Trainer Frank “Pancho” Martin won over 3200 races at every level in the Sport of Kings. Known somewhat as a claiming trainer. That is just one of many misconceptions about this incredible old school horseman. Pancho, as he was known, won some of the biggest stakes at every circuit he competed at. He often won stakes with horses he claimed from other trainers, but also developed horses. Pancho Martin would also purchase horses privately and turn those runners into stakes performers frequently. He won the inaugural Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies in 1984 with Outstandingly, albeit via a disqualification of Fran’s Valentine. Of course many of us know Frank Martin as the trainer of Sham, an extremely fast and talented colt who had the misfortune to run into Secretariat.
Frank “Pancho” Martin came to the United States from Cuba with about $5 dollars in his pocket. Literally. He came with nothing and worked long, hard hours, seven days a week, and built one of the greatest training resumes in the game. His winners earned over 47 million dollars in purses. He never really received the credit he deserved, and as aforementioned was often misunderstood, in part because of his no nonsense, unfiltered, tell it like it is approach to not only training but life. Frank Martin did it his way. His son Greg told me a story about when Pancho arrived in New York he was cautioned not to claim from Hirsch Jacobs. His first claim was off Jacobs and he won with the horse.
Here are some examples of Pancho Martin’s training prowess:
Piece of Heaven… claimed December 1977 for $30,000.. in his first five races for Martin he won three and finished second twice with two stakes victories and $87,353 earning as of March 1978…. Stakes wins The Bay Shore…The Swift…
Big Shot II ….claimed January 26th 1971 at Santa Anita for $25,000… after being claimed by Martin he won multiple Stakes and earned $204,150 as of Jan 1972… Stakes wins The San Gabriel…The San Marcos H… Manhattan H… Brentwood …..
Turn and Count… he was not a claimer but he was purchased for the price of $25,000 at the Saratoga yearling sale in 1974 from Albert Yank…. he had many injuries but Martin got him healthy and he started to win… taking the Roamer…The Excelsior H….The Grey Lag….won 9 of 19…7 placings… earned $246,971…
Ten Below…Bwamazon Farm tried to drop this horse down and it did not slip by Frank Martin who claimed him after a 5 length victory for a $75,000 claiming tag…. Martin looked for owners who play it a little risky and drop them in for a tag…. TEN BELOW won the 1982 Lawrence Realization, setting a Stakes Record of 2:26 2/5 while earning $51,030… he would also win the Eddie Read H…Turf Paradise H..
Manassa Mauler claimed by Martin for Owner Emil Dolce as a 2year old for $12,500 in late 1958…wins the Wood Memorial…and Career earnings of $350,000…
I did not know Pancho Martin well, but I did know him good enough to realize he would not be flattered by the way he was portrayed in the Secretariat movie. It was inaccurate, and I confirmed he was not thrilled about it with his son and some close friends of his. Martin played the claiming game hard, but fair. He was kind and generous to many people around him during his long reign in New York. Often with his generosity going unnoticed. He was not one to point it out nor expect anything back either.
My Good friend Ray DeStefano knew Pancho very well. He worked with him when he started on the racetrack, and Pancho was a mentor to him, and many others. Ray shared this telling story about Pancho that not many people know.
The story of Petrograd (1969 gelding) – raced until he was 10 and was a huge fan favorite in NY.
He was a very nice stakes winning sprinter in his earlier years. At 6 he started to tail off. Tommy Walsh and his wife owned and trained him and he really became known as THEIR horse. They started running him in claiming races and winning them because they ran him cheaper than they should have because no one would dare claim him from them. It was sort of an unwritten rule around racing, you don’t claim someone’s only horse, or a pet.
Pancho got tired of getting beat by Petrograd so one day in the late 70s at Aqueduct he claimed him to the horror of the Walshs. How dare he claim THEIR horse!!! I was working on the gate then and was in the tunnel under the stands that leads to the jocks room and racing offices from the paddock after the race when Pancho and the Walshs crossed paths. Mrs. Walsh was crying because her “pet” was claimed. She was VERY ANGRY and started YELLING and SCREAMING at Pancho how dare he claim their horse/pet.
In a few words I will say what Pancho told her:
He said in his loud, deep voice, without holding back any expletives and for everyone to hear that basically if they did not want the horse to get claimed, they should not have run him in a claiming race. He went on to do pretty well with old Petrograd for the Sommer’s but when he knew the horse was about done at 10, Martin called Mrs. Walsh and gave her the horse back for free so she could retire him on her farm and use him as a pleasure horse. That is exactly what she did. THAT WAS PANCHO. Very few people know that story and I would not have known the first part of it unless I was there.
To learn a little bit more about Ray, the last man to hold the great Ruffian, read All 1’s, The Only Real Story of what happened to this great filly.
A very special thanks to Chuck Sturzenegger and his facebook page devoted to Frank Martin. Chuck helped immensely with this story and his page contains most of this information and a lot more. It is worth visiting. Chuck also provided the picture of Pancho.