Running of the Bulls at San Fermin 2019

Event poster for the bull fights at Pamplona.

July 6 is the first day of the San Fermin Festival in Pamplona, Spain. San Fermin is the celebration of Saint Fermin, who was born in Pamplona. Fermin was beheaded for his Christian faith and that is the origins of the red handkerchiefs around their necks.

There are a lot of events during the nine days of the festival but probably the most famous is the Encierro or the “Running of the Bulls.”

Central to the festival is a bull fighting tournament that features the best matadors vs the best bull ranches. July 7, Sunday this year, is the first run.

There are actually two runs each day but one is a private event that is only attended by ranch hands and authorities are very strict about who witnesses it. It is late in the afternoon and moves the next days bulls to the holding pens for the morning run.

The other, the first of the day is the event of the day. The run moves the days bulls from the holding pens the 848.5 meters to the fighting ring where they will be featured against the best matadors.

The bulls are joined by several steers with bells that are used to direct the bulls to the ring. The steers are castrated and very docile. 

But there are also several thousand people on the weekends and probably more than a thousand on any day anxious to run with the bulls the 848.5 meters. 

A lot of the injuries are caused by people slipping and be trampled not by the bulls but by the mass of runners. One of the most dangerous spots on the run is the entrance to the stadium. It is very common for people to fall from all the shoving and jostling and soon a large pile of runners block the entrance with six fighting bulls approaching. There are some unbelievable photos of the bulls jumping over the pile.

The photos from the run are some of the most dramatic photos every year. There is a special contest for the accredited photogs that is celebrated during the festival for the winners from the previous year.

The 2018 winning photo from the 2017 run.

There are a couple of statistics that are released and tracked after each run. Time of the run, number of runners gored, and the number of tramas or injuries not the result of a goring. 

The record time is 2 mins 5 seconds on the last day of the 2015. Last year had several ranches within seconds of beating that. 

My thoughts are that goring takes time. You will see that on runs with goring the time is slower. Usually those quick times are when the bulls stay in a pack and run together with a minimum of injuries and zero goring. 

The worst thing that can happen for the runners is a bull gets separated or becomes a solo runner. These are the times when multiple goring and a large number of injuries happen.

Experienced runners learn to count the bulls as they go by for just this reason.

Several years ago a bull refused to run, he started the run stopping quickly turned around and ran back into the holding pens. This was a big cause of confusion because only five bulls advanced and runners were concerned about a solo bull following behind.

Seven of the ranches have appeared before with the Miura Ranch appearing 38 times. They are the prototypical fighting bull. When you picture a Spanish fighting bull this is the animal that comes to mind. Black muscular with the sharp forward facing horns. They are fast athletes that have an .5 per run goring rate. The caveat on that goring rate is that they have 15 in the last 18 runs. They will put in a fast time.

A relative new comer will lead off the week, the Puerto de San Lorenzo with only two previous appearances, one goring and 8 injuries. With the runs starting on Sunday, traditionally a very large field of runners will be present. Look for a moderate time something in the 3 min range, they will probably double that injury number and don’t be surprised if a runner gets the horn. I think this will largely be a function of the first day, on a weekend large number of runners will be in the way. The steers may get credit for an injury of two on Sunday. 

Monday another long time participant is scheduled. Cebada Gago has 30 runs with 56 goring, just shy of a 2 per run rate. Don’t look for a speed record out of this ornery bunch but if you’re looking for a first time run there are some better ranches coming up. Grab a sangria and enjoy what should be a classic bull run with a little bit of everything.

Another ranch with only 4 appearances will charge out of the holding pens Tuesday, the athletic bulls of Jose Escolar. This group has a solid 2 per fun goring avg. and are the exception to my rule, they can gore quickly, so pack your track shoes and keep your eyes open. If this group gets spread out look for an exit. 

Wednesday brings the Jandilla a fierce group of bulls. 19 runs they have produced 31 gorings, Those 31 have come in groups several years without any and then a stretch of multi attacks. This ranch also has a death to their credit. Deaths are not as common as you might expect. In the 110 year history of the run only 16 runners have been killed. The latest ten years ago by a Jandilla bull.

Thursday marks the ninth appearance of the bulls from Victoriano del Rio. These athletes are speedsters with only 4 gorings in their past. Look for a quick time out of this group, but don’t take them lightly their are included in the week’s line up because of their performance in the ring. They may have a break out year and put a horn to a runner or two.

Nunez del Cuvillo will take to the streets on Friday bringing a bit of notoriety. This ranch had a bull pardoned in the fighting ring by the top matador Jose Tomas. The bull named Idilico was returned to pasture siring 66 bulls, several running this year. With ten runners gored in their previous nine appearances look for Nunez del Cuvillo to be workman like in their run. Their history is a fast run with the bulls tending run single file. This opens opportunities for runners to step in front and receive the horn which they are more than willing to deliver. Last year they put down a respectable 2min 15 sec time into the arena but they regrouped and delivered themselves to the pins in an official time of 2 min 40 sec. Still a good time with two gored in the process.

The closing weekend will again bring large numbers of runners powered by sangria and testosterone. Saturday a new ranch will be introduced to the run. La Palmosilla has been producing fighting bulls since 1996 in the south of Spain and bred from the aforementioned Nunez del Cuvillo ranch and bulls of Domecq. 

Domecq is Alvaro Domecq y Diez the man who literally wrote the textbook on fighting bulls. He is credited with bringing modern breeding techniques to the fighting bull industry. Using artificial insemination to improve the breed. He wrote the book El Toro Bravo which is still considered the textbook on fighting bull breeding. 

These ranches are considered the top fighting bull ranches based on their recent performance in the fighting ring so this rookie bunch should be taken serious on what could be the most crowded run of the week.

The week concludes with the previously mentioned Miura, the ranch with the most appearances. Miura has been on a slight slump in goring but time wise they are the record holder at 2 min 5 sec.

Other records to keep an eye for is the slowest run a 11 min 57 sec stroll through the streets of Pamplona, most goring is 8 and 21 injuries.

The weather can present some curve balls for the run. Looks like Tuesday may be the only day with rain forecast the rest of the week looks warm and sunny. Great sangria weather to enjoy festival.