One summer, my buddy Gabe and I decided that, in order to fuel our growing baseball card pack-ripping habit, we needed to launch a side-hustle. So we filled a cooler full of off-brand, pre-purchased soda and set up shop across the street from Saratoga Race Course on a hot summer afternoon. That day, I’m pretty sure we didn’t break even—and sampled the product more than once. But it taught us both a valuable lesson: trying to make a buck—especially at or near the racetrack—is hard work. You can’t just fake it.
As soon as July hits in Saratoga Springs, a micro-economy erupts out of seeming nowhere, with contract employees and under-the-table workers emerging overnight in and around the track. Here are four people with the most sought-after racetrack jobs.
Sam “The Bugler” Grossman
Bugler, Saratoga Race Course
Don’t call it a comeback! Sam Grossman, who just last year announced that after 25-and-a-half years of blowing the “Call to the Post” at Saratoga Race Course—the little bugle ditty that welcomes the horses onto the track before each race—has come out of retirement. Why the change of heart? After playing this year’s Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes, Grossman says he started to “desperately miss Saratoga.” So now he’s back in action. For all you upstart track buglers-in-the-making, Grossman explains, “It’s not rocket science what I do; I entertain the fans and then I go home.” But don’t let his modesty fool you: He’s been a trumpeter for nearly five decades, has a bachelor’s and master’s in music and studied under trumpeters from the New York Philharmonic and The Philadelphia Orchestra. Plus, the hardware doesn’t come cheap: He blows a custom Kanstul herald trumpet, which costs around $3000. The “Call to the Post”—which Grossman literally played me over the phone from his Pembroke Pines, FL, home—has been a racecourse staple since the mid-1800s, and it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. Whomever takes over for Grossman someday will have big toots to fill.
Alphonse “Phonsey” Lambert, Jr.
Bartender, Saratoga Race Course’s Jim Dandy Bar
During the school year, you may know Alphonse “Phonsey” Lambert, Jr. as the athletic director and longtime varsity baseball coach at Saratoga Central Catholic High School. But as soon as track season hits, you can find him mixing drinks at Saratoga Race Course’s Jim Dandy Bar, where he’s worked every year since 1998 (he’s actually been up to something at the track since ’88). Before he became barkeep at the Jim Dandy, his father held the position from 1950-97, so the Lambert men have basically had a monopoly on the place for nearly seven decades! “It’s a long tradition and a great place to work in the summertime,” says Lambert of the bar. Over the years, he’s had the chance to wait on famous faces such as David Cassidy, Rick Pitino and Jimmy Fallon, and while he admits the job can be “backbreaking” at times, the payoff is being able to serve all those return customers. “I enjoy the people,” says Lambert. “That’s the biggest part of it.” We hear the tips ain’t bad, either.
Retired Uber Driver (and former Mayor of Schenectady)
After retiring from politics, Al Jurczynski, who served as the mayor of Schenectady from 1996 to 2003, started driving for Uber in December 2017 and picked me up in Saratoga the following March (I was headed off to get my hair cut at Woody’s Barbershop; read the full story here). While Jurczynski tells me that he’s since retired from driving for the ride-sharing company, he did find himself in the designated ride-sharing queue outside of Saratoga Race Course during track season—but didn’t have all that positive of an experience. “At the end of the last race, when I’d show up at that spot, I had, like, 47 Uber drivers in front of me,” he says. Overall, though, he tells me that he enjoyed driving in Saratoga during the track season—despite it being a haul from his home base in Schenectady—and his customers were nothing but generous.
NYRA Music Booker and Multi-instrumentalist, Reggie’s Red Hot Feetwarmers
It’s entirely possible that, on any given day you find yourself at the track, you could be catching a band that features multi-instrumentalist Peter Davis—or has Davis to thank for playing there. That’s because he’s not only the New York Racing Association’s go-to music booker, a job he’s held for some 40 years, but he’s also a member of track favorites such as Annie & The Hedonists and Reggie’s Red Hot Feetwarmers. Speaking of the famed Feetwarmers, Davis is a founding member and has been performing with them at Saratoga Race Course for more than three decades. As always, they’ll be gigging all around its grounds, Thursday through Sunday, all track season long. If you’re the requesting type, the band always obliges, says Davis. (Please don’t be the guy or gal that yells out “Free Bird!”) A racetrack crowd favorite? “Saratoga,” which David wrote with his daughter. Easy enough to remember.