MAYS LANDING — Richard Garrick has made a career out of tooting his own horn.
This week, the resident of the Oceanville section of Galloway Township has been using a Herald trumpet to entertain the fans at Atlantic City Race Course during its six-day live meet.
Garrick, a former Galloway Township music teacher, is in his record 29th year as the official bugler at ACRC. He has surpassed the record for longevity held by his immediate predecessor, the late Tom Longley, who performed the traditional "Call to Post" for 27 years at the track.
"Richie is a fixture here," ACRC Director of Operations Mary Jo Couts said. "A lot of tracks don't even use buglers anymore. They just play tapes. But to us, having Richie back every year is a symbol of the return of spring and the start of racing here. He is part of the history of this race track. It truly wouldn't be the same without him."
A classically trained musician - Garrick is a graduate of the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston - he grew up in Wallington (Bergen County) and moved to the Atlantic City area in 1978 at the start of the casino era in hopes of earning work as a musician. He was playing in backup bands for a number of prominent acts, such as Perry Como, Vic Damone, Julio Igelsias and Toni Tenille, when one of his former musicians mentioned that Longley was looking for a replacement.
Garrick was forced to miss the first night of racing in 1986 because he had another "gig," but took over the next night and hasn't missed a day since.
"To be honest, I didn't expect to be here past the first year," Garrick said with a laugh. "But they invited me back the next year and the year after that and the year after that. They keep inviting me back and I love it."
When he's not resting between races, Garrick has also been known to make a wager or two, though he was more prone to it when ACRC ran a full summer meet before going to a reduced schedule in 1998. That was when he got to know the various owners and trainers and developed his own system for handicapping.
"I noticed when they would come to the track all dressed up, as if they were expecting to be posing for a picture (in the winner's circle)," Garrick said. "If they had a tie on, that meant they were expecting to win."
Garrick always dresses for the occasion, sporting a black derby, red coat atop a white turtleneck, black pants and black boots.
In between races, he retires to a tiny room between the track and the paddock, where he kibitzes with longtime friends such as Williamstown resident Al Ott, who was serving as the paddock judge on Friday.
"We've known each other for years," said Ott, who came down for ACRC's meet from Parx race track, formerly known as Philadelphia Park. Both tracks are owned by Greenwood Racing, Inc. "He played my wedding in 1987 and was great. He played a lot of Frank Sinatra."
"Actually," Garrick said. "I think I played 'Taps.'"
When he first started at ACRC, Garrick just played the "Call to Post," but soon expanded his repertoire.
He opened this year's meet by blaring "Hello Dolly" for the fans on opening night last Thursday. On Friday, he drew a nice ovation from the fans with a rendition of "Camptown Races." Before the fifth race, he placed a small American Flag on his bugle and regaled the crowd with "God Bless America."
Once he broke into the "Call to Post," fans filed down to the front of the stands and stood along the rail to watch the start of the race.
"I'm kind of like the Pied Piper," Garrick said with a smile. "I play and everyone follows. I guess I've kind of put my stamp on it."
He quickly became famous, resulting in a 2002 appearance on "Late Show with David Letterman." He also played the "Call to Post" at the Belmont Stakes around the same time.
His schedule is also full before and after his annual gig at ACRC. Garrick spent New Year's Eve at Harrah's Atlantic City, where he played backup for Regis Philbin, then headed to his winter home in Delray Beach, Fla. with his wife, Marie, where he was the bugler at Park and Isle Casino Racing Pompano Park race tracks in February and March.
He also does other events. After ACRC's live meet ends Wednesday, he'll be heading to New York to play at a Kentucky Derby party in Manhattan that's being hosted by Esquire Magazine. There is also a church procession in Swedesboro, Gloucester County, the next day and the opening of the Little Egg Harbor Yacht Club on June 21.
He is also a member of the Verdi Band of Norristown (Pa.), which specializes in religious music, and still plays the occasional event in Atlantic City.
But his favorite gig is still Atlantic City Race Course.
"Playing music is what I love to do and this is the perfect place to do it," Garrick said. "I never get tired of the atmosphere here. I love playing outside in the fresh air as opposed to the dark orchestra pit of a theater. The people here are amazing and the sport is spectacular.
"Atlantic City Race Course is very special, very unique, and I'm always happy to be a part of it."
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