had plenty of other reasons to celebrate since settling in Ontario.
In 2019, he won 39 races in 363 starts. Last year, he boosted his win total to 47 from 434 starts.
His goals for this year won’t come as a surprise.
“I want win more races than I did in 2020 and to also be in more races, and in the bigger races. I was really happy with last year’s performance. Each year, it seems like it is getting better and better, and opportunities are opening up for me. I’m just pleased with how everything is going.”
That would also apply to his life away from the races.
When he’s not getting a leg up, Civaci can be found indulging in his passion for gaming, going for a walk with his girlfriend Alyssa, or taking care of their pet hedgehog, Bruce.
“I like going out for walks with my girlfriend, and we’ll also watch movies on Netflix too,” said the 27-year-old, who lists the 1996 movie Jingle All the Way as his all-time favourite. “I love to play videogames, too, so I do that a lot. You just really try to take advantage of any downtime you get. It’s a good balance to have. I’m very happy with how things are in my life.”
The rider with 202 lifetime wins, including a victory aboard Calgary Caper in the Grade 3 BC Premier’s Handicap three years ago, will hope to echo those same words at the conclusion of this year’s Woodbine Thoroughbred meet.
He’s looking forward to the journey.
“I’m going to continue to work hard to get more opportunities to ride. The key for me is to always do better than the year before. That’s what pushes me every time I go into the gate. Win or lose, I always give my best.”