Trainer Frank "Pancho" Martin, who was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1981, died Wednesday night. He was 86.
Although not as active in recent years, Martin saddled 77 starters in 2012, finishing second five times and third twice.
Martin started in racing in his native Cuba. On his introduction to the sport, he said: "I lived two blocks from Oriental Park when I was growing up, and the only things to do were to go to work on the track or play baseball. I was a lousy ballplayer."
After training in Cuba and later in New England and in Florida, Martin arrived in New York in 1951. He led that circuit in victories 11 times including 10 straight years from 1973-1982. He topped the nation in purse earnings with $2,408,419 in 1974.
Martin trained more than 50 stakes winners including Sham, a chief rival of Secretariat in the spring of 1973. Sham, winner of the Santa Anita Derby that March, then finished second, and Secretariat third, in that year's Wood Memorial Stakes. Sham then ran second to Secretariat in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes. The two then faced each other in the Belmont Stakes, with Secretariat winninng by 31 lengths.
Martin's other stakes winners included 1972 champion older male Autobiography and champion 2-year-old filly Outstandingly, who won the inaugural Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies via disqualification in 1984.
Martin's other notable runners included 1959 Wood Memorial winner Manassa Mauler, 1961 Monmouth Handicap winner Don Poggio, 1971 Brooklyn Handicap victor Never Bow, 1972 Suburban Handicap winner Hitchcock, 1974 Wood Memorial winner Rube the Great, and 1974 Santa Anita Handicap winner Prince Dantan.
Martin was honored with the New York Turf Writers Association's Outstanding Trainer Award in 1971, 1974, and 1982, and also received the organization's award as New York's champion trainer in 1971, 1973, 1976-79, and 1981
Behind a griff exterior, Martin was as well known on the backstretch for his generosity as his horsemanship.
"He was difficult to get along with, but he had a good heart," said Hall of Fame rider Angel Cordero. "If you needed money [he'd give you some]. He bought a restaurant, and he didn't let anybody pay for one year, and then he had to sell it. I asked him, 'How are you going to have a restaurant if you don't have anybody pay.' He said, 'When I retire, I'll get rid of it.' That's how good of a person he was. If you needed $100, he'd give it to you. He was tough when he got beat, but you got used to it. One day I asked him, 'Why do you get so mad [when you lose]?' He said, 'You show me a guy who gets beat a lot and I'll show you a lollipop.' Even though he had a temper, everyone knew he was a good trainer. Everybody respected him and called him "Mr. Martin.' "
Twice the champion trainer at Saratoga Race Course, in 1980 and 1982, Martin won more than 20 individual meet titles in New York and ranks second with 910 wins behind Gasper Moschera (925) at Aqueduct and fourth overall at Belmont (531) from 1976-2011. In 1974, he won 156 races for the year at Aqueduct Racetrack, Belmont Park, and Saratoga Race Course, a record that stood for 33 years until broken by Contessa in 2007.
"He was one of the greatest horsemen," said Cordero. "When I came to this country I worked around four people here I think were the greatest: Angel Penna Sr., Lazaro Barrera, Frank Martin, and Allen Jerkens. Today, it's a new generation, but of old-timers they were the greatest. With jockeys, you get good riders and excellent riders. With trainers, you get good trainers and excellent trainers. And he was one of them."
Surviving Martin are his wife of 46 years, Charlene; sons Frank Jr. and Greg; daughters Charlene and Margaret, and seven grandchildren, including Carlos Martin, a New York trainer. A funeral Mass will be held Friday, July 20, at 10 a.m. at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in West Hempstead, N.Y.