TORONTO – Jockey Gary Boulanger, whose numerous career highlights include a Queen’s Plate victory, has decided to call it a career.
“It’s the right time,” Boulanger, 55, told Woodbine Communications. “I don’t feel I have anything left to prove. I am so grateful to all the trainers, owners and my fellow riders for their support. Just like anyone who rides horses, there are many ups and downs, but you always find a way to persevere.”
Boulanger, who won three straight titles in Washington State, would understand that perhaps more than most.
A 2020 Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame inductee, the native of Alberta enjoyed great success over a career that included devastating injuries. He overcame back problems, which required extensive surgery in the late 1990s, and came back from an eight-year absence precipitated by a spill at Gulfstream, which led to life-threatening injuries, in 2005.
The aftermath of the spill on January 30, 2005, resulted in fractured ribs, a ruptured spleen, torn elbow tendons, a blood clot, and brain damage that required doctors to remove part of his skull to ease the swelling.
On two occasions, he flatlined on the operating table.
No one believed he’d ever ride again, including Boulanger.
But after breezing horses for champion trainer Mark Casse, he rode his first race in eight years at Tampa Bay Downs in 2013. His first victory after the accident came on a Casse horse.
With a return to the saddle came a new perspective on the sport.
“I felt more in-tune with the horses, having more of a connection with them than I ever had. And it was a great feeling.”
As was the feeling Boulanger got when he would bring a horse back to the winner’s circle.
“I love seeing the team win. I like getting to know the horses, the grooms, everyone at the barn,” said Boulanger, who won the 1996 Fountain of Youth (G2) with 143-1 Built For Pleasure. “These people in our industry work hard – the trainers, the grooms, the exercise riders, the farriers, everyone. I have a smile on my face when I visit with them. There are a lot of people that have jobs they don’t want to be at. I always couldn’t wait to get to the track. Who will I see? What horses can I see? What will today bring? It’s something I always looked forward to.”
His two biggest highlights came at Woodbine.
Moving his tack to the Toronto oval in June 2000, Boulanger partnered Dancethruthedawn, the outstanding Sam-Son Farm homebred filly, to victory in the 2001 Queen’s Plate and Woodbine Oaks.
In 2017, Boulanger received the Avelino Gomez Memorial Award.
The award is given to the person, Canadian-born, Canadian-raised or regular rider in the country for more than five years, who has made significant contributions to the sport, and is named in memory of one of the sport's most heralded and loved performers.
“It’s one of the greatest moments in my career,” said Boulanger, who forged a strong friendship and prosperous partnership with fellow Albertan, trainer Stuart Simon. “To be recognized by your peers and to be part of a very select group is something I will always treasure.”
As he will the numerous stakes winners, 90 in all, that he piloted to victory.
Boulanger, whose son Brandon also rides, retires with 3,685 career victories and $83,543,336 in purse earnings.
The man with a reputation for beating the odds on and off the racetrack will now take time to ponder the next chapter in his life.
A career in racing is certainly a strong consideration.
“I’m not quite sure what is next, but I love the horses, the horse people and the sport,” said Boulanger, who also has a three-year-old son Cristian with wife Jennifer Petricca. “I would like to stay connected to racing, so we’ll see what happens. For now, I want to spend time with my family and reflect on how lucky I was to be a jockey. To everyone who supported me… I can’t thank you enough.”
Gary Boulanger in May 2022 at Woodbine. (Michael Burns Photo).
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