A Brief History Of ‘First Call,’ The Bugle Tune For Horse Racing Post Time

Written By Cole Rush on May 2, 2023 - Last Updated on June 23, 2023
Kentucky Derby Virginia Horse Betting

Chances are you won’t recognize the name “First Call,” but you’ll almost certainly know the melody it represents. At horse races, “First Call” resounds through the track ahead of the announcer yelling, “And they’re OFF!”

Every bugler plays “First Call” with their own distinct flair, so the rhythm and cadence might change depending on where you hear it. Still, the melody is instantly recognizable for those with experience betting on horse racing in Virginia.

But what does the tune mean, and where did it come from?

The origins of “First Call” and connection to horse racing

“First Call” has a storied history in the U.S. military. It has been used by various branches of the armed forces, including the Navy. The tune’s meaning relies heavily on context. At some military locations, “First Call’ would sound to gather trumpeters so they could deliver the reveille, or notify personnel it’s time to wake up, 10 minutes later. It may also serve as a call for the troops to assemble in one formation or another.

The Navy sounds “First Call” at 7:55, just before the “Morning Colors” (think the flag) are raised, and again five minutes prior to them being lowered in the evening (called Evening Colors). Those terms are all formal ways to say raising or lowering the flag. The Navy began Morning Colors in 1797, though it’s unclear when “First Call” became embedded in the tradition.

Horse racing adopted “First Call” sometime in the 1860s, when it became the traditional call to the post. The tune, when played at a race track, means the horses and jockeys will begin their parade to the post and get ready for the race to start.

Nowadays, some buglers will add a special tag to the end. At some tracks, the bugle player will toot the chorus of a popular song after the melody of “First Call.” The tune has adapted over time to become both a tradition and a fun way to engage horse racing audiences in between races.

Virginia horse racing and Kentucky Derby

We may as well enjoy a refrain of “First Call” right now, because it’s a big week for horse race betting, in Virginia and other markets. The Kentucky Derby takes place on May 6. Virginia has a handful of events you can enjoy, plus there are a few ways to bet on the race: DK Horse, Twinspires VA and TVG.

Virginia has enjoyed its fair share of horse race betting news recently:

The fun doesn’t end with the Derby! Virginia horse race betting apps allow you to wager on a wide variety of races from around the world. Sign up, claim a bonus, and enjoy horse race betting in Virginia ahead of (and after) the Kentucky Derby.

Photo by AP / Jae C. Hong
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Cole Rush

Cole Rush writes words. A lot of them. Most of those words can be found at gambling publications such as iGaming Business, Gaming Today, Bonus.com, MidwestSharp.com, ICE 365, and IGB North America. Cole also covers pop culture and books for Tor.com and TheQuillToLive.com. Cole has more than 9 years of experience writing about gambling and entertainment.

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