Written by: Halyley Morrison
Gary Boulanger has beaten the odds, literally, to become one of the most consistent and competitive riders in North America.
And now, the Alberta native has been recognized for his contributions to the sport, on and off the racetrack, as the 2017 recipient of the Avelino Gomez Memorial Award.
What was your first thought when you learned you were receiving the 2017 Avelino Gomez Memorial Award?
“Totally surprised and shocked. I had no idea I was even considered.”
What are some of the significant contributions you’ve made to the sport?
“I think I’ve contributed a lot of knowledge to some young riders. I’ve been a mentor to a lot of people trying to help them become better riders and make the sport itself safer for everybody. I think I’m always going to be the guy who will do the most to help any young rider who is looking for some kind of guidance or insight into what they are doing wrong or what they need to work on.”
Looking back at that fateful day in 2005 when you were seriously injured at Gulfstream and then took a significant amount of time to recover, how do you think that incident and that period of time not being a jockey has shaped the rider we see today?
“Well, I mean I’m obviously very grateful that I was even able to come back because for the longest time doctors were telling me, ‘no way you will never ride again.’ So it was a big hurdle once I got through it. Once I did get cleared, you even throw yourself into the sport more where you wanted to become not only a better rider but a better horseman understanding the horses themselves, forming a better bond with the animals you’re riding, getting to know them more. It wasn’t just ride as many as you can to have more chances. It was more about forming a team, a bond with the animal and learning what their likes and dislikes were and what we had to change to make them a better athlete themselves and then have the opportunity to win more races.”
What sets you apart from other jockeys fighting to get to the top and stay on top of their game?
“I think just my sheer determination. I’ve always been a very hard-working rider. I’m never scared to get on any horses or get on as many horses as possible, see my people on a daily basis, and just work the barn area as hard as you could and find that next big horse. I’m always trying to improve on my timing, my sense of timing. Learning about my horses – that’s the biggest thing I’ve found over the comeback. The more I knew about their characters, the more I knew about them in the morning, the better I could ride accordingly in the afternoon to give us the best possible chance of winning a race.”
You’ve ridden some great horses over the years, but if you had your choice of just one horse to stand and receive the award with you who would it be and why?
“It would probably be Leigh Court. No doubt she is probably the most versatile horse I’ve ever ridden. She was part of the comeback that I picked up in 2014 and had significant success with her. My ability to work with tough horses and get them to settle was the biggest reason Josie (Carroll, Leigh Court’s trainer) went to me. We just seemed to click really well and I just had a great understanding of her and I got to shine with her talent and our two talents together seemed to make a tremendous team.”
You’ve won many major races and received various racing awards over the years. What does winning an award like this mean to you?
“It means the world – it is a very elite field of people that have won this. Like I said, I was totally shocked and surprised. I had no idea I was even a candidate for it. Then when you read up on all the people that have won it and all their accomplishments and what Avelino Gomez really stood for himself, I mean it’s a tremendous honour just to be recognized in those spotlights.”
Where are you going to put your award?
“It will be a very special spot. I don’t know exactly if it’s going to be in the living room or it’s going to be in a showcase or in my office where I do a lot of work and go through the [Daily Racing] Form and watch videos of racing. I’m not exactly sure yet, but it will definitely be an icon spot.”