Otherwise engaged at Preakness

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Sam Grossman's fifth year as official bugler for the Preakness is one he'll never forget. Neither will his new fiancee, Valerie Moore, to whom he proposed between bugling duties for the fifth and the sixth races on Saturday.

Even though the Long Island, N.Y., resident has been the bugler at his state's three racetracks — Belmont, Aqueduct and Saratoga — 250 days a year for the past 20 years, he had a big reason for popping the question the one day each year he musically introduces races at Pimlico.

"Four years ago at Preakness, on May 17, 2008, I was playing my Triple Crown Medley — "My Old Kentucky Home," "Maryland, My Maryland" and "Sidewalks of New York." In the middle of that, I see this woman in a red dress. I stopped in the middle of the medley, walked over to her and said, 'Red is my color' and kissed her on the hand. I finished the medley and asked her to have a Black-Eyed Susan with me. She said, 'What's a Black-Eyed Susan?' I said, 'It's the official drink of the Preakness.' She asked me what was in it. I said, 'I don't know, I've never had one.'"

He asked Moore — who was visiting from San Antonio — to meet him at the winner's circle after any of the races to take him up on that offer. It took a few races because she was a bit hesitant. He says Moore's friends had to drag her there. They had that drink, and Grossman knew he was hooked.

"I don't what came over me, but I reached out and I kissed her," he says. "And it wasn't a peck. It was a kiss you'd never forget."

A long-distance romance was born. Grossman and Moore, a real estate agent, have been visiting each other whenever they can. And every year, she's gone to Preakness with him — always wearing a red dress.

"Our most special couple days of the year are always at the Preakness, because that's where we met," he says.

So it made sense to Grossman to ask her to marry him on the fourth anniversary of the day they met. Unfortunately, he couldn't make it a complete surprise. With his work schedule under a tight timetable, Grossman had to give her advance warning, to make sure she would be at the right place at the right time — Pimlico's Sports Palace around 1 p.m.

That didn't detract from the excitement of the occasion as Grossman arrived with champagne, told her he loved her and offered her a ring. As he put it on her finger, it was hard to tell whose hand was shaking more. Then he played "Imagination" for her on his trumpet, something else he had done for her on the day they met.

"He always plays beautiful music for me," Moore said. "I'm so grateful for this wonderful, talented man."

The long-distance part of the relationship may come to an end as the couple work out the details of her move to his turf, which will most likely happen after the wedding next summer in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. But their Preakness trips will continue.

"There were 112,000 people here the day Big Brown won the Preakness," said Grossman. "I only remember one of them."

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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