Get Bugled At Emerald DownsMay 15, 2012 @ 5:53 pm (Updated: 9:00 am - 5/16/12 )
By Rachel Belle
I made my first trip to Emerald Downs a few weeks ago and it wasn't the athleticism of the horses or the thrill of gambling that my friend used to get me excited; it was the promise of getting bugled. Daniel Harrington has been the track bugler at Emerald Downs for the past 15 years. Dressed in a top hat, tails and riding boots, he's easily noticed and very sought after. His main duty is playing the Call To Post every 30 minutes, but he has expanded his position beyond the average track bugler.
"I wander around the crowd and I look for birthdays, anniversaries, anything special. If it's a slow day, and I can't find anything else to do, I just walk up to somebody and say, 'Hey, do you have a favorite song that you'd like to hear?'"
Daniel will play anything from a Beatles tune to Hey Dolly to The Simpsons theme song if you really really want him to. Once he's played for you, you get a much coveted "I've Been Bugled" sticker. A friend of Daniel's came down to the track and was shocked to see his friend was a local celebrity.
"He said, 'You're like Mickey Mouse at Disneyland. Everybody wants to see you and have their picture taken with you.' That really cracked me up!"
But Daniel wasn't born to bugle. He worked as a Delta Airlines pilot until he was diagnosed with diabetes and because he takes insulin, the FAA wouldn't let him fly. Shortly after he lost his job, a friend gave his name and number to Emerald Downs and he had an interview.
"I actually never ever played one single note for them. They asked me what my background was and I told them I had gotten a performance degree in trumpet and got my masters degree. They said, 'Well, I'm sure you can play the Call To Post.' And I said 'Well, yes, I hope so!'" he laughed. "The only other question they asked me was 'Do you think you can handle playing Happy Birthday?'"
Daniel estimates he's played the Call To Post tens of thousands of times. Being the bugler is only a weekend gig, and he doesn't make a lot of money, but the job is deeply satisfying for him.
"I've had people come to me and say 'You played Happy birthday for my father, it was more than ten years ago, and he passed away. But every birthday, after you did that, he would talk about how the bugler at Emerald Downs would play for him and it really meant a lot.' So that's the kind of thing that sticks with me. It's very, very important for me to create those kinds of memories."
Long ago, before Daniel was a pilot, when he was trying to become a professional trumpet player, he says he took playing very seriously and every note had to be perfect.
"Now when I play, I keep it just as a fun thing. Yeah, you'll hear me miss a note or two here and there and I don't really care! I just have fun," he laughs.
Don't forget to tip your bugler!
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