October 23, 1998

Bullfight World...
by Lyn Sherwood

Close Encounters of the Taurine Kind

Uriel Moreno "El Zapata" won Tijuana's golden ear trophy, yesterday in Plaza el Toreo, following a violent tossing from which he barely escaped without serious injury.

But, the real story of the afternoon was a sensational set of bulls from the Refugio Peña ranch. What's that? How could this character, Sherwood, applaud a herd of bulls that presented so many terribly dangerous problems? Well, friends, that's what La Fiesta is all about. Bulls are not judged by how many ears they surrender, but by their ferocity, strength, and nobility. Matadors should be judged not by the ears that they cut, but by how they overcome the problems presented by their bulls.

These animals were the genuine thing, large, mature, and deadly. They had sentido, uncanny wisdom. They were TOROS TOROS! The fact that most of their matadores were unable to effectively deal with them doesn't reflect negatively on the bulls, but on the inability of most of the toreros to realize the potential that they presented. Weighing from 470 to 500 authentic kilos, only one of the animals lacked bravery. Presented in a variety of colors, the toros were exceptionally brave, but unwilling to easily give up their ears.

As is traditional in the annual affair that benefits the matadors's hospital fund, six matadors competed for the golden ear trophy: Antonio Urrutia, Mario del Olmo, Enrique Garza, Fernando Ochoa, El Zapata, and César Castañeda.

Antonio Urrutia opened the afternoon with No Qué No by offering a sloppy set of Verónicas, followed by an even sloppier set of Chicuelinas. The animal received one, long pic and one very brief one. Urrutia exchanged banderillas placements with his compatriots. The best pair was placed by Urrutia.

Following some preliminary testing passes, Urrutia presented a decent faena but one that didn't come close to realizing the great potential of the toro. Most of his work consisted of high passes and other common actions. He encountered troubles with the sword and heard one aviso. He had wasted a fine bull and, perhaps, served notice that he's at the end of his rather less than auspicious career.

Espérame was a 480-kilo cárdeno to which Enrique Garza gave excellent Veronicas. After one pic, the matador placed the sticks poorly. The faena that followed was one of the highlights of the day, as Garza worked both sides, but excelled on the right. After placing a decent sword, two ears were awarded, although only one was deserved.

With Cubanito, an extremely dangerous animal, Mario del Olmo gave very nice Verónicas. Following a hard pic, del Olmo gave a wonderful set of low, doubling passes, then designed a good faena to both sides. This was the best performance of the day. After killing on the second entry with a very low sword, the young matador was unanimously applauded. Vuelta.

Fernando Ochoa gave several good Verónicas to don Aurelio, another serious animal, weighing every bit of 500 kilos. After a long, hard pic, Ochoa worked hard, demonstrating outstanding technical abilities. Nevertheless, much more could have been, should have been, accomplished. He, too, discovered problems with the steel and settled for applause.

Now, don't get me wrong. In spite of usually offering too much salsa picante on his work, I believed that El Zapata has a great future. But, this was not one of his most stellar performances. Gitano, a 495-kilo toro, was, possibly, the bravest animal of the season. The matador worked hard with cape and muleta, but the toro was really beyond the matador's experience. He placed banderillas in an exciting although less than artistic manner.

While working with the muleta, Zapata was tossed hard. The animal's left horn became stuck in the taleguilla, dangerously close to the torero's family jewels. For a seeming eternity, El Zapata was stuck on the horn, but finally escaped with only painful bumps and bruises. It was the first time that this reporter had ever seen a matador wear a string taleguilla.

Zapata, obviously exhausted and hurting, returned to the animal, gave it some high passes, and killed with a low sword. Strong petition resulted in a pair of ears, neither of which was deserved. The bull deserved a turn of the ring, but such was not granted.

By the time that Amapolo entered the arena, the plaza lights had to be turned on. César Castañeda met the 485-kilo toro with some fine Verónicas. In the third act, the bull had developed a very short embestida (attack), which Castañeda handled well. It wasn't a triumphant faena, but it was a correct one, and the matador was applauded for his efforts.

At the end, the always overemotional crowd gave its strongest applause for El Zapata, although all of his compatriot had performed better

This ended the 1998 Tijuana bullfight season. Next week, we'll review the entire season and name the best of the best.

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