09/23/2016 10:31AM

Don Chung wins wild finish at Woodbine

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Some people believe that contests hurt racing’s overall handle by encouraging horseplayers to compete amongst themselves rather than participate in the pari-mutuel pools. The real numbers, however, tell a different tale. Racetrack executives around the country have been impressed over the years by the percentage of the on-track handle that the players in the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge contribute – some estimates have had that number as high as 20 percent.

But last weekend’s $3,500 contest at Woodbine produced numbers even more impressive. The contest was announced just two weeks before, meaning the field was on the small side with just 23 entries. These players bet $90,262 within the contest. At the BCBC, that intra-contest number is the only one that’s for certain as players’ extra-contest bets aren’t officially tracked and can only be estimated. It is possible, however, to track out-of-contest wagers at Woodbine because the players all sit in a separate room – the Woodbine Tent. That room handled an impressive $93,563 outside the contest for a total wagered in the tent of $183,825. That number marks an incredible 36 percent of the on-track handle of $510,000. And keep in mind these are so-called “golden dollars,” where the track keeps the most money of any bets made anywhere.

The contest was won by Don Chung of Clifton Park, N.Y., and it was notable for a fantastic finish. Heading into the last race, the Woodbine Mile, four players had around $5,000 with the prizes going to the top three. The first finisher was to receive a Breeders’ Cup seat and a National Handicapping Championship seat, second a BCBC seat, and third and NHC seat. Woodbine rules required players to bet half their bankrolls up to $2,000 in one of the last two races.

Here was the leaderboard going into the Woodbine Mile:

Michael Gotkin 5,310.90

Allan Schaffer 5,300.00

Ali Askoy 5,269.00

Don Chung 5,088.00 (USA)

Gotkin, the leader, was able to play it safe. In the previous race, he’d cashed his $500 win-place-show bet on Milwaukee Mist to grab the lead. His minimum bets all made, he wagered just $180: $120 worth of exactas and $60 worth of trifectas. Unfortunately for him, he ran 1-3-4 in his tri because he left out Tower of Texas. Still, by playing conservatively, he ended up holding second and getting a BCBC seat with $5,130.90.

Schaffer still had to make his big bet in the last. He chose to do so by putting $1,000 win-place on Mutakayyef. For a moment in midstretch he was looking pretty good until the great mare Tepin quickened away from that rival. Schaffer’s hopes of finishing in the money were dashed. He finished fifth with $2,460.

Ali Ashkoy was similarly unlucky, actually even more so. He really just needed Mutakayyef to run second to Tepin. He had a $1,200 straight Tepin-Mutakayyef exacta, a $600 Mutakayyef-Tepin backup, and then two other backups, $600 Tepin-Full Mast, and a $100 exacta Tepin-Glenville Gardens. That was it for Ashkoy, who finished fourth with $2,669.

Don Chung had a nice hit in race 11. His main bet was a $100 exacta part-wheel 1-10 with 1-3-5-7-9-10. That missed, but he also played a back-up ticked, $100 exacta 3 with 1-10. When Milwaukee Mist won and 9-1 Cito was second, that came the best way possible. Each $2 paid $89 and Chung was suddenly in the hunt. Had the 5-2 favorite Seeking the Bay gotten second, he wouldn’t have had nearly the return.

In the last, Chung bet only $400, perhaps figuring that some of his opposition would fall by the wayside having to plunge up to $2,000. He caught a $20 trifecta part-wheel that returned $993, enough to get him to the top spot with $5,602.

In the end, John Fisher got third and the NHC spot, proving once again that all you really need in a live-bank contest is a chip and a chair. He was down to his last $300 and he played a $75 trifecta, Tepin, with four price horses, with Mutakayyef. One of his prices was Tower of Texas so he ended up with over $3,700 and an NHC spot.

Stewart Winograd 6 months ago
I'm impressed with the fortitude of these players.  Are these normal-sized bets for them, or did the contest rules force them to make bigger bets than normal?  If so, how did they handle that added pressure?