116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
When the horse racing world focuses its collective attention on Churchill Downs Saturday for the 142nd annual Kentucky Derby, an Eastern Iowa native will once again be a key part of the pre-race festivities.
Steve Buttleman, 51, of Louisville, formerly of Cedar Rapids and a 1983 graduate of Washington High School, will serve as the Kentucky Derby's official bugler for the 21st consecutive year. He's the track's regular bugler, playing the 'call to the post' before each race at Churchill Downs.
Below are a few feature stories we've done on Steve through the years, as he prepares to step into the spotlight again Saturday. Enjoy!
Originally published May 6, 2006
When "Call to the Post" is played today for the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., go ahead and get provincial. Swell a little bit with pride. The man at the bugle is Steve Buttleman, a 1983 graduate of Cedar Rapids Washington.
"To him it's just like another day," said his father, Jim Buttleman of Cedar Rapids.
But just another day for this bugler means you're going to get his best. His dad says he's "fanatic about being a perfectionist" and gives his best every race all season long at Churchill Downs.
Buttleman is in his 11th season of calling horses to their post positions at the storied track. And that's usually at least 11 races a day in a spring meet that runs this year from April 29 to July 16. That's a lot of bugling.
When Buttleman sees the horses coming out of the show ring today, he'll stand front and center to sound that famous call, meaning jockeys have about eight minutes to get their horses in position.
A couple of minutes later, much of the sporting world will turn its attention elsewhere, but Buttleman will still be there to trumpet the arrival of the next race at Churchill Downs.
Originally published May 4, 2001
Steve Buttleman has an important job Saturday.
He has to put on a bright red coat, pick up his bugle and play "Call to the Post" at Churchill Downs, the Louisville track hosting the Kentucky Derby.
"My children think it's pretty cool. Even my wife's patients think it's cooler that I'm the bugler than she is the doc."
- Steve Buttleman
Churchill Downs bugler
Buttleman, 36, formerly of Cedar Rapids, is a celebrity in Louisville.
"My children think it's pretty cool," said Buttleman, referring to Megan, 10, and Tyler, 7. His wife, Rhonda, is a doctor. "Even my wife's patients think it's cooler that I'm the bugler than she is the doc."
On the weekends, Buttleman also plays the national anthem at the track. During the week, the track plays a tape of him playing the anthem.
Buttleman, who's bugled at the track since 1995, makes $100 a day and $150 on Sundays.
"Call to the Post" takes 15 seconds to play, and Buttleman plays it up to 10 times per day before each race. He practices the song three hours a day.
"If I didn't practice, I'd sound like high school to me," Buttleman said. "There are only 33 notes in it, but everybody that goes to the race track knows what it's supposed to sound like.
"I'm probably one of the most heard players around."
On the side, Buttleman, the son of James and Geraldine Buttleman of Cedar Rapids, teaches trumpet and plays for hire.
Kevin Marie Nuss, his boss at the race track, describes Buttleman's job as "very prestigious."
"I can't imagine how stressful it is," she said. "I couldn't stand doing it. I probably would collapse into a pool of jelly."
Originally published Oct. 8, 1995
When Eastern Iowa horse-racing fans tune in to next May's Kentucky Derby, they'll no doubt recognize the stirring "Call to the Post" bugle flourish that summons horses and jockeys to the starting gate. Some of them will recognize the bugler, too.
Steve Buttleman, a Cedar Rapids native and 1983 graduate of Washington High School, was chosen Friday as bugler of Churchill Downs, the famous Louisville, Ky., racetrack that is home to the Kentucky Derby.
Steve, 31, is the son of James and Geraldine Buttleman, 419 23rd St. NE.
He has been a Louisville resident since enrolling at the University of Louisville shortly after high school graduation. He attended the university intermittently over the years and made his living in a variety of ways.
"But he wasn't happy until he got back into music," his mother said Saturday.
Steve agrees. "Music is a hard business, but it's really a privilege to get to do that," he said in a telephone interview Saturday.
He said he stopped playing the trumpet for seven years but took it up again in 1992 and began taking lessons from a university professor.
"He encouraged me to audition for music scholarship to re-enroll, and that's how I got back into music school to finish what I'd started in 1983."
He completed his bachelor's degree last spring and now is studying for his master's degree while teaching trumpet and working as a free-lance musician. He and his wife, Rhonda, have two children, Megan, 4, and Tyler, 18 months.
Steve said he and five other buglers auditioned at Churchill Downs on Friday morning, and his selection was announced later in the day.
During the Downs racing season, which runs from Oct. 29 to Nov. 26 in the fall and late April to early June in the spring, he will play "Call to the Post" nine to 11 times per day, six days a week.
While in high school, Steve was an all-state musician and a trumpet student of James Debth, 361 Park Terr. SE.
He is the second Debth student to become Churchill Downs bugler. Linn-Mar graduate Karen Easterday became the track's first woman bugler in 1985 while a student at the University of Louisville, also Debth's alma mater.
Debth said Saturday that he never bugled at Churchill Downs, but he did play at five Kentucky Derby races in the 1960s as a member of the University of Louisville band.
The Louisville band plays the poignant "Old Kentucky Home" at the Derby each year, he said.