Frank 'Pancho' Martin, famed horse trainer, dead at 86

Hall of Fame trainer Frank "Pancho" Martin, who Hall of Fame trainer Frank "Pancho" Martin, who oversaw 1973 Kentucky Derby and Preakness runner-up Sham, died in his Garden City home July 18, 2012 after a brief illness. He was 86. Newsday's obituary for Frank "Pancho" Martin
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Hall of Fame trainer Frank "Pancho" Martin, who oversaw 1973 Kentucky Derby and Preakness runner-up Sham, died in his Garden City home Wednesday after a brief illness. He was 86.

The 1981 Hall of Fame inductee won 3,240 career races and accrued purse earnings of $47,586,039, according to Equibase.

"He had a rough voice, a rough demeanor, with a cigar in the mouth all the time," said his son, Greg Martin, of West Hempstead. "But anybody who knew him knew what a kind man he was.

Sham was the most famous of the champion horses Martin trained -- and his favorite. The colt won the 1973 Santa Anita Derby, 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. Sham finished last and never raced again.

New York was where Martin forged a reputation as a consummate horseman who could turn other trainers' castoffs into stakes winners. He started in New York in 1951 and led this circuit in victories 11 times.

"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.' "

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Martin led the nation in purse earnings with $2,408,419 in 1974. He won training titles at Aqueduct six times, Belmont four times and Saratoga twice.

He grew up poor in Havana, Cuba, two blocks from Oriental Park Racetrack. At age 12, he was jumping over racetrack fences because one had to be 16 to get in. He began his career at Oriental Park cooling out horses after their morning workouts.

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

In 1947, he was 21 when left Cuba on a boat with $35 in his pocket and a horse named Constant Aim, which he bought with $500 he had scrimped to save, his son said.

Martin worked at an Ohio racetrack, where he slept in the tack room and where his horse won a little money for him, Greg Martin said.

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Frank Martin is also survived by Charlene, his wife of 46 years; son Frank Jr., of Washington, D.C.; daughters Charlene Ciampa, of Westbury, and Margaret, of Gainesville, Fla.; and seven grandchildren, including Carlos Martin who currently trains on the New York circuit.

A funeral Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Friday at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in West Hempstead, followed by burial at Amityville Cemetery.

With Ellen Yan

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