07/19/2012 5:02PM

Frank "Pancho" Martin is dead at 86, Hall of Fame trainer

Barbara D. Livingston
Trainer Frank "Pancho" Martin gets a hug from jockey Gabriel Saez last year.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Hall of Fame trainer Frank “Pancho” Martin, the leading trainer on the New York Racing Association circuit for more than a decade, died Wednesday after a lengthy illness. He was 86.

Best known as the trainer of 1973 Kentucky Derby and Preakness runner-up Sham, Martin won 3,241 races, and his horses earned $47.5 million in purse money in a career that spanned 60 years. The Cuban-born Martin was NYRA’s leading trainer in 1971 and then for 10 straight years from 1973 to 1982. He trained champions Autobiography and Outstandingly and was voted into Thoroughbred racing’s Hall of Fame in 1981.

Martin grew up in Havana, two blocks from Oriental Park where he began his career as a hotwalker. He came to the U.S. in 1949 and began training in New York in 1951.

Martin was the father of trainer Jose Martin, who died in 2006, and Greg Martin, a former trainer who lost his license in 2005. His grandson Carlos is a trainer on the NYRA circuit.

On the Saratoga backstretch Thursday morning, “Pancho” Martin was described as a selfless man and a fierce competitor.

Allen Jerkens goes back 60 years with Martin when each trainer had one horse at Tropical Park in Florida.

“I always thought no matter what I needed he would give it to me if I had to have it,” Jerkens said. “That’s the way he was, but he was a real competitor too.”

Jerkens remembered selling Martin the horse Never Bow, who won the 1971 Brooklyn Handicap under Martin’s name although Jerkens trained him.

“l’ll never forget – he bought him on Monday and he said you keep him and I’ll take him over after the race,” Jerkens said. “We trained him up to the race and he won the race and I had a horse in the race and he beat me.”

Carlos Martin recalled a time in 1973, when Jose Martin was battling Pancho for leading trainer in New York. Jose kept running a horse back frequently and it kept winning.

“Next time you run that [horse] I claim him from you,” Carlos Martin recalled Pancho telling his son.

Frank Martin won that year’s title by eight wins over Jose Martin and John Campo Sr.

“The competitive fire he had in him was always an inspiration to me,” Carlos Martin said. “I’ve never seen anybody compete like him.”

Gary Contessa, the leading trainer on the NYRA circuit from 2006 to 2009, worked for Martin as an assistant for three years in the 1980s.

“That guy was the ultimate horseman, he wasn’t just a guy who screamed a lot and was a wild and crazy guy,” Contessa said. “He could take a horse apart and put it back together again and make it a better horse. He was an unbelievable horseman.”

In 2007, Contessa won a record 159 races on the NYRA circuit, breaking the mark of 154 previously held by Martin.

Other stakes winners trained by Martin included Hitchcock, Identical, Manassa Mauler, Prince Dantan, Proud Arion, Renewed, and Rube the Great.

Martin is survived by his wife of 46 years, Charlene; daughters Charlene and Margaret, sons Greg and Frank Jr., and seven grandchildren.

A funeral service for Martin was scheduled to be held Friday at 10 a.m. at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in West Hempstead, N.Y.

JoyJackson21 More than 1 year ago
It sounds as if Mr. Martin lead a very full life and was an excellent trainer. My sincere condolences are extended to his family during their time of grief. Rest in peace, Mr. Martin.
Cover2 More than 1 year ago
Never got along with Bobby Frankel........a lot of animosity both sides !
Vincent More than 1 year ago
Pancho's greatest regret, I think, would have to be his failure to beat Secretariat in any of the Triple Crown races of 1973. Unfortunately the movie about Secretariat painted him as a villain for daring to think he could beat "Big Red". He was anything but a villain, just a hard working honest trainer that believed he could beat any horse that ever lived.
Donna Straley More than 1 year ago
The movie portrait of Mr. Martin was extremely unfair. One of the comments I read today was from Mr. Martin's grandson where he said his grandfather genuinely loved Sham & that he was his favorite of all the horses he trained.
DrSmoke120 More than 1 year ago
Agreed, the way that movie portrayed him was criminal. Great trainer
Barry R More than 1 year ago
miguel More than 1 year ago
my prayer go out PANCHO&FAMILY.......great horseman and great person will be miss....!!!
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
Blessings to Pancho and to his Family.
Ronnie Malo Rodriguez More than 1 year ago
RIP to Mr Frank Martin excellent trainer