By Christopher Michaels
In the grandstands at Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, the "Call to the Post," the trumpet fanfare announcing each race, is so consistent every time that one could be forgiven for thinking it's a recording.
Amble down trackside, however, and you'll see Les Kepics, B-flat trumpet in hand, standing on a podium playing the same 30-odd notes twice a race several times a day as he's done for the last 25 seasons.
"Les is live," said Dan Smith, senior media coordinator at Del Mar, who notes that all the major tracks from Santa Anita to Saratoga have live trumpet players in a tradition of long standing.
Kepics continued that tradition at Del Mar when he succeeded Jerry Jackson in 1985. He notes that although other tracks often employ a post horn or a herald trumpet, he sticks with the standard variety.
"Everyone in the trumpet community said, 'That's the gig,' " Kepics said of working Del Mar. He won the part with an audition that included a revved-up "Call" borrowing on a Doc Severinsen riff. Since then, he's been playing the fanfare, with its origins in classical music and military usage, just right every time. Well, most of the time.
"I play the 'Call to the Post' very aggressively, dangerously," he says. In his second season, he says, he goofed up - and really heard it from the crowd. "No one notices until you miss - if you miss one (note), the next one is on you pretty fast."
Dangerous, at least from a fashion sense, could describe the outfits Kepics wore in the past, including purple and blue suits. Today, though, he's gone from gaudy to gaucho, often outfitted in a black suit - hand tailored in Tijuana - white shirt with black hat and bolo tie.
A free-lance musician, Kepics spends a lot of his time out of racing season as a member of Haute Chile, an upscale show band that plays Fortune 500 corporate events and caters to society patrons. His travels with the band take him all around North America and the Caribbean.
Back home at Del Mar, he plays original fanfares he composes for feature races such as the $1 million Pacific Classic and plays a feature - often incorporating jazz, reggae or Spanish themes - at the end of each race day.