Photo: NYRA photo
He may not be the oldest active trainer around, but Hall of Famer Frank “Pancho” Martin has few peers on The New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) circuit.
Martin, who turns 84 on Thursday, December 3, is 23 months younger than Ramon “Mike” Hernandez, who holds the distinction as the oldest active trainer, and four years older than fellow Hall of Famer H. Allen Jerkens, who turned 80 last spring.
Sitting behind his desk at Belmont Park, Martin could only smile when asked how long he’s been around the racetrack.
“As long as I can remember,” he said. “I was born in Cuba, and I started working at the track when I was 12 years old.”
Martin, who lived just two blocks from Oriental Park, began as a hotwalker and started training while still a teenager. He doesn’t remember the year or the name of his first winner in Cuba, but in 1947, began racing in Ohio, Florida and New England before moving permanently to the United States and finally settling in New York in 1951.
He saddled his first major stakes winner in 1959, when Manassa Mauler won the Wood Memorial, and in 1972 saddled his first champion, Autobiography, the nation’s Top Older Horse. Among his more than 50 stakes winners were 1974 Wood Memorial hero Rube the Great, 1971 Brooklyn Handicap winner Never Bow, 1972 Suburban Handicap winner Hitchcock, and 1998 Whirlaway winner Watch the Bird.
Although he saddled his lone Breeders’ Cup winner in 1984 with Outstandingly, who went on to take the Eclipse Award as the country’s top 2-year-old filly, his favorite horse remains his 1973 Santa Anita Derby winner, Sham, who was runner-up to Triple Crown winner Secretariat in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes for longtime clients Sigmund and Viola Sommer.