April 12th, 2024

Hall of Fame jockey Boulanger relishing new role with CamHaven Farms

By Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press on March 26, 2024.

When Gary Boulanger retired in September to end a Hall of Fame career as a champion jockey, he wasn't sure what might lay ahead. But the Alberta native is remaining involved in horse racing as the farm manager for CamHaven Farms. Boulanger celebrates after winning the Queen's Plate with Dancethruthedawn at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto on Sunday June 24, 2001. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

When Hall of Fame jockey Gary Boulanger retired in September, it was to an uncertain future.

Boulanger was walking away from horse racing on his own terms but with no idea regarding what was ahead. However, the 56-year-old Drayton Valley, Alta., native has found the ideal place to best apply the lessons learned over 30-plus years of riding and 3,685 career wins — including the 2001 Queen’s Plate — as the farm manager of CamHaven Farms in Caledon, Ont.

“I was pretty open-minded on everything,” Boulanger said. “I was just enjoying my son and being a dad for a while and not emphasizing exactly what I was going to get into next.

“I kind of said, ‘We’ll see what happens,” and then this kind of fell into my lap.”

And he’s being given plenty of latitude in his present post. Upon Boulanger’s hiring March 13, CamHaven said the former jockey “will be spearheading all aspects of our farm pertaining to rehabilitation, post-surgical recovery, breaking young stock and fitness development for all breeds.”

Boulanger will also work with Steve Flint, CamHaven Farms’ trainer.

“I’m grateful they’re giving me the opportunity to show my knowledge regarding the development of horses, even just fitness development for horses coming off a layoff,” he said. “People who knew me at the track knew I wasn’t just a jockey, I was a horseman who understands horses.

“Working with Steve, it’s a learning process in some aspects as well but I did train horses for a year and a half when I was hurt (2009-10) and won races as a trainer in Florida (Gulfstream Park West). I’ve done many different things but I think my background is more about horsemanship because I know a lot about horses.”

And one lesson experience has taught Boulanger is no two horses are alike.

“They’re not all made the same, they’re not all developed the same,” he said. “It’s being able to recognize the ones you need to maybe back off their training because they’re not getting it and we don’t want to cause problems mentally where they start not liking what their job is.

“There’s also recognizing the ones that need to go forward because we don’t want to bore them. Horses may be similar in many ways, but no two are exactly the same.”

CamHaven Farms is a state-of-the-art facility specializing in equine rehabilitation, post-surgical recovery and fitness development. It is located on 50 acres of land.

“For anyone who hasn’t been there, your jaw would hit the floor,” Boulanger said.

“They’ve got a cold-water spa, an aqua-treadmill, a regular treadmill and a scale that can weigh anything. The barn has heated floors that are cleaned every day and are just pristine. The only thing I haven’t seen is the track because of the weather but it’s a 5/8th of a mile track with a starting gate so you can introduce the babies to when they get to that stage so they don’t go to the track cold or blind.”

Boulanger enjoyed a distinguished career as a jockey that began in 1987 and has taken him to tracks across North America. He has registered 90 stakes wins, including the Plate and 2001 Woodbine Oaks with filly Dancethruthedawn.

“That (Plate) will always stay with me,” he said. “If you ask any rider what race they want to win in Canada, it’s that one.

“It takes a little bit of everything to win it and when you do, it’s the greatest feeling.”

In 2017, Boulanger received the Avelino Gomez Memorial Award for outstanding contribution to horse racing in Canada. Three years later, he was inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame.

But it’s been anything but a smooth ride. Like most jockeys, Boulanger has battled numerous injuries but he was involved in a life-threatening spill Jan. 30, 2005 at Gulfstream.

He required surgery for a ruptured spleen, broken ribs and a detached tendon in his left elbow. But the accident also caused the formation of a blood clot that had to be removed, forcing surgeons to take away a section of Boulanger’s skull to avoid damage to his brain caused by swelling.

Twice Boulanger flatlined on the operating table.

Miraculously, Boulanger resumed racing in 2013. And although he spent 10 more years on the track, he sensed the time was right to call it a career.

“You always want to win those big races more and more but when you’re not having that quality of horses presented to you … ,” he said. “I wasn’t going to stick around and gallop horses just so I could ride three or four a week.

“I got to leave on my terms this time. I had a good career, I didn’t have anything left to prove I’m proud of what I did and I’m very thankful to the people who gave me opportunities. I can walk away and go into the next phase.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 26, 2024.

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