Pancho Martin, trainer of Sham, dies

BY foxsports • July 19, 2012

Hall of Fame trainer Frank ''Pancho'' Martin, who oversaw 1973 Kentucky Derby and Preakness runner-up Sham, has died. He was 86.

He died at his home in Garden City, N.Y., on Wednesday night after a brief illness, according to the New York Racing Association.

Martin won 3,240 career races and had purse earnings of $47,586,039, according to Equibase. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1981.

Sham was the most famous horse Martin trained. The colt won the 1973 Santa Anita Derby, and then lost to Secretariat in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. They hooked up again in the Belmont Stakes, and Sham dueled with Secretariat around the first turn and into the backstretch before fading. Secretariat won by a record 31 lengths to become horse racing's ninth Triple Crown winner. Sham finished last, beaten 45-1/4 lengths, and never raced again.

''His favorite horse was Sham,'' Martin's son, Greg, said. ''He always loved Sham.''

After stints in New England and Florida, Martin moved to New York in 1951 and led that circuit in victories 11 times, including from 1973-82. He led the nation in purse earnings with $2,408,419 in 1974. He won training titles at Aqueduct six times, Belmont four times and and Saratoga twice.

''Frank was sharp,'' said retired jockey Angel Cordero Jr., who rode for Martin. ''He was one of the best we ever had.''

Although not as active in recent years, Martin saddled 77 starters this year, finishing second five times and third twice.

Martin was born in Cuba on Dec. 3, 1925, and grew up in Havana, two blocks from Oriental Park Racetrack, where he began his career cooling out horses after their morning workouts.

''The only things to do were to go to work on the track or play baseball,'' he said. ''I was a lousy ballplayer.''

Martin left Cuba in 1947 and moved to the United States in 1949, eventually settling in New York in 1951. He began to forge his reputation as a consummate horseman who could take other trainers' castoffs and turn them into stakes winners.

''He was the greatest trainer at looking at a horse and knowing what was wrong with it,'' said trainer Gary Contessa, who worked for Martin from 1980-85. ''He'd claim horses, or buy horses that other people had given up on, and turn to me and say, `He doesn't know what he just lost.'''

Martin trained Autobiography, champion older horse in 1972 when he won the Jockey Club Gold Cup; and Outstandingly, champion 2-year-old filly in 1984, when she was awarded the win in the inaugural Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies via disqualification. Outstandingly was owned by Harbor View Farm, for which Martin trained from 1983-86.

Martin's other notable runners included 1959 Wood Memorial winner Manassa Mauler, 1974 Wood winner Rube the Great, 1971 Brooklyn Handicap winner Never Bow, and 1972 Suburban Handicap winner Hitchcock. Other major races won by Martin's horses include the Santa Anita Handicap, Jersey Derby, Gotham, Monmouth Handicap, Lawrence Realization, Count Fleet, Whirlaway and Toboggan.

Martin is survived by Charlene, his wife of 46 years; sons Frank Jr. and Greg; daughters Charlene and Margaret; and seven grandchildren, including Carlos Martin, who currently trains on the New York circuit.

A funeral mass is set for Friday.