Sounding the call

When post time is at hand, 'Sam the Bugler' is the man everyone listens for

May 13, 2010|By Chris Kaltenbach, The Baltimore Sun

When it comes to music at the Preakness, there's only one tune that really means anything.

And Sam the Bugler is ready to play it.

The tune is known as the "Call to the Post," or "First Call." It's the rousing fanfare that precedes every horse race by about 10 minutes, a bugle call that lets everyone know that hoofs are about to start flying. Sam, who works full time, bugle in tow, for the New York State Racing Association, has made a living off of it for 18 years, sounding the call at Belmont Park, Aqueduct and Saratoga racetracks.

"It's a custom that they really don't need, but I'm glad that they've got it," says Sam, 44, whose given surname is Grossman, but is known far and wide (at least in racing circles) as the Bugler. "It's a fun life that I have."

For the past three years, that life has included heading south to Baltimore for Preakness weekend. He's scheduled to arrive this morning ("they fly me in on a plane and treat me like Elvis for three days," he says). Within a few hours, he'll be playing his bugle before every race. By the time the Preakness is over Saturday, Sam will have regaled Pimlico audiences with "Call to the Post" 24 times.

The call, he says, used to be vital to the horse-racing business, an alert to the crowds that a race was about to begin. Now, he concedes, there's little reason to sound the call, save for tradition. And while he acknowledges that "any high school bugler" could sound it, bugling in front of some 100,000 people is no picnic.

"It's like a foul shot," says Grossman, a Long Island, N.Y., native with a master's in music education who, when he's not sounding the call, is otherwise entertaining the crowd with his bugle. "If it enters your mind that you're going to throw up an air ball, you're going to throw up an air ball. You have to focus."

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