The Frank “Pancho” Martin Stakes

July 29, 2023

What will it take and when will we see The Frank “Pancho” Martin stakes at a New York Racing Association NYRA racetrack?

Consider this an open letter to David O’ Rourke, an Op-Ed, an article, request, call it what you like but get Pancho his race

Any day anytime you went to Aqueduct, Belmont or Saratoga chances are Frank Martin was there, had a few horses in, and won a race or two. That lasted decades and sums it up pretty good. Now the rest of the story.

In the past half a century, maybe even a little more, is there a trainer on the New York circuit who doesn’t have a Stake race named for them at a NYRA racetrack who deserves it more than Frank Martin? If you have been around racing that long, or are a student of the game you’d be hard pressed to argue against that point. The Frank Martin Stakes at a NYRA track is long overdue.

Pancho, as he was affectionally called, was a fixture at New York racetracks for about 60 years. He was more than a mainstay. He was a legend. An icon. A perennial leading trainer on what was then arguably the toughest circuit in the country if not the world, Pancho dominated the claiming ranks and was just as competitive in Stakes. Racing secretaries didn’t have to call him to enter a horse to make a race go, if Frank had a horse who was ready he was already entered.

His remarkable career is just part of his incredible story and contribution to the sport we love and New York racing. Frank Martin held court in the mornings on the backstretch and in the afternoons at the racetrack. People gathered around him to hear his stories, racetrack tales and wit. On the coldest of the Aqueduct winter days and the hottest of the Belmont and Saratoga summer heat, Pancho was at the track from 5AM to 6PM. No days off, no vacations, just horse racing. When it came to racehorses he was all business. He’d claim from anyone and you can read more about that here including when he claimed a special horse to someone only to return the horse after their racing career. The horse was Petrograd and you can read that story right here. It is worth it.

Long days never phased him as he was where he loved to be, doing what he loved to do and he was good at it. He was so good at turning claims into Stakes horses, and private purchases into Stakes horses that would beat the “supposedly” better horses in the barn that were not sold that stables started refusing to sell him horses. Hay, oats, water and a keen eye was all he needed. Yes, he could be considered gruff, but he had class, told it like it was, and never suffered from a common disease at the racetrack called “short arms.” A lot of race trackers have short arms, Pancho didn’t. He helped a lot of people a lot of times.

Frank Martin won 3241 races as a trainer and over 47 million in purses when that was a lot of money. The top Stakes in the country for much of his career were 50 or 100 thousand dollar purses.

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…

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..

Frank Pancho Martin 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 Martin was nor portrayed accurately in the Secretariat movie. That’s Hollywood, Pancho was for real. I’m sure it bothered him, and although he would tell it like it is, that he probably wouldn’t mention.

Hitchcock, Autobiography, Rube the Great, the list goes on. His son Jose was an outstanding Stakes winning trainer in his own right and his grandson Carlos is following in the families footsteps. Gregory Martin and Gloria Martin are successful Bloodstock Agents. Pancho was the Champion trainer by earnings and in 1981 made the Hall of Fame. Winning races like:

The Wood Memorial Stakes

Display Handicap

Brooklyn Handicap

Discovery Handicap

Manhattan Handicap

Tremont Stakes

Suburban Handicap

Jockey Club Gold Cup

Santa Anita Derby

Santa Anita Handicap

Gotham Stakes

Toboggan Handicap

Bay Shore Stakes

Morven Stakes

Massachusetts Handicap

Whirlaway Stakes

Breeders’ Cup Juvenile

We all know what Sham did in The Kentucky Derby and Preakness and if not for the great Secretariat and Sham getting hurt in The Belmont who knows. Nobody else was winning that Belmont but Sham might have been second again and likely closer than Twice a Prince. There is even a race named for Sham. Not Poncho though.

Pancho made the green and gold silks of Sigmund and Viola Summer amongst the most recognizable of the era and that was a golden era. He was New York racing.

Would it take a petition? I mean we have a Stake named for Pennine Ridge but not Frank Martin. Cab Calloway never trained a horse I saw. No disrespect to anyone or any horse but Frank Martin and his family who remains active in racing and supporters of NYRA are being disrespected by not having a Stake for Pancho. I’ll go one further, as it is my column and I can do that. It should be a Grade 1, maybe a Grade 2. Yes, I know how the Graded Stakes committee works, that’s why you change some old name of an existing Stake. I won’t offer suggestions as to which one, but it has been done before.

Frank Martin came to the United States from Cuba with $5 dollars to his name. They told him not to claim form Hirsch Jacobs. The first horse he claimed was from Jacobs and he won off the claim. He helped and encouraged the Barrera’s: Lazzaro, Oscar, Luis, and Guillermo to come to America and all became trainers. His hot walkers and grooms lasted most of their careers with him. He was loyal to his people and they to him.

It is hard to figure out why NYRA has never named a race for Pancho. Maybe someone doesn’t like him or think it is a good idea. Maybe it slipped through the cracks. Maybe a lot of people who knew how great and influential he was for the sport are departed.

Pancho filled the cards, won the races, showed up every day, and helped make New York racing the benchmark of US racing. We owe him a race and the interest on that debt is accruing. I think David O’ Rourke makes good and does the right thing. The Frank “Pancho” Martin Stakes. And no overnight one off either.

Photo: Frank Martin, NYRA Photo, Coglianese Photos

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Jon Stettin

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