If you've ever been to a horse racing track, the one thing that you never forget the the sound of the bugles that heralds the start of the race! One of the more esteemed buglers in our area is RYAN RESKY and he is one of the Belmont Buglers. On a regular basis, Ryan entertainers thousands of racing fans along with his partner Sam Grossman. This Saturday is the Belmont Stakes. I spoke to Ryan recently just prior to this big race!
MICK: How long have you been one of the Belmont buglers?
RYAN: I started subbing there in 2005, right after the Breeders Cup was the last time it was at Belmont. I also subbed at Aqueduct. In 2006, I played another Belmont. There were 4 of us for that. They had a group of buglers there for a few years and they wanted to give Sam Grossman a solo shot. I joined him back in 2009 so I've done every year since then.
MICK: How many buglers are there now?
RYAN: There's usually just Sam and myself. In the past, they've had three or four depending on what the needs of the track are and who is in charge. of the Racing Association.
MICK: You work other race tracks also?
RYAN: I work at around 20 tracks right now. I've had a regular gig in the Fall that is down in Maryland since 2009. Sam and I also do events when asked. We've played at Saratoga together, The Whitney, The Travers. I've done two Travers and three Whitney's in three years. I done basically every track on the East Coast or pretty close to it. Some tracks out in the midwest. I play a lot of good events for the racing community!
MICK: Do you go as far west as California?
RYAN: Not that far! A mutual friend of ours is Jay Cohen is the bugler out there. He's been out there for 25 years. He has his own gig out there plus he brings local buglers out to play when they have the Breeders Cup. That seems to be the trend now. There were buglers that were traveling across the country playing, including playing at Belmont, Santa Anita, Gulf Stream. With the economy and everything else, it got too expensive to be flying people all over the country. Most places are now asking for local guys. It brings more work for us. We are able to do what they want and we get paid pretty well for what we do. Not only do we do the race, we are playing for the fans! Our main thing is going out and playing for the Stakes races and big fan fairs. Sometimes the music is themed for the particular day. The Belmont Stakes theme used to be "The Sidewalks of New York". Now they play a recording or have a live singer come out and sing Frank Sinatra's "New
York, New York". Sometimes we do patriotic songs like "America the Beautiful" and "God Bless America". Other times we throw some jazz in there. I do most of the arrangements. Others we just come up with it on the spot. I'm really beefed up the book with our music the last few years. People often come up to us and ask us to play at special occasions. Sam started doing this a few years ago.
MICK: How did you originally get the job?
RYAN: I started as an assistant in 2005. I was playing previously to that with a bugle group that was touring the country. We would do different races as a trio or a quartet. We were very excited when we got called for the Breeders Cup. Sam and I met at the rehearsal and starting talking. He told me how busy he was and I asked him if he ever took a day off. I told him I live locally and to call me if he needed any help. I figured I would never hear from him. Three days later, he calls me. He said "I'm playing the opening week at Aqueduct and I'm going on vacation. Can you cover for me the next two weeks?" I came down and met him at the track. He showed me the locker room, where to sign in, what to watch for. I pretty much knew the ropes by then anyway. Each track was different though. So that was my two week audition to be his fill in guy. He started calling me very often.
When the 2006 Belmont Stakes came, my bugle group was called to do it. Sam saw that I was going to be there. We started doing more after that. By 2009, they wanted both us us to do the Belmont. I've been doing it ever since!
MICK: What's your favorite memory of Belmont so far?
RYAN: There's a couple. There's at least one good one for every year I've been there. For the Belmont Stakes, they have a singer come out and do "New York New York". My first year there, we were standing in the winners circle and I see this lady, all dressed in red, coming over. As she got closer, I knew who is was. It was Linda Eder! That was a thrill. Just being out there playing in front of 60,000 people at the Belmont is awesome. The following year, I'm out there playing and I see Charlie Hayward upstairs. He was one of the chief operator bosses at that time. I thought I would go up there to say hi and thank him again for hiring me. I saw a very familiar looking lady with him. So I went upstairs and asked one of the valets if theres anyone important that we should know about. He told me yes, in the Trustees Room. I walked in and there she was..Sarah Palin! I asked her if there's any particular song she wanted to hear. She saw my red, white and blue tie and said something patriotic would be great! I went downstairs and we played "America the Beautiful" for her. After the race, Sam and I went upstairs to entertain Sarah and her family. She's the nicest person you could meet! Another time, I also got to meet Marylou Whitney. She and her husband are the reason the Whitney Handicap exists. She still looks great! Another time, Adam Rodriguez from "CSI Miami" showed up in the winner's circle. Really nice guy, down to earth, no attitude. Local politicians often show up. Last year, because we were going to have a possible triple crown, we were invited to a promotional event at the Empire State Building. We were all the way up on the observation deck. Then they took us over to 30 Rock, which is Rockefeller Center, and went up on topfor a NYRA event. That was nice to be included in that.
MICK: Does weather affect your bugling?
RYAN: Yes! if it's nice weather, say between May and September, we're doing really well. It can be pretty unpredictable. We have weather gear that we use when we play. Sometimes races even get canceled. It all depends upon the jockeys. If the weather is bad, they all get together and make the call. But once you're out there and the weather is funky, you have to be dressed warm and brave the elements. If it's really cold out, we play with either plastic mouthpieces or plastic rimmed mouthpieces that helps keep the cold away but it's still very hard in that weather. I've been out in 20 degree weather with 20 MPH winds. It's not fun but you have to go out and do your job!
MICK: Can people meet you at the racetrack?
RYAN: All the time! Aqueduct is a little more difficult unless I'm right in front of the racetrack. The place where we most often meet people is Belmont. I play right above the winners circle. There's a gate right there so people walk right up to us. Saratoga is even more so because we are walking right through the grandstands.
MICK: Do you have an off season?
RYAN: The busiest time of year for us is anytime after Easter till around a month after Labor Day. Racing is all year. It starts around January and runs all the way up to The Kentucky Derby. That's when the triple crown starts. The summer races lean towards the Breeders Cup. That's usually the first week of November. That's just the thoroughbred racing. There's four different types of racing. Thoroughbred racing, harness racing ( which tends to run all year and has it's own triple crown), trotters and pacers, steeplechase..they have their own triple crown too.
MICK: When you're not bugling, what do you like to do?
RYAN: When my wife is not working (she's a teacher), we like to do different things. We are trying to plan a vacation for the first time in many years. We try to see our family as often as we can. Some of my family is still out on Long Island. I'm originally from Lindenhurst. My wife's family is from Bay Shore.
MICK: So you live in the city?
RYAN: Yes we do. My work is here so it makes it easier. I just want to keep getting more work! My hope one day is to play every race in the Triple Crown and the Breeders Cup in one year. I'd be like the Tiger Woods of bugling!
MICK: How long would you like to do this?
RYAN: For as long as I can! I am trying to get more regular work in the city as far as playing. That takes me more indoors. Last year I played in Radio City as one of the orchestra members. Hoping to do more of that and Broadway too. As long as I can make a sound out of the horn I will be happy!
Catch Ryan this Saturday, June 8th 2013 for the 145th running of the Belmont Stakes,
6:40pm ET on NBC
Location: Belmont Park, New York