09/14/2009 11:00PM

Boulanger gets second career off ground

Jim Lisa
Gary Boulanger (right) with Tinkerbuck, his first winner as a trainer.

MIAMI - Gary Boulanger doesn't recall very much about the afternoon of Jan. 30, 2005, or much, in fact, about the month that followed the final mount of his riding career. Most of what he knows about the incident comes from watching tapes of the spill he took aboard In Hand about one mile into the Mac Diarmida Handicap at Gulfstream Park.

"All I recall is that we were moving on the last turn when my horse slipped," said Boulanger. "His front feet went in one direction, his back feet in another direction, and I went flying in the air to the inside, and after I hit the ground a couple of horses ran over me."

Boulanger spent the next 16 days in the hospital, undergoing several surgeries to remove his spleen and repair a hematoma on his brain.

"Eddie Castro, who was also involved in the spill, told me I got up after the accident, walked a few steps, and then fell back down," said Boulanger. "He said I told the ambulance crew I was fine and gave them a hard time about trying to take me to the hospital. When I finally got there, a CAT scan revealed a ruptured spleen and lacerated kidney. After they brought me out of the first surgery to remove my spleen, my head began to swell, so they did another CAT scan and found a hematoma in my brain. The doctors put me right back into surgery and pretty much had to take off the right side of my skull to repair the damage. They said I went flat line a couple of times during the second operation and that the only reason I survived was because I was so fit. It was a long ordeal but I survived, and now I have my kids along with a new career to look forward to every day."

Boulanger's new career is training horses, and 4 1/2 years after his nightmarish spill, he was finally back in the winner's circle after saddling Tinkerbuck to victory here in . The victory was Boulanger's first as a trainer.

"It took a while to get the first one, but I'm glad to finally get it out of the way," said Boulanger who will turn 42 in November. 'She was also the first horse I started early in the meet. I was training off a farm back then, but things have really picked up since I finally got stalls at the track in mid-July. Training on this surface is a must if you're going to do any good here."

Boulanger, who has five horses under his care, certainly had no trouble finding his way into the local winner's circle as a jockey, having won the 1994 and 1995 Calder and 1994 Tropical at Calder riding titles. He retired, albeit prematurely, with 3,117 victories, 178 of those stakes wins, 23 in graded races.

"The highlights of my career were undoubtedly the victory aboard Dancethrudawn in the 2002 Queen's Plate and the opportunity I had to ride the Kentucky Derby several years later," said Boulanger, a Canadian native, who guided Chilito to an 11th-place finish behind Real Quiet in the 1998 Derby.

"I always had people approaching me while I was riding about the possibility of going into training," said Boulanger. "But I just wasn't ready to retire at the time."

Boulanger was ready to start training a couple of years ago but a seizure in November of 2007 delayed those plans.

"The doctors had to increase my medication after the last seizure and I had to wait a full year before I could even consider coming out to the track on a regular basis," said Boulanger. "I still have some good days and some bad ones and still have to deal with the migraines and feeling weak and tired now and then. But I'm at the barn every morning and it's a blessing I had something I knew so well to fall back on - working with horses - rather than having to go out and train myself to do something new."

Boulanger gets on most of his own horses each morning, although he said any thoughts about launching a comeback as a jockey is out of the question.

"I jog and gallop my own, but the doctors would never clear me to ride races again," said Boulanger. "In fact I just hired an exercise rider to help take some of the pressure and workload off in the morning. Training is a lot like riding for me. There's always something new to learn, although obviously it's a whole different way. Fortunately I grew up with cutting horses when I was a kid - we were always taking care of legs with the young horses back then - so basically I'm falling back on a lot of things I already knew."