Carson Gambaro admits that the enormity of his new summer job may not have quite hit him yet.
“I’m going to practice this lick over and over and over again,” he said recently, standing in the yard of his home on Saratoga Lake.
A couple of weeks ago, Gambaro was a recent Syracuse University graduate with a degree in broadcast journalism and indefinite plans for how he’d spend his summer. Now, he’s trying on britches and top hats, and practicing “that lick”— the call to the post — as he and his father Tony Gambaro prepare to step into some pretty big boots: those of Sam Grossman, the long-time bugler at Saratoga Race Course who will miss this season as he manages some health issues.
Tony Gambaro is a familiar figure in the Capital Region wedding/corporate party music circuit. The Gloversville native started playing the trumpet when he was a child, and when he was a college student he joined the Avant Garde Drum and Bugle Corps, playing with the group until he aged out at 21. With the band The Blues Other Brothers, he traveled the country and the world, and after leaving that group, he toured with Bon Jovi and Tower of Power.
Locally, Tony Gambaro played for Burners UK and then spent a decade with New York Players, leaving the band in 2018. That’s when he started his own band, Ten Most Wanted, which is not named for the horse that won the 2003 Travers.
“It’s an edgy name, I suppose,” said Tony Gambaro. “But there’s a lot of meaning to it. I want the people in the band to think that they’re the most-wanted musicians in town.”
Tony Gambaro and Grossman have been friends for a long time, and when the latter realized he would be unable to play this summer, he called Tony Gambaro to see if he’d be interested in the gig. Reluctant at first because of the demands of his regular playing schedule, Tony Gambaro was also intrigued and proposed that Carson Gambaro fill in on the days on which Tony is already committed, many of which happen to be Saturdays when he’ll be playing at weddings, which means that Carson Gambaro is going to be playing on some of this summer’s biggest days, like the Whitney Stakes on Aug. 6 and the Travers Stakes on Aug. 27.
The arrangement was finalized within the last couple of weeks, which left the Gambaros scrambling to find, try on, and buy the buglers’ distinctive garb. The elder Gambaro also dove into research on the history of the call to the post, discovering its roots in military life. There is also evidence to suggest that Saratoga Race Course may have been the first track to play it; the first references to the tune at a track are at Saratoga in the 1860s.
Though both Carson Gambaro and Tony Gambaro have occasionally attended the races, neither is a track aficionado.
“I was watching an interview with Sam,” said Carson Gambaro, who graduated from Stillwater High School, “and he didn’t really know much about horse racing before he started. I don’t, either. But it’s a thing that’s really relevant around here, and something very special to this community.”
While he wasn’t particularly interested in racing back then, the traditions of the sport nonetheless pervaded the consciousness of him and his peers.
“In high school band, we used to clown around before rehearsals started,” he said. “We’d all attempt the bugle call, and it would be so hard for us.”
Based on the riffs they played earlier this week, those “34 notes,” as Tony Gambaro called them, aren’t much of a challenge for son or father. Their horns blend beautifully and seamlessly, and it’s possible that racegoers will have a chance to see them play together this summer. Visitors to Saratoga Race Course will also see the team visiting the backyard, taking requests and playing for groups of customers.
Grossman has been in touch with the Gambaros, sending links about where to buy the uniform, sharing his experiences, and offering advice. And while the reality of what awaits him may not have hit Carson Gambaro quite yet, his father definitely understands — and revels in — its significance.
“This whole thing is an honor,” Tony Gambaro said. “It is an honor. And especially to have my son involved with it — that’s beautiful.”