George "Bucky" Sallee, bugler at the historic Keeneland racetrack for more than 50 years, will retire to become Bugler Emeritus beginning this fall, the Lexington oval announced Sept. 24. Noted trumpeter Steve Buttleman has been named Keeneland's new track bugler.
"Bucky is a Keeneland icon," said Bill Thomason, Keeneland's president and CEO. "He is a favorite among fans of all ages, having generously shared his time and musical talent with so many people during his storied career. Bucky is a very special member of the Keeneland family, and a wonderful ambassador for racing."
The public is invited to join Keeneland in honoring Bucky on opening day of the fall race meeting, Friday, Oct. 4. Gates open at 11 a.m. ET; post time for the first race is 1:05 p.m. Special commemorations are planned prior to the first race, and Bucky will sign autographs during the afternoon. Fans will be able to share their memories of Bucky online, or drop a letter in the "Bucky Mailbox," which will be located adjacent to the paddock on opening day.
"Being a part of the Keeneland family has opened a lot of doors for me during my career," Bucky said. "I've watched race fans literally grow up from kids to adults with their own children. It's been a lot of fun."
A native of Lexington, Bucky began taking trumpet lessons at age 7, and majored in music at the University of Kentucky. He became a renowned musician, playing trumpet and tenor sax in the 1950s and early 1960s with such notable bands as Little Enis and the Fabulous Table Toppers, and Lexington's legendary jazz musician Clarence "Duke" Madison. During his career, Bucky has performed with a number of headliners, including Jerry Lee Lewis, Boots Randolph, Charlie Daniels, Fats Domino, and Pee Wee King.
In the early 1960s, Frank Atkins, the club pro at Picadome Golf Course who moonlighted at Keeneland during the race meets, asked Bucky to help him by filling in as track bugler. Since then, Bucky has performed his signature "Boots and Saddles" for the post parade and "Assembly" at post time, missing only one day when his wife died on a Saturday in the early 1970s. She was buried on a Tuesday, when there was no racing, and Bucky returned to work on Wednesday.
He reached a career milestone on Oct. 9, 2002, when he made his 10,000th call to the post at Keeneland.
Steve Buttleman, of Louisville, Ky., brings nearly 20 years of experience as a bugler to Keeneland, having performed the call to the post at some of the nation's most prominent racetracks, including Churchill Downs, Belmont Park, and Oaklawn Park.
"Steve embodies so much of what Keeneland is about," Thomason said. "He has a passion for racing and an enthusiasm to share that passion with fans. His number one goal is to make their experience at Keeneland a memorable one."
Buttleman, a native of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, began playing cornet in the fifth grade, and earned a degree in trumpet from the University of Louisville School of Music, where he studied under noted trumpet professor Leon Rapier. Buttleman is active in the community, playing at civic and charity events around the state, including Lexington's Junior League Charity Horse Show. He also takes part in outreach tours to promote local tourism, and performed at the 2000 and 2004 presidential inaugural balls in Washington, D.C.
"I am honored to become Keeneland's new bugler," Buttleman said. "I have the utmost respect for Bucky and everything he has given to Keeneland, the Lexington community, and the Thoroughbred industry. I look forward to carrying on Bucky's traditions and his role as an ambassador for racing."