Gary (Boo) Boulanger had a bit of a renaissance at Woodbine July 10. Yet another one.
He suffered a serious knee injury in June 2020 and has spent months of rehab to recover after surgery – just after he was to have been inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame. He’s known this rock and rolling motion of horse racing for his entire career. Up one day, down the next. He’s had two potentially career ending – perhaps even life ending – injuries before. And he’s always made it back. Won a Queen’s Plate after one of them.
Now he’s 53, a new father, and you would think one just doesn’t bounce like one used to. But Boulanger is bouncing.
Perhaps it had something to do with his new family. His son, Cristian, with partner Jennifer Petricca, was born last November, and brightened up Boulanger’s days during lockdown. But Saturday at Woodbine, Boulanger was riding the favourite in a stakes race – the undefeated Lorena in the $125,000 Fury Stakes. He was lucky to get on her. “Bring him,” Boulanger told Petricca. The toddler seems to have become a good-luck charm. He made his debut on television after the Fury, in his father’s arms in the winner’s circle, mesmerized by the fuzzy head of the microphone.
Boulanger never wanted to become just an ordinary rider if he made yet another comeback. And it is clear, after Saturday, that he is not. He has dazzled racing circuits in Seattle and Florida over the years. He exploded Gary Stevens’ win record at Longacres in Seattle. He’s now in two racing Halls of Fame. He needed to ride like he could ride. He wouldn’t ride until he was ready.
Out of six mounts, Boulanger won four races, a grand slam. He had picked up two mounts from injured jockey Daisuke Fukumoto. He got to ride Lorena in a similar way. She had won her first race, spectacularly by 7 ½ lengths under Rafael Hernandez last November. Trainer Stuart Simon had promised Hernandez the mount. Boulanger just needed to work horses in the morning on his way to a comeback. Lorena was one of the first mounts he got on in the mornings. But after the start of this delayed season, Hernandez was injured, too. So Boulanger got the ride in Lorena’s first start of this season, and won with her by three lengths, repelling all rivals.
So he got to keep her for the Fury.
She’s a splendid daughter of Souper Speedy (whose offspring gave Boulanger half of his wins on Saturday). The fillies for the seven-furlong Fury were brought over to the paddock without their grooms having vests to identify them. Perhaps something to do with not having enough time to sanitize them. The Fury was the ninth race of 11 on the card.
But Lorena stood out, her dark coat gleaming, her eyes bright, arching her neck toward her groom. Looking better than a Munnings painting. You just knew who it was. Boulanger inherited the motherlode.
Boulanger sat out the first three races on the card. But in the fourth race, he was on an unraced 3-year-old filly, Miss Speedy, trained by Denise McClachrie. Her assistant trainer is Petricca.
His win with Miss Speedy was a beautiful thing. Miss Speedy dropped to last out of the gate, three lengths behind the rest of the field in a 5 ½-furlong sprint. But by the turn, the filly had caught the field and sneaked up on the inside until she couldn’t. Boulanger took her around another filly, then was caught behind a wall of horses in the stretch. He pointed her toward a hole in a five-horse charge and burst through to win easily by 3 ¾ lengths. It seemed as if Boulanger had come from nowhere.
In the fifth race, Boulanger had picked up Fun Cool, an 8 to 1 shot that he had inherited from Fukumoto. This was a 4 ½ furlong race for 2-year-olds and Fun Cool had never run before either. She was running for a small outfit by trainer Dale Desruisseaux, who had yet to win a race in seven starts at Woodbine this season.
Fun Cool broke from an outside tenth post. Boulanger hustled the daughter of Old Forester out of the gate and settled in fourth on the outside. They never saw the rail, but charged past the rest to win by daylight. Boulanger sat chilly on the filly and showed her the whip only once.
Boulanger finished fourth with another Fukumoto gift, Twocankeepasecret, a 23 to 1 shot. The rider sat out the $150,000 Selene Stakes, won decisively by Mark Casse’s Ghostzapper filly, Our Flash Drive, ridden by Patrick Husbands.
Boulanger refused to let us be bored in the eighth race, riding a 4 to 1 shot, War Machine, trained by Michael Stidham. He took the lead early but late in the stretch of the 7 ½-furlong race, was swarmed by two others, the most dangerous being Sam-Son Farm’s Small Talk, which pushed aggressively up the rail. War Machine won in a head bob.
Then came the Fury Stakes with Lorena, a $37,580 U.S, purchase by a group that includes former jockey Gerry Olguin. She was up against Astrological, a half-sister to Woodbine Oaks winner Dixie Moon, so striking when she was a yearling that Mark Casse paid $350,000 US for her at the Keeneland sale for Gary Barber and Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners.
Although Lorena had won her first start coming from behind, Boulanger sent Lorena to the lead. She had broken sharply, just as he had in her first start with him. She clicked off some good fractions, but then Astrological, under Emma-Jayne Wilson, made a bold move on the outside around the turn and engaged Lorena. After a furious charge, Lorena held Astrological safe by three-quarters of a length in 1:23.94.
Third was Curlin’s Catch, who made a threatening move in the stretch, but could not catch the leaders. She’s another horse from the Casse barn, a $420,000 purchase last year. She’s a daughter of Sam-Son Farm’s Catch the Thrill, champion 2-year-old filly in Canada in 2006. Earlier this season, Curlin’s Catch finished fifth behind Malathaat in the Ashland Stakes at Keeneland. She was fifth in the Princess Elizabeth Stakes last year, a race her mother won.
That fourth win of the day? “It’s everything we work for and that we want,” Boulanger said afterwards. “Everybody wants to do well, especially coming back from injuries, but sometimes it’s harder to get back into that light. I’ve been fortunate to have been involved with some great people that have given me the opportunities, like Stu and everybody else. It’s a lot of fun just getting back.”
Lorena has just launched herself as a major contender for the $500,000 Woodbine Oaks on August 1, only three weeks away in a compacted stakes season. Boulanger said although she bursts out of the gate, she’s manageable, and responds to his questions. “She listens to me,” he said. “She’s not running through the bridle. She’s running with a comfortable stride.”
Trainer Simon isn’t immediately jumping on the Oaks bandwagon yet. The filly is still quite unseasoned and inexperienced, with only three races under her belt. He doesn’t think running the distance of the Oaks will be a problem, but “I hate to put too much” on her yet, he said. “I’ll take it under careful consideration,” he said. Simon has had a slow start to the season, with only one previous win in 18 starts. Still, he’s considering the filly.
Boulanger hustled back for the 10th race, and wearing (appropriately) silks with golden eagles on the chest and back, was headed for victory with 8 to 5 shot Emmeline, when Davy Moran bolted past him to win with 29 to 1 shot Miss Marie, a filly making only her second career start. Emmeline had finished second to Our Flash Drive in her previous start.
It was a day that will set Boulanger back on the path he seeks, with his son in his arms, the wind beneath his wings, apparently. He was asked: “Is this boy a future jockey?” (Boulanger already has an older son, Brandon, who rides in the United States, and has experienced bursts of success, and in the past couple of years, big dry spells.)
No, no, no, no, Boulanger said, with decision (and wisdom) in his voice. Fugeddaboutit. Not a chance.