FINITO DE CÓRDOBA (1st: 102 corridas) What a pleasure to see Juan Serrano head the escalafón at the year-end some 10 years after I witnessed Paco Ojeda give him the alternativa in his home city. I saw Finito on four occasions this year – in Santander, Tudela, San Sebastián de los Reyes and Alcázar de San Juan – and had nothing to complain about at any time. His ability to quickly tune in to the possibilities (and limitations) of his enemigos was on display in each corrida and his first Tudela faena contained some of the most classic toreo you could ever hope to see. On the bill with El Juli at Alcázar, Finito outperformed the young maestro, cutting four ears. I would have preferred some more passes with the left hand to his first Sancho Dávila bull, with whom Serrano performed beautiful capework and some suave muletazos. His other animal was a lesser toro, but this time there were excellent naturales to accompany pases ayudados and he threw himself on the bull for an estocada hasta la bola. Sublime performances in Barcelona, Córdoba and Jáen – the last of these delivering an indulto – added to Finito’s standing in 2001.

ENRIQUE PONCE (2

nd: 100 corridas) My three sightings of the valenciano this year – at San Sebastián, Santander and Valladolid – have already been described in detail in La Divisa. The most impressive performance was at Valladolid, where, on the bill with José Tomás and El Juli, Enrique ended up triunfador (of the afternoon and the feria) after thoughtful, committed and beautiful faenas to both his Torrealtas. The second faena that day, which had a prolonged beauty and mastery that brought tears to the eyes, was amongst the very best I have seen from him. His San Isidro strategy this year (one corrida with a ganadería torista) failed to come off and the start of his temporada was generally disappointing, but Ponce fought back, cutting three ears in Vistalegre four days after his Las Ventas appearance and enjoying a pretty consistent string of triumphs from August onwards. Enrique will have been delighted to reach 100 corridas for the 10th temporada in succession, showing just what a commanding force he has been in the last decade. Expect him to ease back on appearances from now on, although the quality of his toreo should remain unaffected.

EL JULI (3

rd: 88 corridas) Our paths crossed on no less than seven occasions during 2001. Amongst his most impressive performances were the one at San Sebastián in April and the first of his two afternoons at Valladolid when, after his first bull denied him any success with the left hand, he produced an all-round display with his closing Garcigrande – a superb quite de chicuelinas, some very good banderillas and a committed faena, forcing the toro past him when needed. For me, though, the defining moment of his 2001 temporada came at San Sebastián de los Reyes, his first appearance after a bull in Bilbao (where he’d returned earlier than advised after his Málaga cornada) had gored him in the face, cutting his mouth and nose. With his patched and restored face still covered in plaster, Julián López chose to greet his first Antonio Bañuelos opponent by giving it verónicas down on his knees! After the animal proved to be an invalid in the faena, El Juli pulled out all the stops with his second toro. He again met it on his knees; walked it to the horse with chicuelinas; gave a quite of three close lopecinas; even managed a pair of sticks running to the left horn; produced a superb faena, running the animal nicely on each hand; and cut two ears, the crowd having been on its feet at various points in all three tercios. Such determination! His performance in the ‘cartel del año’ at Valladolid showed he is not quite there yet in terms of profundity of toreo as Ponce or Tomás. It also revealed some worrying judgement to bypass his varied capework in favour of the mysteriously more crowd-pleasing banderillas. Please ditch the sticks in 2002, Julián, and let’s see more of that magical capote.

JESULÍN DE UBRIQUE (4

th: 73 corridas) My sole viewing of Jesulín this year was at Santander, and, as I reported at the time, I really couldn’t see why he’d decided to return to the bullrings as he remained at his most tedious. However, other CTL members reported great things from him at plazas like Málaga, Almería and El Puerto. It remains to be seen whether the experience of a long recovery from a very serious car accident towards the end of the temporada will finally bring some depth and soul to his toreo.

 

 

VICTOR PUERTO (5

th: 71 corridas) A man with a real sense of how to construct a faena, Victor impressed me at both Santander and Palencia this year. In the latter plaza, he won an ear off his first Buenavista toro after a faena begun with some dramatic pases de muerte, Victor keeping his eyes fixed on the ground as the bull passed him time and time again, and ended with pases por altos mirando al publico. In between were some fine derechazos and chest passes. Sometimes, though, his limitations are apparent. Puerto would have left Palencia a hombros were it not for the protracted swordwork given to his last bull- the animal was superb in the muleta, still charging from a distance as the faena neared its end, but this time the muletazos were rather low-key and Victor allowed a triumph to pass him by. With a success at Sevilla’s autumn Feria de San Miguel for the second year running, and triumphs in Valencia, Bilbao, Pamplona and Murcia, Puerto will continue to be a regular feature in next year’s top carteles.

MORANTE DE LA PUEBLA (6

th: 66 corridas) Another disappointing temporada for the man who is still Andalucia’s best hope for figura status. After his stunning performance in Palencia’s 2000 Feria, I was keen to see him again this year and found him at Santander, Medina del Campo, Palencia, Aranda de Duero and Valladolid. At Medina, where his capework was decidedly not on display, he cut an oreja after a fine faena and good estocada to his second Laurentino Carrascosa bull. At Aranda, facing toros of El Torreón, things were better still. There was a strong faena to his first enemigo once José Antonio had appreciated the qualities of its left horn and convinced himself to stay with it following a desarme on his first natural. However, he remained somewhat reluctant to go forward to the beast and force the completion of tandas. An ear followed the estocada and another was won off his second bull, when Morante produced those lovely stylish verónicas of his and had a couple of men dancing with each other in one tendido as he guided the toro through liquid series of derechazos and naturales. The next day, in Valladolid, JA constructed a wonderful faena of beautiful naturales in an area opposite his first bull’s querencia, hitting the sweet spot, which was more than he could do with the sword, narrowly avoiding three avisos. After his second toro was substituted with another weak-legged animal, Morante opted to cut and kill. The fact that the swordwork was very protracted once more only added to the bronca. A further change of apoderado at the end of the season indicates this is a torero who remains unsettled.

MANUEL CABALLERO (7

th: 63 corridas) The most impressive torero that afternoon in Valladolid was Manuel Caballero. Manolo calmly got on with the business of toreando his opening astifino Domingo Hernández after it had sent peón Gonzalo González to the infirmary with blood pumping from his femoral artery. Although the bull had been breaking off in the opening tercios, Caballero soon had it under the control of his muleta for a brief, but splendid, faena in the middle of the ring - great series of derechazos followed by naturales and then derechazos de frente to end with. A fine sword followed, but the president unbelievably ignored the majority petition for the ear. He must have regretted his inaction, for the two ears awarded after Manuel’s second toro were over-generous. It was another good display by the man from Albacete, though – verónicas by the boards, a quite of chicuelinas, another excellent faena of classic series on both hands and a solid estocada. It was my only post-Santander sighting of him, but it added up to two fine showings out of two.

MIGUEL ABELLÁN (8

th: 61 corridas) I came across the pouting youngster at Tudela and Palencia, where his performances were a complete contrast. At Tudela, he spent his time getting his cloth caught or playing to the crowd. At Palencia, his opening faena to a Buenavista bull also started with a desarme, but thereafter he made the most of his noble animal for an excellent faena of serious toreo, only for its impact to be dissipated by four swordthrusts. His second bull, from Puerto de San Lorenzo, was dedicated to the crowd and participated in a fine faena which included capeinas and circulares, although, this time, Miguel stayed mainly on the right horn. A good estocada brought a deserved ear. Despite cutting orejas this year in Valencia, Madrid (Las Ventas and Vistalegre), Málaga, Salamanca and Logroño, Abellán still seems to be the ‘not-quite’ man. Maybe 2002 will change all that.

JOSELITO (9

th: 61 corridas) My matador of the year. The temporada began badly for the madrileño, and at one point he was apparently seriously considering retiring again. However, an exceptional performance at Granada in June pointed the way and thereafter José never looked back, securing triumphs at Valencia, El Puerto, Aranjuez, Salamanca and Zaragoza amongst other plazas. I was lucky enough to see him at Santander, Medina del Campo, Palencia and Aranda de Duero and on no occasion did he disappoint (even with dreadful Luis Algarra bulls at Palencia which brought deception to the attractive cartel of Joselito, José Tomás and Morante). His strong showing at Santander and the historic Aranda faena have already been covered in the pages of La Divisa. At Medina, facing a good encierro from Laurentino Carrascosa, José started as he meant to continue, performing beautiful verónicas templadas and a feet-together quite. The excellent faena was begun with delicate, slow passes to the centre of the ring, where naturales con temple were constructed. The faena took on an ojedista tone before Joselito ended with sombre manoletinas and a fine sword to cut two ears. With his second toro, José did it all over again – lovely, committed capework and an exquisite faena, this time featuring naturales de frente, those naturales popularised by El Juli in which the bull is moved past slowly and closely simply by flicking a corner of the cloth, and derechazos without use of the espada to spread the muleta. A half-sword sufficed, two further ears were awarded and a smiling Joselito was carried in triumph from the plaza. The maestro is back.

EL CORDOBÉS (10

th: 57 corridas) Last year, I reported that Manolo Díaz had had a scrappy season with far too many tossings and injuries. This year was worse still, in that El Cordobés and toreo seemed to have parted company completely. I saw him just the once, at Santander, when his performance was abysmal. His temporada only featured three dates in the main ferias of serious plazas (Valencia, Sevilla and Madrid) and he failed to make any impact on any of them, with the rest of his season spent mainly on the minor bullring circuit.

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25mar02