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Timid Toros It Wasn’t Exactly A Bull Market At Decidedly Unmacho Fiesta De San Isidro

Thu., June 12, 1997

Bulls or chickens? Bullfight aficionados are wondering about the nature of the beasts that appeared in Madrid’s bullring during the world’s foremost bullfighting festival.

It was as if the five-week Fiesta de San Isidro, which ended Friday, featured clones of Ferdinand, the peace-loving bull of the children’s story.

Some bulls were reluctant to charge. Others fell when they charged or were so hefty and lumbering that a bullfight critic for El Pais, Spain’s most widely read newspaper, suggested they’d be better on the menu than on the sands of Madrid’s Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas.

“Another scandal, and again because of the bulls,” Joaquin Vidal wrote after the bulls once again acted anything but bullish.

Normally, six bulls are killed in an evening’s bullfight, or corrida. Inferior bulls can be rejected and replaced with any of three substitute bulls.

At one corrida during San Isidro, three bulls were rejected. A fourth would have been sent away, but there were no more substitutes. Jeering spectators hurled their seat cushions into the ring in protest.

Adolfo Rodriguez, who verifies bloodlines for the National Association of Bull Breeders, said inferior bulls wind up in the ring because bullfight organizers buy cheaper bulls to save money and top bullfighters don’t want to put themselves at too much risk.

“They tell the organizers they want a comfortable bull - a big bull with little ferocity and agility bred into it,” Rodriguez said in an interview.

Bullfighters and the organizers blame the breeders.

“The bullfighter can choose what breed to use, but it’s the breeder who raises the bulls,” matador Jose Tomas Roman told El Pais.

Charles Jockelson, publisher of the bullfighting magazine 6 Toros 6, says using inferior bulls puts bullfighting at risk.

“The essence of bullfighting is emotion,” Jockelson said. “If you don’t fear for the life of the bullfighter, there is no emotion.”

Weak or docile bulls have been in bullrings probably since men began challenging the animals with swords and capes almost 300 years ago.

One of the biggest fiascos happened in the northern town of Gijon in 1914 when the organizer ran out of substitute bulls.

Unlike Ferdinand, returned to the pasture after refusing to fight, rejected bulls are supposed to be slaughtered. But with the crowd becoming increasingly angry, the organizer put splotches of white paint on a rejected bull so it appeared to be a new one and returned it to the ring.

The matador’s red cape began turning white with each pass. Spectators, realizing they’d been had, rioted and tried to set the bullring ablaze.


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