04/19/2013 2:10PM

Woodbine: Gary Boulanger returns to riding after serious injuries, stint as trainer

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Michael Burns
Gary Boulanger, seen winning the 2001 Woodbine Oaks aboard Dancethruthedawn, has resumed riding after sustaining severe injuries in a 2005 spill.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario – Gary Boulanger was the toast of the town here back in 2001, winning the Queen’s Plate and Woodbine Oaks aboard Canada’s champion 3-year-old filly, Dancethruthedawn.

Boulanger, after winning 153 races for earnings of more than $9 million in two campaigns here, did not return the following season, however, saying his move home to southern Florida was a “family decision.”

But on Wednesday night, Boulanger checked back into Woodbine for another go-around, having returned this year from a lengthy absence following a spill at Gulfstream Park in 2005 that resulted in critical injuries.

“I crushed my skull when I went down at Gulfstream,” said the 45-year-old Boulanger, who was born in Edmonton, Alberta. “They excavated half my skull and had to put it back. I also ruptured my spleen and had it removed. They said I’d never ride again. For years, I battled seizures.”

Boulanger, who had ridden 3,117 winners for earnings of more than $56 million, did return to the racetrack in 2009, but as a trainer.

“People talked me into training,” Boulanger said. “I was getting on my horses myself. But it’s a different game, being a trainer. There was a lot of frustration.”

Boulanger was still training in Florida this winter, even though he started considering a return to the saddle last November.

“I wasn’t happy with the rides I was getting, and jockeys were saying they couldn’t ride them the way I wanted them to,” Boulanger said. “So, I decided to ride them myself. It took me until February until I got cleared by my doctor.”

Boulanger, who returned to action at Tampa Bay Downs on Feb. 17, could ride only the horses he trained, and within a couple of weeks, he had turned in his trainer’s license to broaden his horizons.

“I’d started getting on horses for Mark Casse in January, up in Ocala,” Fla., Boulanger said. “I was getting on some nice horses, like Uncaptured, Delegation, Delightful Mary. Then I rode a horse for Mark at Tampa. People had been asking me about coming home to Canada. Mark asked me what my plans were and said if I came up here, he’d ride me.”

Boulanger rode a stakes winner for Casse in March, guiding Conquestor to victory in the colts-and-geldings division of the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Sprint Stakes. That was his first win since his return, and heading into this weekend, he had won two races from 21 mounts, equaling his victory total from 43 starters as a trainer.

Boulanger was represented by Gary Kemplen, now the agent for Patrick Husbands, during his previous stint here but will have Ken Zweig booking his mounts this time around.

“I’ve been off eight years; people are going to have questions about me,” said Boulanger, who was slated to make his meet debut aboard a Casse runner Saturday and has four mounts Sunday, including Delegation in the allowance prep for the Eclipse Stakes. “But I’m thankful for this opportunity.”

Track adjusts draw schedule

There will be a change in the racing office’s entry schedule this year as Wednesday programs will be drawn on Fridays. Wednesday cards previously were drawn Sunday.

Steve Lym, racing secretary and director of racing for Woodbine, explained that budgetary considerations are behind the change.

“We can draw Tuesdays through Fridays, have a smaller staff Saturday and Sunday, and the office will be closed on Mondays, unless it’s a racing Monday,” he said.

Wednesdays will be dark days following the holiday Monday programs of July 1, Aug. 5, Sept. 2, and Oct. 14, and those Monday cards will be drawn on Fridays.

Speaking of draws, the ceremonial post-position draw for the Woodbine Oaks has become a victim of the Woodbine Entertainment Group’s cost-cutting measures.

The special draws remain scheduled for the Queen’s Plate, Woodbine Mile, and Canadian International.

The traditional Queen’s Plate breakfast will be back, but the popular Queen’s Plate barbecue, in which entrants had an opportunity to parade in front of assembled onlookers, has been dropped.