Photos by Sally Reichardt

May 7 and 8, 2022 saw the return of horse racing at the Santa Cruz County Fair and Rodeo Grounds. The community welcomed back this yearly celebration of fast horses, fancy hats, mint juleps, and live streaming of the Kentucky Derby.

Following the Kentucky Derby tradition, the annual Derby Hat contest was held with many contestants of all ages who exhibited their creations to the delight of the crowd. The Kentucky Derby was simulcast and parimutual betting machines were available for the Derby as well as the local races.

Denny Schreffler provided the call to the post before each race.

Denny Schreffler provided the call to the post on his herald trumpet before each race. Schreffler, a retired professional musician from Sahuarita, AZ, started this aspect of his musical career in 1968 at River Downs Race Track in Ohio. He has worked at various race tracks including Rillito Park Race Track in Tucson. 

‘First Call’ is the official name of this practice which originated during the Civil War. Encampments often covered a vast area and more than one bugler was needed to alert the soldiers. The First Call bugler was the one that alerted the other buglers to sound their horns so all of the soldiers were awakened. 

The First Call bugle is now a tradition at thoroughbred race tracks. The clarion call of the herald trumpet alerts the crowd and participants of the impending race. 

Charli Thomasson won the Derby Hat Contest for ages 15 and under.

Ed Gaines, Vice President of the Santa Cruz County Fair and Rodeo Association (SCFRA) and chairman of the Sonoita Races, said of the event, “This all works because of the many volunteers and the board. This is the most functional and selfless board I have ever been on in my adult life.” 

Gaines credits manager Lacy Beyer for much of the success, as she was instrumental in writing grants for the extra funds that enabled SCFRA to offer incentives to bring more entries to the races. Each entry that ran a horse in the race got a check for $50. The award winning jockey and trainer from the combined Douglas, AZ races and the Sonoita races received $1000 and a buckle.

Grounds keeper Howard Brollier had the track in top condition for the races, helped along by five local pastors who came the day before the races to pray for the safety of the horses, the jockeys and all those present for the weekend as they helped Beyer pick rocks off the track surface. 

Attendance at the races was nearly the same as the last time the races were held in 2019, according to Gaines and Beyer. However, Gaines stressed, that “making money is not the entire goal of the races.” He sees the SCFRA as “guardians of a tradition to perpetuate the races that have been going on for over 100 years”.