Thought I got the heavy lifting out of the way, dear diary, before the meet began. You know, Happy 144th and all that. But no, the hits just kept on coming.
Frank “Pancho” Martin, best remembered as the trainer of Sham, the best 3-year-old of 1973 with one notable exception, died Wednesday night at 86.
Pancho might not have beaten Secretariat that Triple Crown season, but 1973, the year after he fashioned Autobiography into a champion, Martin began a string of 10 New York training titles that lasted a decade.
The following year, he led all American trainers with $2.4 million in earnings, with a stable of mostly hard-hitting claimers and, in 1981, 30 years after he arrived in New York, he was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame.
But that’s what you deserve after saddling an astounding 3,240 winners in the days when racing actually had seasons that began in spring and ended in late fall. His horses earned an equally impressive $47.6 million. And that was three decades ago.
A native of Cuba, Martin had the hard exterior of a working man, a small language barrier making him appear distant. It was hard to get to know him for those reasons. One of the game’s true giants, Martin was an intimidating presence, almost menacing, but nothing was further from the truth.
The one thing that Pancho Martin commanded was respect. And, as with all legendary figures, the time comes when you learn to love the man.
“He was a real fighter,” said trainer John Parisella, 16 years Martin’s junior yet a contemporary.
“Whenever he got knocked down, he got up off the floor. I’ve been on the racetrack 41 years and it was because of men like Pancho that’s responsible for that.
“He was a true champion,” Parisella said, paused for a moment, then he said this: “And he did it the right way."
That’s the way it was for Jose Martin’s dad, Carlos Martin’s grandfather. A good thought goes out to his family. They could not have been more proud, nor had a better mentor.
BETS N' PIECES:: Rick Dutrow, a stranger neither to championships nor controversy, yesterday received what might have been a fatal blow to his career when a New York appellate court upheld a recommended ban of 10 years for repeated violations.
A statement from the NYSRWB read: "Today, the State of New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Third Judicial Department unanimously upheld the Racing and Wagering Board's 10-year ban and $50,000 fine of Thoroughbred trainer Rick Dutrow for repeated equine drug violations.
“…A court-ordered stay of the Board's action is in effect until Mr. Dutrow exhausts his remaining legal options. The Board is pleased with the Court's decision."
Dutrow, of course, was a deserving target for his myriad violations, proving over and over again to be his own worst enemy.
His penchant for candor did him in when, in a throwaway line during a pre-Triple Crown interview in advance of Big Brown’s attempt to make history in 2008, he mentioned the colt would not be racing on steroids in the Belmont Stakes.
The mainstream media took that ball and spiked it in the end zone. And when Big Brown was eased with more than a quarter mile left to run, Dutrow’s fate was sealed.
Dutrow was banned in Kentucky, banned in Arkansas, then banned in New York pending the appeal process which has one step remaining, should the Court of Appeals decide to hear the trainer’s case.
He has three horses entered tomorrow at Saratoga, including Baby J, the 5-2 early line favorite for the Grade 3 Schuylerville, juvenile fillies racing six furlongs.
Dutrow has developed many champions and is a well-respected horseman, allegations notwithstanding. No trainer has been under closer scrutiny in New York for the past several years yet he manages to win at a high percentage.
On its face, a “cheater” is getting what he deserves. Somehow, that doesn’t put a smile on my face.
WHEN JOHNNY COMES RIDING HOME AGAIN, HURRAH: But not for another week. It is the eve of American racing’s biggest and best race meet and I’m missing Velazquez already.
John Velazquez has already stated it will be impossible for him to defend last year’s riding title and is resigned to the fact that when he does return, it will be on a limited basis until back at full strength.
But knowing his competitive nature and the strength of this year’s jockey colony, the deepest talent pool in recent memory, you know it is galling for him to be grounded opening day and for another seven or 10 to follow.
The good news is that Velazquez will have plenty of time to polish up his Hall of Fame acceptance speech, August 10th.