Jockey Boulanger Ponders a Woodbine Homecoming
Gary Boulanger, who guided filly Dancethruthedawn to victory in the 2001 edition of the Queen's Plate, is on the verge of returning home to Canada in a remarkable comeback from serious injury.
“I'm looking at all my options (for a return to riding full time), but Woodbine is my top choice right now,” said the 45-year-old Boulanger, over the phone from Florida where he is currently galloping horses for trainer Mark Casse.
Boulanger won 153 races at Woodbine over a two-year span from 2000-2001 and recently recorded his first win in eight years when he guided Conquestor to victory in the OBS Sprint Stakes, in Ocala, Florida, on March 11.
“Mark told me if I got clearance to ride, he'd let me ride him (Conquestor),” said Boulanger. “Winning on Conquestor was a big push and, business wise; it's a smart approach to stay with a guy like Mark and go up to Woodbine.”
Boulanger, a native of Edmonton, Alberta, moved his tack south to Florida after 2001, where he continued to ride at the highest level before a terrible fall at Gulfstream Park in 2005 put the journeyman's life on hold.
Boulanger remembers little of the accident that occurred when his mount, In Hand, lost his footing and fell after entering the final turn of the Mac Diarmida Handicap.
“I only know what happened because of the videotape,” said Boulanger. “A lot of my memory was jogged. I had some short-term memory issues.”
Injuries incurred from the spill were extensive including a ruptured spleen, which ultimately had to be removed, broken ribs and a detached tendon in his left elbow.
“I don't remember the day or the accident,” said Boulanger. “I remember parts of the hospital and parts of the rehab.”
Doctors removed a blood clot from Boulanger's brain and, in order to relieve cranial pressure, part of his skull was removed and then put back in place.
Boulanger suffered a seizure in 2007, but for the past three years his condition has improved immensely and after passing a series of tests from his neurologist, a medication-free Boulanger was cleared to ride at Tampa Bay Downs in February.
He returned to the races on February 17, at Tampa Bay Downs, aboard Spring a Latch, a horse owned, in part, by his girlfriend Darcy Scudero, finishing ninth.
“I've been discussing a comeback with my girlfriend for over a year,” explained Boulanger. “The biggest issue was getting medical clearance. When the time came, I went to my neurologist and he put me through a few tests and said I was as healthy as an ox.”
With an eye on a full-scale return, Boulanger has been galloping Casse's top horses in Florida, including Kentucky Derby contender Uncaptured, since December, and the rider is keen to stick with a winning team.
“I know Mark will be sending horses to other places (including Keeneland), and whether he will want me to go to a particular place or be at Woodbine for the beginning of the meet will be a contributing factor (in the final decision),” he explained.
Ultimately, Boulanger, with more than 3,000 wins and some $55-million in purse earnings, wants to get back to doing what he loves – – winning races.
“Woodbine was very good to me in the past and hopefully I have some business there and can get back into the full swing of things, instead of picking up a ride here or there,” said Boulanger. “I want to get back to riding four or five a day and building on that.”
And Casse is keen to see Boulanger make the trek north.
“He's fit and he's trim and he may even be a little wiser now,” grinned Casse. “I would sure want him to come up because I think he's a great rider and, to me, I think he's just as good as he's ever been. If he comes (to Woodbine), he'll definitely get business from me.”