06/09/2017 12:00PM

Queen's Plate win with King and His Court would cap Boulanger's comeback

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Michael Burns
King and His Court wins the Wando Stakes under Gary Boulanger, who was nearly killed in a riding accident in 2005.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario – Should everything go according to plan in Sunday’s $125,000 Plate Trial at Woodbine, jockey Gary Boulanger will be in a great position heading into the $1 million Queen’s Plate on July 2 with King and His Court.

Many medical professionals would never have guessed that Boulanger would be in this position after he was involved in a spill in the 2005 Mac Diarmida Handicap at Gulfstream Park that almost took his life. Boulanger was trampled after his mount, In Hand, broke down while racing in midpack. Boulanger recalled getting up and walking around shortly after the spill, but it was discovered at the hospital that the injuries were far more severe than first thought.

“I had a ruptured spleen and a bunch of broken ribs,” Boulanger said. “They had to remove the right side of my skull for 2 1/2 months just because of cranial pressure. I flatlined on the table twice during surgery, and they had to paddle me to bring me back to life. They didn’t know if I was going to make it or not. They put me in a coma for 30 days just to slow everything down so my body could have a chance to heal.”

Queen's Plate pedigree analysis: King and His Court

Once out of the coma, Boulanger faced a lengthy recovery, and his doctors told him that he would never ride again.

“It was a good 2 1/2 years before I could even do anything on my own,” Boulanger said. “It was a long, long process, and they had wrote me off. Battling that emotionally was the hardest thing – trying to figure out what you’re going to do in life.”

Boulanger remained around racing and became a trainer for a short time, but eventually, he felt strong enough to get back in the saddle. It was in January 2013, when Boulanger began breezing horses for Mark Casse, that thoughts of a racing comeback began to surface.

“He was looking for a breeze rider,” Boulanger said. “He had seen me breezing horses and would give me a time, and I’d nail a time every time. Kaigun was the horse that brought it all out. I asked him if I got cleared to ride, could I ride this horse? It kind of went from there.”

Boulanger got medical clearance to resume racing, and his comeback race came at Tampa Bay Downs in February 2013, more than eight years after the spill. Boulanger rode a horse he trained, Spring a Latch, to a ninth-place finish in an optional-claiming race and would go on to record his first win back with Conquestor in the OBS Sprint Stakes for Casse.

Boulanger has frequently been aboard Casse’s horses at Woodbine since making his comeback. When Casse purchased King and His Court privately from trainer Alexander Patykewich after the Grade 3 Grey Stakes at Woodbine last October, Boulanger was given the opportunity to ride him in the Coronation Futurity.

“I got on him the week before the Coronation,” Boulanger said. “I worked him, and he kind of impressed me that day. We worked in company with an older horse, and he handled him that day very, very easily.”

King and His Court went on to win both the Coronation Futurity and the Display Stakes to close out the season and was named the Canadian champion 2-year-old male of 2016. He spent the winter in Florida and made his 3-year-old debut in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes on dirt at Tampa Bay Downs in February but trailed throughout.

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“When he came out of the gate, he had no interest in running,” Boulanger said. “He went around there and galloped. We think it might have been surface. It might have been shipping. We’re not 100 percent sure, but he didn’t act like his usual self.”

Things didn’t get much better for King and His Court in the Grade 3 Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park in March, but since returning to Woodbine, he’s become a different horse. Boulanger said King and His Court showed a new dimension in his victory in the Wando Stakes on May 7.

“He showed me a lot more aggressiveness early on,” Boulanger said. “He usually free runs, and then he kicks on. He kind of took a hold of me in the first turn like he wanted to go on and do these horses early, and that’s something he had never done. He’s showing it in the morning as well.”

Boulanger said King and His Court has been training well since the Wando and is at the top of his game going into the Plate Trial. Should everything come together in three weeks and result in Boulanger’s second Queen’s Plate victory – his first with Casse – the 49-year-old jockey said it would be a storybook ending.

“It would mean everything,” he said. “He’s always been a tremendous backer of me. We’ve won some big races already, and this would kind of be the cherry on top.”