Monday Morning Message with Jason Beem Sept. 18, 2023

September 18th, 2023

A good Monday morning to you all! Writing to you from a small town somewhere in Southern Kentucky on my way back home to Florida after an amazing trip up to Woodbine this weekend. I discussed the trip and all the racing from Woodbine on my podcast for today, so if you’d like to hear about that you can find my thoughts there. It was such a blast, and I was thrilled to not only see many friends at Woodbine, but to get a chance to go to Mohawk Harness as well.

I wanted to use today’s column to talk about the retirement of jockey Gary Boulanger. I left Woodbine at about 5 a.m. on Sunday and started my trek south. I was gassing up in Toledo, Ohio when I saw the story that Gary had announced he was retiring from the saddle. Gary’s riding career had several chapters. His first mount was at Tampa Bay Downs back in February of 1987, and his first Thoroughbred win came at Delta Downs a few months later.

According to Equibase, he won 3,685 races and had purse earnings of over $83 million. He won 42 graded stakes events, all of them Grade 2 or Grade 3, and captured the Queen’s Plate in 2001 with Dancethruthedawn in 2001. 

His career and life nearly ended in 2005 after a terrible spill at Calder that took him out of the saddle until 2013. Reading articles from back then, it seemed that he and his doctors both agreed he would never ride again. Upon returning to racing in 2013, eight years after that accident, he enjoyed some outstanding years in the mid-2010s in what was a truly great second act as a jockey.

Gary Boulanger is a member of the Canadian Racing Hall of Fame, but he’s also a member of the Washington Racing Hall of Fame. Growing up in the Seattle area and going to Longacres all the time with my dad, Gary Boulanger was my favorite jockey when I was younger. I used to get the media guides each year and would study the history of all the stakes races and read the bios of all the jockeys. 

Gary had an insanely dominant stretch of riding at Longacres from 1989 to 1991. He won three straight riding titles and a slew of stakes races to go with those. He was the sixth leading rider in the 60-plus-year history of Longacres, and he only rode there for a few years.

I really believe that many of us who became fans of horse racing as kids think we’ll be a jockey some day. I used to go home after the races each day and ride my bike and pretend I was Gary Boulanger, making all the right moves to win the race. 

Over time, I think our heroes can change and evolve. We might love Ken Griffey Jr. for a few years, then it’s Edgar Martinez, and then we move on to Ichiro Suzuki being our favorite player. However, whether it’s nostalgia or just a love of the past, I think our childhood sports idols always stay on a lofty perch in our heads and hearts. Gary Boulanger surely did for me. 

All these years later, I always found myself rooting for him and excited when I’d see him win a race. The fact that Gary Boulanger was riding the horse was enough for me to feel an investment, whether I had a bet down or not.

I will always be a Gary Boulanger fan, even in retirement. I hope we hear from him in horse racing as he moves into another stage of his life and career. There’s an old adage about “never meet your heroes.” Gary was proof that saying isn’t always right. 

I got to meet Gary in 2019, and he couldn’t have been nicer. I got to interview him on my show twice, and both times he was fantastic, even though the first time I was basically just fan-boying him with questions like, “Remember when you won the Lassie Stakes with Peterhof’s Patea? That was cool.”

I feel really lucky to have been at Fort Erie this past Tuesday to watch him ride the Prince of Wales Stakes, which, as it turned out, was his final mount. It wasn’t the storybook ending with a walk-off win, but given the bad injury of 2005 and all the twists and turns a rider’s life and career can take, I think it’s a happy ending to this chapter. So let me say best of luck to Gary Boulanger in his retirement and whatever he takes on next. Thank you so much for all the memories.