October 17, 2003

Bullfight World

By Lyn Sherwood

Last Sunday (Oct. 12) was a great homecoming for this reporter, who flew into San Diego from Texas and was hosted by Bruce Hutton and Gary Sloan. The reason was to be honored in Plaza Monumental de Tijuana with an homenage, marking my 50 years as a bullfight photographer.

Unfortunately, as we prepared to do the ceremony, the P.A. system decided to throw a tantrum and there was no way that we could inform the crowd why this strange-looking, bearded character was standing in the arena. So, we had to postpone the whole thing, until next season.

Nevertheless, the afternoon was a good one, although the judging, as usual, leaned far to the very liberal side. The great Spanish rejoneador Pablo Hermoso de Mendoza alternated with Mexican matadors Rafael Ortega and César Castañeda, facing a mixed herd from Celia de Barbabosa and Santo Domingo. The Barbabosas were very good; the Santo Domingos were not. But, all appeared to sport horns that seemed unnaturally blunt.


Pablo Hermoso’s first bull would have been excellent if faced by a matador, on the ground, but proved not very good for rejoneo. Nevertheless, the rejoneador and his spectacular horses performed well with the animal, but encountered problems killing. Applause.

But, Hermoso’s second bull was very good for the horses, in spite of being a tricky critter that cut terrains, attempting to find a shortcut to the steeds, but Hermoso was always thinking ahead of the bull and turned in a fine performance with rejones, banderillas, the rosa, and a good rejon of death to win a well-deserved ear.


Rafael Ortega was a pleasant surprise. He has to qualify as the most improved Mexican matador. With his first bull, he opened with veronicas and chicuelinas —unfortunately without a remate between the two suertes— placed banderillas in good style, then went on to deliver a third act that presented something for everybody: equal parts of kneeling passes and adornments for the tourists, and good right- and left-handed work for the small percentage of knowing aficionados. The sword placement was quickly effective, but very poorly placed. Two ears were awarded, but only one was deserved.

But, with his second bull, a very difficult animal, Ortega rolled it out, turning in a performance that was totally over the heads of the crowd, which didn’t respond to his work, because they didn’t understand how fine and dangerous it was. He hung in on the right and left hand sides, demanding attacks and dragging a grand performance from the reluctant toro. His sword was decent, but there was no petition. Ortega really didn’t anticipate any, for he knew that his work was far too honest for a border crowd. Nevertheless, it was a wonderful performance for those who knew what they were seeing.


I have watched this young, good looking torero for many years and have always been impressed by his courage and his talent with the banderillas. But, if last Sunday’s performance was indicative of the current state of his toreo, this reporter concludes that his talents have not grown; he has not progressed; he is as good, now, as he will ever be, and that means that he will forever be a minor league matador. He continues to make the same errors that he has always made, such as losing the face of the bull.

With his first bull, he did nothing of value with either cape or muleta. He gave lots of passes, but he failed to torear. There was no domination. He did not control the otherwise excellent bull. And, his sword placement was very low. Naturally, he was awarded two ears, neither of which he deserved.

His second bull turned out to be a pure manso that played hit-and-run with the picadors and was eventually replaced with a creature that had obviously spent too much time in the corrals. It was a devil animal. Still, César gave it some good work, especially with the banderillas. But, in the third act, it was obvious that the problems that the bull presented were far beyond the matador’s experience and abilities. He complied with the muleta, killed in an acceptable fashion, and was applauded. Actually, his greatest achievement was survival.

And, thus ended the formal season in Plaza Monumental. This coming Sunday, there will be a novillada, in the downtown plaza.


The legendary bull runs in the northern Spanish city of Pamplona have claimed their first fatality in eight years. A 62-year-old bar owner died of injuries that he sustained on July 8. Fermím Etxebarria Iraneta had been in a coma since suffering a brain injury during one of the bull runs.

He was the first person to be killed in the bull runs since 1995, when U.S. Tourist Matthew Peter Tassino, 22, was gored. The bull runs have claimed 14 lives since 1924. The bull runs usually cause numerous injuries, with nearly 430 cases reported, this year, 55 of which resulted in the runners being hospitalized.

How many plazas de toros are there in the world? In Spain, there are 425, with 151 of them in Andalucia. Mexico has 48 bullrings, Portugal has 38, Colombia 20, Venezuela 29, Ecuador eight, Peru 10, and France 22, for a total of 600, not counting the United States.

Until next time…

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