Breeders' Cup's Jay Cohen should toot horn

Santa Anita bugler Jay Cohen is nearing his 90,000th time playing the "Call to the Post." Benoit Photo

Santa Anita Park bugler Jay Cohen said he isn't nervous about the Breeders' Cup being held this weekend at his home track.

Maybe that's because Cohen has performed the "Call to the Post" to signify the start of racing nearly 90,000 times.

"I realize people don't wake up and go to the track to listen to the trumpet player," said the 56-year-old Cohen, who has been working at the track for 25 years. "But, if they do go to the track, they get to hear me play. That is the part of the excitement."

The two-day Breeders’ Cup World Championships, which begin today, will be another opportunity for Cohen to convert someone to horse racing, a sport he has grown to love.

"It'll be exciting to see people from all over. This place will feel alive," said Cohen, who also is track bugler at Hollywood Park. "I can't wait to interact with all the out-of-towners. I've learned more than 60 national anthems."

Cohen, who was born in New Jersey, always wanted to be a musician. He started out teaching music in public schools. He then landed the gig at Santa Anita and has never left.

In fact, even though he's worked nearly every day for 25 years, he still practices several hours a day -- seven days a week -- in a soundproof room.

"Yes, I take it to extremes. I've never walked out on the track just to play," Cohen said. "No one just gets up and runs a 50-yard dash. They practice."

And Cohen's wife of 22 years has her thoughts on his preparation.

"Her two favorite questions are: 'Why do you have to practice?' and 'Why couldn't you do something cool like play a guitar?'" said Cohen, who did admit he met his wife while working at the track.

Cohen's job isn't only to play his trumpet before a race. He also walks the stands and performs magic tricks -- "You really need to see me push someone's cell phone through a balloon" -- and plays ditties for the fans, including several versions of "Happy Birthday."

Cohen knows the day will come when he calls it quits. That's probably about 10 years from now -- when he turns 66.

"I can't even think about the last time I'll be playing," he said. "To think this could be the last time, my eyes get all watery. Even right now. It's sad."