11/08/2016 5:38PM

Keeneland bugler George 'Bucky' Sallee dies

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Keeneland
Longtime Keeneland bugler Bucky Sallee died Monday at 87.

George “Bucky” Sallee, the Keeneland bugler for more than 50 years who was given the fanciful title of Bugler Emeritus upon his retirement in 2013, died on Monday at age 87, according to Keeneland. Sallee lived in Georgetown, Ky., at the time of his death.

A native of Lexington, Ky., Sallee began filling in at Keeneland in the early 1960s at the request of a friend, Frank Atkins, a local golf pro who moonlighted at the track. Sallee immediately took a liking to the track, was hired several years later as the track’s full-time bugler, and acted as an ambassador for Keeneland between races, touring the grounds and stopping “to blow my horn,” as he used to say, for fans and their children.

In an interview several years ago for Daily Racing Form, he recounted the celebrities he met at the track, including Queen Elizabeth II.

“When the queen came to the track, I was there that day, and I was at the [Kentucky] Horse Park to blow my horn when the queen’s daughter was out there,” he said. “There’s so many I can’t keep count. I’ve played for dukes and duchesses. Ronald Reagan, he was there one day; I blew my horn for him. I could go on and on. Mickey Rooney, he was out there one day, and we just stood by the clerk of scales, talking. Can you believe that?”

Sallee, who had a degree in music from the University of Kentucky, had a distinguished musical resume, playing trumpet and tenor sax with a number of local bans and performing with national headliners such as Jerry Lee Lewis, Boots Randolph, Charlie Daniels, Fats Domino, and Pee Wee King when they stopped in Central Kentucky.

“Bucky was a beloved member of the Keeneland family and a wonderful ambassador for racing,” Bill Thomason, Keeneland’s president and chief executive, said in a statement. “Throughout his storied career, he generously shared his time and musical talent with fans of all ages. He will be remembered as a very special part of Keeneland history.”

Keeneland held a special ceremony on Oct. 9, 2002, to mark Sallee’s 10,000th call to the post, even though Sallee acknowledged that the number was at best a guestimate. He was later honored with a ceremony in the winner’s circle upon his retirement.

Sallee is survived by his wife of 38 years, Barbara Cook Sallee, and a son Thomas Lee (Rose) Sallee, along with three grandchildren, and nine great grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his first wife, Frances, and three sons.

In the DRF interview in 2011, before the rise of the selfie, Sallee was asked what it was like to be an unlikely celebrity.

“I bet I’m in more photos in one day than most people are in their whole lives,” he said.