Built For Pleasure upsets the Fountain of Youth, paying $288 (Courtesy of Barbara Livingston)
By Phil Janack for Gulfstream Park
HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla.— By late February of 1996, South Florida’s betting public had seen plenty of a nondescript horse named Built for Pleasure. Starting at 2, the Florida-bred son of Homebuilder had made seven of his nine career starts at either Gulfstream Park or Calder Race Course, winning twice, and had already raced three times in the first six weeks of his 3-year-old season.
So, when the Fountain of Youth (G2) rolled around, having attracted a star-studded cast to Gulfstream led by Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) winner Unbridled’s Song, a horse touted by many as the one destined to end a Triple Crown drought that would last for another 19 years, little if any attention was given to Built for Pleasure – until the race was over.
Owned and trained by 78-year-old Tommy Heard Jr., Built for Pleasure got an ideal trip under two-time Calder riding champ Gary Boulanger to run down the heavy favorite and earn the first stakes victory of his career in the prestigious Triple Crown prep by a neck at odds of 143-1, still the biggest upset in race history.
“People ask me about it all the time. They’re like, ‘What’s the biggest winner you’ve ever had?’ Built for Pleasure. Fountain of Youth. 1996,” Boulanger said. “It’s something that you’ll never forget. It’s something that’s always part of your history. It’s a blessing.”
The 1 1/16-mile Fountain of Youth, the next step for 3-year-olds on the road to the $1 million Curlin Florida Derby (G1) April 1, will have its 77th running March 4. Built for Pleasure remains the only horse to have a win payoff in triple digits – $288.20 – breaking the previous record of $88.40 set by Green Gambados in 1974.
“It was amazing. You didn’t even know what his real number was, because it only showed him at 99-1 when we went into the paddock,” Boulanger said. “He’s a big price, he’s got a Calder-based trainer and a Calder-based rider, really, at the time. You’re thinking everything just went the way you wanted it, but you’re not thinking ‘What did he just pay?’ You’re just glad you got there.”
Unbridled’s Song headed to the Fountain of Youth having run second in the Hutcheson (G2) sprinting seven furlongs at Gulfstream to open his sophomore campaign. The Hutcheson winner, Appealing Skier, who also won the 1995 Laurel Futurity, would be back for another run.
Trainer D. Wayne Lukas entered the pair of Editor’s Note, a Grade 3 winner at 2, and Victory Speech, riding a three-race win streak, including back-to-back allowance triumphs at Gulfstream to start the year. Frisco View, who beat Built for Pleasure in a Gulfstream allowance the month before, Gold Fever and graded-stakes winners Gator Dancer and Gomtuu completed the field.
“Going into the Fountain of Youth we were really confident. I loved him going into that race. I knew he’d probably be a price,” Boulanger said. “Gary Stevens was coming in from California to ride [Victory Speech], and I knew he wasn’t going to leave Mike Smith alone with Unbridled’s Song. My horse had learned how to relax and had a really good move, so that had me really, really excited. Did I think I could beat him? Absolutely. I thought I could beat him if the cards fell the right way. It ended up falling out perfectly.”
Boulanger had gotten to know Built for Pleasure that winter, riding him four times at Gulfstream prior to the Fountain of Youth. They finished second to favored Seacliff in the Spectacular Bid (G2) Jan. 7 and ran in two allowance races before the month was out, including the loss to Frisco View. One more allowance was on tap Feb. 12, two weeks before the Fountain of Youth, ending in a front-running head victory in 1:45.36.
“The Spectacular Bid was the first time I rode him. We were just trying to teach him how to relax and use his speed the right way. It was kind of like a teaching process,” Boulanger said. “In the allowance race going two turns before we ran him in the Fountain of Youth … he ran really fast that day, timewise, and he did it the right way. Me and the assistant trainer were really happy with him.”
Built for Pleasure broke from Post 4 in the Fountain of Youth, between Smith and Unbridled’s Song on the rail and Stevens and Victory Speech in Post 6. Gomtuu took the early initiative and led through four furlongs when Unbridled’s Song closed to within a half-length, closely followed by Victory Speech. Boulanger and Built for Pleasure sat sixth, less than a length behind, watching Unbridled’s Song and Victory Speech duke it out.
“Gary went to Unbridled’s Song at about the 4 ½ [furlong] pole, put pressure on him all down the backside. I’m about five or six lengths back, then like three lengths off it turning for home, and I’m sitting on a ton of horse. I absolutely loved the trip I was getting,” Boulanger said. “I got into a really good position early on. He was sitting well and doing everything very comfortably.
“It wasn’t like I had to use him to get any kind of position. He got there very easily, and he was relaxed and doing what I wanted him to do. I was never worried about where I was,” he added. “I thought I was in a great position at the time. Turning for home, I loved where I was. What I didn’t know was how much Mike had with Unbridled’s Song or Gary had with Victory Speech. It worked out that day where everything fell together the right way.”
Boulanger swung Built for Pleasure out fou- wide entering the stretch and came with a steady run to reel in the front-runners approaching the wire and emerge from a three-way photo finish a neck in front of Unbridled’s Song, with Victory Speech another neck back in third. Appealing Skier ran fourth followed by Editor’s Note – who would go on to run second in the Preakness (G1) and win the Belmont (G1).
Interestingly, Built for Pleasure was not even the longest shot in the Fountain of Youth. That honor went to Gomtuu, who was sent off at odds of 144-1.
“It wasn’t a head bob or one of those. I knew I had got by them,” Boulanger said. “At the eighth pole, you’re just working. You don’t know if you’re going to get there or not, but he’s running, they’re running and the wire’s coming. When it did, I knew I got there.”
Built for Pleasure went on to run seventh after pressing a fast early pace in the Florida Derby, with Unbridled’s Song and Editor’s Note finishing 1-2 and Appealing Skier sixth. He would never win another race or run in another grade stakes following a 19th place finish in the Kentucky Derby (G1), in which he was ridden by John Velazquez.
“It’s fun when you work with a horse and you help develop their real talent and it shows up in a race. I wish we could have done things differently in the Florida Derby,” Boulanger said. “That was kind of the downfall for him. It’s unfortunate because the horse had a lot of talent to beat those kind he did.”
Now 55, Boulanger had only moved his tack to South Florida two years prior to winning the Fountain of Youth but found instant success with 1994 and 1995 riding titles at Calder as well as the 1994-95 Tropical Park meet. He had come from the West Coast, riding in Northern California and Washington, where he broke Stevens’ single-season record with 247 wins at Longacres, a 13 ½-hour drive from his birthplace of Drayton Valley, Alberta.
Boulanger is approaching 3,700 career victories including two of Canada’s most prestigious races – the 2001 Queen’s Plate with Hall of Fame filly Dancethruthedawn and 2021 Prince of Wales with Haddassah. The latter came 16 years after Boulanger went down in a near-fatal spill during the Mac Diarmida (G3) at Gulfstream, in which he suffered a ruptured spleen, broken ribs and a detached tendon in his left elbow, and needed part of his skull removed to prevent pressure on his brain.
Told he would never ride again, Boulanger returned in February 2013 at Tampa Bay Downs, two years after Heard passed away at the age of 93. He continues to be a mainstay at Woodbine in Canada, spending the winter with his family in Ocala, Fla.
“In our game, it’s not when you get hurt, it’s how bad. I’ve had some injuries, and I’ve had some bad ones. I’m just grateful that I got to do something that I love to do, and I’m still doing it,” Boulanger said. “I never look back at it. I don’t have any bitter thoughts toward Gulfstream, and I don’t have any bitter thoughts from when I broke my back at Calder. That’s part of our game. If you dwell on all the little things, you’re probably not going to make it back. That was always my goal – what did I have to do to get back do doing what I really love to do – and that’s all I ever focused on.
“Now I’m just trying to get my body to where I want it physically fit-wise going into Woodbine and be prepared the best I can be,” he added. “I’m getting on horses in Ocala, and I have a really good 3-year-old Canadian colt, Twin City, for [trainer] Stu Simon. He’s probably second or third choice for the King’s Plate. He’s as good a 3-year-old Canadian-bred that there is in Canada. I think he’s a bright light in my future, so I’m really excited about him.”
Boulanger was inducted into Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 2020, three years after receiving the Avelino Gomez Memorial Award which recognizes a jockey that has made a significant contribution to the sport.
“Obviously when you’re acknowledged as one of the biggest upsets in a major sporting event, to win that is something you never forget. It’s part of history. It’s something you always cherish,” Boulanger said. “It’s right up there with winning the Queen’s Plate and the Prince of Wales and breaking Gary Stevens’ record. Those were huge accomplishments.
“You’re proud of things like that. You don’t look at it when it really happens, but when they keep talking about it 30 years later that means something,” he added. “Do you have a special spot in your heart for Built for Pleasure? Yeah, of course I do. It’s an honor to be remembered from this far back. It was a fun day.”