TRURO - Gilles Barrieau is feeling pretty good these days.
The 47-year-old Saint John, N.B., resident who will celebrate No. 48 Saturday, comes into tonight's 13-dash card at Truro Raceway on the heels of a five-win driving performance Tuesday in Fredericton. The impressive night was even more impressive thanks to a run of four in a row from Races 6 to 9.
"It was a good night," Barrieau said with a chuckle. "A good night at the office."
But it hasn't been that way very often over the past year for Barrieau, who also trains and owns. In fact, since a crash at Truro Raceway in early October, the sport has dealt the lifelong horseman blow after blow.
"It's been a challenge," he said. "Especially trying to do my work at home and then trying to focus on driving at night."
Barrieau was left with a broken wrist and shattered fingers after a six-horse and driver pileup at the Bible Hill half-mile oval last fall. Ironically, in spite of the number of horses and drivers involved, he was the only one to suffer any injuries in a race he wasn't even scheduled to drive, taking the job at the last minute to help a friend.
The injuries kept him away from the sport for about a month. By his own admission, it was a little early to come back. Little did he know it was about to get much worse.
After two days on the job, Barrieau was kicked by a yearling, breaking his femur. The injury required a 12-inch plate and 38 screws to repair and laid him up until late February. He didn't return to driving until two months later and relied heavily on his wife Kelly and 17-year-old daughter Devan to keep his stable going.
But as they say, bad luck comes in threes, and yet another setback was just over the horizon.
On July 2 he sprained a wrist after he was thrown from his bike when his horse broke stride on the gate at Fredericton Raceway. A trailing rider locked wheels with Barrieau, sending him through the air, landing on his head and wrist.
"A lot of things go through your mind after that," Barrieau said. "You wonder, ‘Is this the right job for me? Should I get out?"'
But after growing up in the sport and amassing 3,558 wins - second all-time in the Maritimes behind Steve Mahar (5,073) - and more than $6.4 million in career earnings, it wasn't so easy to just pick up and move on.
"It's in my blood," Barrieau said. "For me to walk away, I think I would have let a lot of people down, including myself. I don't think I could do it."
Just as it's been a challenge to deal with the setbacks of the past year, the equal task of pursuing success and the feeling when it comes drew Barrieau back in.
"You have to try and outsmart everybody out there," he said. "And I enjoy working with young horses, picking them and training them and getting them to be good horses. I like that challenge."
Now he's glad he decided to stick with it. He leads all reinsmen at Fredericton with 27 wins this season and is sporting a .444 win, place or show percentage.
"It's an up and down business," Barrieau said. "There are a lot of bad days but there are a lot more good days. It's a good profession."