How many race-track trumpeters do you know? Meet Robert Ortiz, who for 18 years has been the track trumpeter for the horse races at the Gillespie County Fairgrounds.
Ortiz plays the “Call to Post” before each race during the summer, the signal for jockeys dressed in a rainbow of silks to parade their mounts past the crowd. There are two more race weekends this season—Aug. 10-11 and Aug. 24-25.
“It’s the trumpet riff that tells the crowd the horses have left the paddock,” Ortiz explains. Spectators use the ensuing post parade to evaluate horses and place bets.
The 64-year-old Ortiz started playing the trumpet at age 12. When he was 16, he saw the Kentucky Derby on television and fell in love with the thoroughbreds and trumpeters. “I was mesmerized,” he says.
After studying music at Texas State University in the early 1970s—then called Southwest Texas State University—Ortiz spent the next 20 years touring with Tejano bands Alfonso Ramos y Su Orquesta and Johnny Hernández & Third Coast. When a position for a track trumpeter opened at Manor Downs near Austin in the late 1990s, Ortiz auditioned. “I got the job and stayed there for the next 12 years,” he says.
In 2010, the Manor track closed, and Ortiz sold his herald trumpet, the type of instrument played at the Kentucky Derby. “I didn’t think I’d need it anymore.”
Two years later, the Gillespie County Fairgrounds recruited him. He tracked down another instrument and has been there ever since. “My job is to entertain people before the horses come out,” Ortiz says. He trumpets crowd pleasers such as “The Eyes of Texas,”“The Aggie War Hymn,” and “The Saints Go Marching In”before he blasts the “Call to Post.”
Ortiz’s repertoire also includes “San Antonio Rose,” “Waltz Across Texas,” “Camptown Races”and other popular blues, folk, jazz, and rock numbers.Listen for Robert Ortiz’s trumpet 10 minutes before the start of every race.