Richard Boucher and Willstown stared a Saratoga Grade 1 stakes score smack in the face. At 46-1.
"We came down to the last fence and I had her beat, I had her beat," Boucher said. "And then Blythe Miller and that horse went on and beat me. I'm like, 'You're kidding me, you're absolutely kidding me.' I had a third once, but that second in the Turf Writers is the closest I ever came and that was pretty close."
Boucher, a 50-year-old jockey with stakes wins on the flat and over jumps, won his first Saratoga race aboard Get Ready Set Goes in the $75,000 Mrs. Ogden Phipps hurdle stakes - 17 years after finishing second to Campanile in that 1999 New York Turf Writers Cup.
Willstown never ran again. Boucher, who rode his first race in 1992, is still at it.
He rode 122 races as recently as 2013 and has topped 150 mounts six times - mostly in the Mid-Atlantic on horses he and his wife Lilith train in Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Delaware Park and (when it was still a racetrack) Colonial Downs.
The milestone was not lost on Boucher, who accepted congratulations from Hall of Famer Chris McCarron just outside the winner's circle and former Mid-Atlantic stalwart Nick Santagata back at the jocks' room.
"It's one of those things," he said. "When people hear what I do, they always say 'Have you ever ridden a winner at Saratoga?' And now I have. Not that I want to retire or anything, but it's very nice. Everyone knows it."
Boucher was not a Saratoga regular, but picked up steeplechase spares (often for Willstown's trainer Jonathan Sheppard) and spent a couple of summers here with flat horses he and his wife trained. Richard and Class Concern finished sixth (3 lengths behind John Velazquez and Willard Straight but ahead of Jerry Bailey and Old Forester) in a 2005 four-other-than.
Thursday, Kentucky-based owner/trainer Hill Parker gave Boucher a leg up on Get Ready Set Goes. The day's first race started with 10 in the program and wound up with eight in the paddock after two scratches. Then 3-1 shot Dino Mite stood at the start. The remaining seven went 2 1/16 miles and nobody did it better than Parker's one-horse stable - a 4-year-old filly bred in Ohio by Parker's mother Frances Hill Myers.
The daughter of Run Away And Hide and the Lord Avie mare Ready To Goes came into the race off a maiden hurdle win at High Hope in Lexington in May and was making her sixth lifetime start. She won one of three flat tries - a state-bred maiden going 6 1/2 furlongs at Belterra Park last May. Parker sells real estate and trains horses in Kentucky with his wife Regan. The real estate leans toward farms. The horses lean toward steeplechasing.
In November, Parker sent Get Ready Set Goes to the Bouchers in Camden, S.C. The chestnut stayed through most of January and learned her lessons well enough to consider a maiden try at the Carolina Cup in April. She got sick, missed a little time and wound up taking on winners in her debut at Atlanta April 23. She finished second. Parker thought about a stakes try at Nashville's Iroquois meet in May. Boucher preached patience instead and Get Ready Set Goes went to High Hope, Parker's hometown meet at the Kentucky Horse Park. Carrying just 134 pounds, she defeated nine others to stamp a boarding pass for Saratoga.
Boucher was all for it.
"The way she won at High Hope and the way she jumps I thought she might be able to handle it," said the jockey. "She's so precise. I've never quite had a filly be so confident in her jumping. I don't do anything. I just see (a takeoff spot) and go with her. If I don't see it, I sit perfectly still. She's good at it."
In the Phipps, Get Ready Set Goes bounded toward the first fence and pulled Boucher up the backside the first time, but settled behind early leader Barbara's Smile, Secret Reward and Give Us A Reason. Boucher found the perfect spot - third, in the clear, ready - until the final turn. Produced at the top of the stretch, she took over at the eighth pole and won by 4 1/2 lengths at 7-1.
Boucher used his flat experience - and some fitness from riding workers at Delaware Park - over the final 3 furlongs.
"I've been running, riding the bike, doing whatever I can," he said. "We have a couple of horses at Delaware and I've been working the slow ones with the jockeys. Ricardo Chiappe looks at me after we pull up and says, 'Are you all right?' But I'm pretty fit. It's three-eighths of a flat race and I can outride a lot of these guys to a finish. I'm smaller, a little fitter maybe, and I can get lower. I've ridden a lot of flat races."
And he'll keep riding Get Ready Set Goes.
"She's still learning," he said. "When she gets it, she'll be unbelievable. I don't think she'll ever get beat. I might be like Mike Smith. He says he's not giving up until Songbird gives up."