REMEMBERING SAN ISIDRO 2002: THE LONGEST TAURINE MARATHON OF THE YEAR by Mario Carrión


"El Fundi", Miguel Rodríguez and Oscar Higares, facing six difficult 'pabloromeros' bulls, opened the Feria de San Isidro in Las Ventas Bullring in Madrid on May 11. The San Isidro fair annually schedules the longest series of consecutive corridas given in the world. The fair got off to an unimpressive beginning, since none of the three matadors did anything relevant with any of their uncooperative bulls. The reaction of the audience was a neutral silence after each of their performances.

After 26 other taurine events, Luis Francisco Esplá, Víctor Puerto and Luis Miguel Encabo closed this long series of corridas on June 8. These maestros fought six bulls of the legendary Victorino Martín ranch. Unlike the opening corrida, the closing event was a success, since the brave 'victorinos' brought emotion to the stands, and allowed two of the matadors to produce masterful performances. Part of the audience requested the granting of an ear to Esplá with his first enemy, but the judge disregarded the petition. On the other hand, Encabo was granted one ear for his all-powerful performance with the outstanding "Murciano", animal which was recognized as the 'the best bull of the feria' by the most important organizations that give 'best prizes'. Víctor Puerto was not able to match the good performance of his fellow matadors, and he just fought courageously and functionally.

Between the uninspired beginning and the exhilarating end of the fair, there were some wortwhile corridas in which several matadors obtained trophies, and other corridas in which a few maestros who, without having cut any ears, had interesting presentations which merited the approval of the aficionados. Nevertheless, too many matadors had poor performances that were received with a neutral silence, or in the worst of the cases, with boos and other expressions of disapproval from the knowledgeable and demanding Madrid audience.

Before going into details, let's allow the statistics give us a cold and empirical description of the San Isidro taurine marathon. The San Isidro program, which runs from May 12 until June 8, consisted of 23 regular corridas, 3 rejoneo corridas and 3 novilladas in which 47 matadors, 9 novilleros and 8 rejoneadores took part. Twenty two matadors appeared in two corridas; and 21 participated in only one corrida each. Together, the 47 matadors were able to obtain a total of only 14 ears of the 138 animals they faced. Enrique Ponce and Antonio Ferrera cut three ears, José Tomás y David Fandila "El Fandi each cut two ears, and David Luguillano, José Luis Encabo, Fernando Robleño and Antón Cortés one each. This total is unimpressive since the matadors cut ears in only about 8% of the bulls fought in the fair. Three matadors opened the "Puerta Grande": Ponce, Ferrera y José Tomás. The remaining performances were judged by the crowd in the following way: 24 with negatives showing displeasure, 73 with neutral silence, 29 with more or less enthusiastic applause and 7 with a vuelta. There were 3 substitutions due to the injuries that "Joselito" and Antonio Ferrera incurred in France. David Luguillano took the place of "Joselito" in the May 28 corrida, and Ferrera substituted for the same matador in the June 4 corrida. On the other hand, Ferrera was not able to participate in the Conde de la Corte corrida a few days before, and Fernando Robleño took his place in that corrida. Fortunately, none of the toreros was gored in any of the San Isidro corridas, although a few performers had close calls. Of the 138 bulls fought in the corridas de toros, 3 were honored with a posthumous vuelta.

In the 3 novilladas 18 novillos were faced by 9 novilleros who obtained a total of 3 ears. Matías Tejada cut two trophies, opened the Puerta Grande, and was the recipient of ' the best novillero' prizes. Iván García earned one ear. The remaining performances were evaluated as follows: 5 with applause, 7 with silence, and 3 with boos. Eight rejoneadores performed on 3 rejoneo corridas, obtaining a total of 4 trophies. Pablo Hermoso de Mendoza was the only rejoneador who appeared in two events, and he cut one ear in each of his appearances. Joao Moura y Fermín Bohórquez also each cut one ear in their only appearances.

The super-stars Enrique Ponce, José Tomás y Julián López "El Juli" highlighted the program, but they avoided competing directly with each other in the same corrida, as the aficionados would have liked. Moreover these three maestros, aware of the severity with which the Madrid audience judges the stars, only appeared in two corridas. Nevertheless, José Tomás, fought in Madrid once more in the prestigious Beneficiencia Corrida six days after the conclusion of the fair.

José Tomás, after his successful confirmation of his alternativa in Madrid on 1996, has been the favorite performer of the Las Ventas aficion until his last fight in the 2001 San Isidro Feria, when he displayed conduct unbecoming of a great figura. After a few sword thrusts, he allowed one of his bulls to be returned to the pen without trying to affect the negative outcome of the event. However, this year he regained his special status with the Madrid aficion in his first San Isidro appearance on June 21 with "Martelilla" bulls. The spectators remained silent after he ended his first faena, but they exploded with enthusiasm when José Tomás displayed good form with his second animal and finished his work with an effective sword thrust. He was awarded two ears and the opening of the Puerta Grande. Matadors Francisco Rivera Ordoñez and Rafael de Julia, who completed the cartel, each had a poor showing. José Tomás fought his second corrida on May 28, with the audience now in his side. He fought "Alcurrucén" bulls, sharing the cartel with David Luguillano and Eugenio de Mora. Neither of these two matadors could do much with bulls that seemed to be endowed with decaffeinated bravery. On the other hand, José Tomás, after doing very little with his first animal, fought his second bull brilliantly, but he was not awarded any trophies because he failed with the sword. He took a triumphant turn around the ring. He seems to have made peace with his fans in San Isidro.

Julián López "El Juli" was not well received by an antagonistic section of the audience, which blamed him for anything that went wrong at the fair. Furthermore, Julián did not have the chance to turn the tide in his favor, since he had rather poor performances on his two afternoons on May 22 and June 3. He fought four difficult and weak bulls from the 'Garcigrande' and José Luis Pereda ranches. The artistic results of the two corridas were disappointing, since "El Juli", as well as his peers "Morante de la Puebla", Eugenio de Mora, "El Califa" y "Finito de Córdoba", heard very little applause, and a lot of silence. There were several loud expressions of displeasure, specially directed at Julián and "Finito". It was unusual for "El Juli", a matador who always tries his best and, usually counts on the sympathy of the audiences, to play the 'bad guy' role. He will, however, be back next year in Las Ventas and, without a doubt, he will regain the respect that he deserves from the Madrid aficion.

With his good showing in this San Isidro, Enrique Ponce has proven his amazing staying power as a superstar. In his 12th year as a leading matador, when he had accomplished everything in bullfighting and needed nothing, he was the most successful matador in the fair. He won over the most reluctant aficionados as well as the most demanding critics with his extraordinary performance on May 24. Enrique could have avoided Las Ventas, since he was recovering from the serious goring he suffered in Seville in April, but he lived up to his sense of responsibility by showing up that afternoon to confirm the alternativa of Antón Cortés. He fought his two bulls with elegance, mastery, intelligence and cold courage, and since he finished his two faenas using the sword with effectiveness, he received two ears for his first faena and one for his second. Furthermore, he left the ring by the Puerta Grande for third time in his career. Young Cortés also succeeded and cut one ear. Veteran maestro Curro Vázquez, in his farewell performance in Las Ventas, had a forgettable performance. The bulls of Javier Pérez Tabernero had impressive presence and bravery. In his second meeting in the Corrida de la Prensa on May 3, Ponce as well as his peers Eloy Cavazos and Miguel Abellán, confronted bulls from different breeders, the behavior of which prevented them to perform in an entertaining manner. The three maestros received applause in one bull and silence on the other. That afternoon Mexican matador Cavazos said goodbye to the Spanish audiences, since he will retire in Mexico this coming winter. Ponce was the recipient of the "Mayte" and "Biarritz-Bayona" prizes given to 'the overall winner of the feria'.

Although two of the superstars have succeeded in San Isidro, none of the seven 'toreros de feria' had triumphant appearances at the fair this year. I use the denomination 'toreros de ferias' referring to those matadors who regularly appear at the main fairs forming part of the most attractive carteles facing bulls from selected bull-breeding ranches. Matadors "Finito de Córdoba", Manuel Caballero, Francisco Rivera Ordoñez, Víctor Puerto, "Morante de la Puebla", Miguel Abellán and Eugenio de Mora each fought in two corridas. All of them tried to do well, and some have produced some good artistic moments in their performances, but none did anything outstanding enough to deserve a trophy, or even a vuelta. The most they accomplished was to be applauded at the end of some of their faenas. Nevertheless, their work was received most of the time with indifferent silence,and a few times with loud protests. Of the seven stars, Abellán did the best work, and "Finito de Córdoba" the worst. The audience seemed to have a certain animosity against "Finito", who usually reacts to the audience by showing an obvious contempt. This stylish maestro has not cut an ear in Madrid since the 1993 season.

There is a popular saying with regard to bullfighting that claims that 'Madrid gives and it takes away', which is relatively true. For the superstars the successes in Madrid are more important for their own sense of self- fulfillment than for any material gains, since they already fight as much as they want, and under best of conditions. For example "El Juli" has not done well in Las Ventas this San Isidro and yet he will continue being one of the main attractions on any cartel in the world. For the 'toreros de feria', success in Madrid can give them a lift in their careers in the long run, but not much immediate reward for this season, since they are already engaged to appear in a high number of corridas. "Finito de Córdoba" proves this point, since he was the 2001 leader in the number of corridas , and this year he will be starting in all the important fairs, in spite of not having been awarded a single ear in Madrid for the last nine years. On the other hand, for those matadors who are struggling to became stars, or are static in the middle of the road, or are trying to survive in their profession, successes in Madrid may open the way to stardom, or may at least allow them to get a few more fights. Nevertheless, if they have unimpressive performances or failures, they might suffer a setback.

The matadors, who fit into that situation, appeared on the carteles of the hard corridas, with which the chances to please the audience are more difficult. Moreover, most of them participated in just one corrida. In this San Isidro, several of these performers left Las Ventas with an increased appeal. Nevertheless, a group of young matadors, who were on their way up in the 2001 season, unfortunately, had unimpressive showings at the fair, and they consequently have taken a few steps backward in their careers.

Antonio Ferrera is the maestro who has gained more points in San Isidro. He had two outstanding afternoons, since he cut two ears, opened the Puerta Grande, and earned the "Mayte" prizes for 'the best faena' and for 'the best placed banderillas' plus other trophies. Antonio, in spite of his many triumphs with difficult corridas during his four years as a matador, has not been able to enter on a regular basis in the Spanish fairs. He based his career mainly in France, where his efforts have been rewarded. He is an extraordinary banderillero, and he can control the most difficult bulls with courage, ability and intelligence. Furthermore, he has lately refined his capote and muleta work and has acquired the skill to pace the speed of the bulls. Antonio cut two ears to a brave Carriquri bull on May 17. Later, he was unable to fight on May 23, because he was recovering from a serious injury, but without being in top physical shape, he substituted for "Joselito" on June 4. He succeeded again in this corrida. This time with two difficult Manolo González bulls. He took a vuelta, while his peers Caballero and Abellán could not emulate his success. Ferrera has taken a giant step forward in Madrid.

David Fandila "El Fandi" has also taken another giant step in San Isidro, since he cut one ear in the corrida of the confirmation of his alternativa on May 17, and he earned another one in his repetition on June 2. "El Fandi" is also a fantastic heterodox banderillero. Ferrera and "El Fandi" have produced some of the better moments of the fair with their spectacular and exciting manner of placing the banderillas. In San Isidro David, in his third campaign as matador, had found his way, and he is already appearing with outstanding successes in many important fairs.

Antón Cortés, Fernando Robleño, David Luguillano and José Luis Encabo also gained some ground in San Isidro. Antón Cortés, as we mentioned before, cut an ear the day of the confirmation of his alternativa, which he took in Valencia in March. With this trophy he has earned his repetition in Madrid, and probably his inclusion in a few corridas elsewhere. Robleño, a modest and unheralded young matador, opened the Las Ventas Puerta Grande in April. This happened too late for him to be included in the original San Isidro program, but he entered the fair via substitution. He took Ferrera's place in the May 29 corrida with Conde de la Corte bulls. The bulls were not easy, and even the experienced and powerful matadors Pepín Liria and Juan José Padilla could not do much of importance with them. On the other hand, Fernando almost opened the Puerta Grande again, since he obtained a trophy with his first animal and lost a second one on the other, because of his failure with the sword. Fernando surprised the audience with his courage good style, and maturity in the ring, which is unusual for a performer that has fought few corridas since his alternativa. He has a long road ahead, but those two triumphs have elevated him from the bottom to a superior plane. The veteran fine artist Luguillano fought two good "Valdefresno" bulls with elegance on May 17. He earned an ear from his first bull and took a vuelta with his second. That afternoon he earned the honor of substituting for "Joselito" in the "Alcurrucén" corrida on May 28; but this time he could not duplicate his achievement, although he displayed some samples of his inspiring bullfighting skills. Artist David had an irregular career with ups and downs. This season may be a good one for him. Luis Miguel Encabo earned the last ear of the fair. He obtained the trophy from "Murciano", the Victorino Martín bull that received all the 'best bull' prizes granted by different organizations. Luis Miguel, who already appears in many important fairs, often fighting the hard corridas, with this triumph will increase the number of his contracts this season.

Of those toreros for whom to succeed in San isidro was a must for their continued progress, Antonio Barrera y Manuel Jesús "El Cid", even without scoring, have provided proofs of their good taurine qualities in their only presentation in the fair. Antonio, who this year is trying to repeat the successes in Spain that he had in Mexico, confirmed his 1999 Seville alternative in Madrid with a dangerous Guardiola bull on May 23. He was applauded for his courageous determination, and on his second animal he took a turn around the arena. Barrera left a good impression, which qualifies him to have other opportunities to fight again in Las Ventas. On May 12 "El Cid" had the good luck to perform with "Guitarrero", an animal from the Hernández Plá ranch, which was one of the best bulls of the fair. He did some of the best and most complete muleta work done at the fair, but he failed with the sword, and what could have been a triumph of Puerta Grande, was reduced to just strong applause. A pity, the audience will remember the bravery of the bull more, which was given a vuelta, than his work.

Young matadors Javier Castaño, Rafael de Julia, Alberto Ramírez, Jesús Millán, Alfonso Romero y "El Califa" have been trying hard to find a place among the 'toreros de feria', and last year they took steps forward to obtain that goal. All of them came to San Isidro with the hope of taking another step ahead, but their lackluster appearances resulted in one step backward. This year Madrid has not given anything to those young men. On the other hand San Isidro has taken something away from them. Madrid has also slowed down Dávila Miura, who needed a triumph in San Isidro to be counted among the stars. Vicente Barrera, who was on his comeback path, after being the overall winner in Valencia, was also negatively affected by his lack of success at the fair.

Madrid demands a bull with volume and too much weight and with an impressive presence that the bull breeders have difficulty meeting. bull breeders are more concerned with their animals meeting those conditions than with selecting their Madrid corridas based on the bravery notes and the prototype of their breeds. Many of those terrifying looking animals are often huge masses of meat that lack bravery, mobility and strength, which make their fights boring, as the artistic results of the last few San Isidro fairs show. This was the case this year, although, in comparison with the 2000 and 2001 fairs, there has been some improvement in the behavior of the bulls. The animals from "El Partido de la Resina", Baltasar Iván, "Garcigrande", "Puerto de San Lorenzo", "El Pilar" and "Palha" ranches were the worst offenders, and the bulls from "Carriquiri", "Valdefresno", Javier Pérez Tabernero, Adolfo Martín and Victorino Martín ranches were more manegeable. Adolfo Martín was presented with the 'best ganaderia' trophy, given by "La Comunidad-Ayuntamineto de Madrid". Also, "Murciano", a Victorino Martín bull, was recognized as 'the best bull of the feria'.

The Corrida de Beneficencia can be considered the epilogue to San Isidro. This year it was held six days after the fair, and it was a total disappointment for the audience, for bull breeder Núñez del Cuvillo, and for matadors Manuel Caballero, José Tomás and "Morante de la Puebla". The bored audience passed the afternoon in indifferent silence or making some angry protests. The bulls were weak and lacking in bravery, and the bullfighters were powerless to do anything acceptable. The followings titles of reviews of the corrida, which appeared in two leading Madrid newspapers, illustrate the outcome of the event: "José Tomás and the Seven Invalids" ABC, and "Caballero, José Tomás, Morante and the Bulls Disappoint" El Mundo.

The Corrida de Beneficencia, June 13, 2002, will be recorded in history with only one word: 'disappointment', and what happened that afternoon will soon be forgotten. On the other hand, the Feria de San Isidro will be remembered because three bulls were given a vuelta, and because veteran Enrique Ponce opened the Puerta Grande for a third time in his career. Furthermore, it will also be remembered because Antonio Ferrera and "El Fandi" not only had outstanding triumphs, which elevated them to a higher plateau, but also because they gave relevance to the modern athletic and spectacular way of placing banderillas.

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