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Tango and horse racing

Jesús Castañón Rodríguez

The presence of the horse in the Argentinean literature has always been a necessary
reference and a lifestyle that have also permeated other artistic venues. One of the is
music, specially tango, with numerous compositions that highlight the importance of this
animal, either in the countryside chores or as an urban transportation.

But one curious aspect is the sporting version of the horse in the racetrack. There is a
passion that has created a popular identity which can reflect collective feelings of nostalgia,
bursting joy and hope at the elusive instants of happiness. This has comprised three points
of interests: tangos based on horse racing subjects, the attention paid by lyricists and
musicians, and the relationship with other cultural activities.


The first section is dedicated to the presence of horse racing in tango lyrics. In a first
anthology, we could document 48 tangos focused on two big thematic blocks: the events
and the social experience tinted by passion.

Sports events

Racetrack experiences from different points of view. In the first place, we observe the
presence of great horsemen who stand out because of their extraordinary control of the
riding crop and reins, their unbelievable courage and their visual skills; or due to their
image as a reservoir of hope to escape from poverty thanks to a skill that could perform a
miracle. That's how we find Antúnez, Pedro Guillén, Leguisamo or Domingo Torterolo, and
the image of the anonymous jockey in the compositions "El pulpo", "El Yacaré",
"¡Leguisamo solo!", "Mereces un monumento", "Pulpo viejo" and "Sálvame Legui".

Other aspect of this sport is the reaction of the horse racing fan at the racetrack. His
passion is demonstrated by the intense emotions noticeable during the races by means of
cries, shudders and fascination at the movement of the horses, the turns of the race or the
outfit of the horsemen ("Los burros", "Mi pingo lindo" and "Yo te saludo Palermo"). All this
occurs with an indescribable joy that can erase all sadness and soothe any bitterness ("Por
una cabeza), or with an emotional intensity that links popular devotion to Gardel and the
close winning posts ("Este tanto es pa'l morocho") with his profound silence of the home
back road after being defeated.

The social experience tinted with passion

The other main point of interest is the social experience at the races. A passionate
experience that fits in every single level of individual life, memories from childhood and
daily life at the Río de la Plata.

The experience of the race fans bursting passion has a special incidence in personal and
family life. Even when a little dose of womanising is required to conquer the lady and show
his passion for her ("Como querés que te quiera" and "Te lo digo por tu bien"), the majority
of the tango lyrics refer to the character trapped in the contradiction of fulfilling his
passion for money and demonstrating his eternal love for his wife ("Lo que nunca te
dirán"). It´s a drama with irreversible consequences that can only bring disappointment,
both at the races and for the love relationship ("Por una cabeza"), resulting in the failure of
the couple´s lives. It is always the dashing of any hope, caused by gambling and the wrong
kind of company, through bets, bad habits and quick love affairs which at the end destroy
all her dreams, bring the man to absolute poverty and creat a tormented relationship that
combines heated arguments, pain, frustration, sorrow, suffering and prayers ("Amigotes",
"Crueldad mental", "El jugador", "¡Qué calamidad!" and "Tengo miedo").

There is a resemblance of the past in "De mis barrios", "Mi barrio de San Benito", "¿Sabes
Buenos Aires?", with childhood memories about the negative effects of the tricks required
to bet and the loss of the wages after the sure gambling, or the theft of the blanket
wrapping up the horses ("Mi manta pampa").

The races at the racecourses of San Isidro and Palermo in Argentina, or Maroñas and Las
Piedras in Uruguay, are useful to level horse racing and life as a source of hard blows
("Palermo en octubre" and "Tango de la mula"), or to measure a quality of life that shines
under a tremendous display of money and entertainment at the social image of the
racecourse and the city streets ("Lo que nunca deschavé", "Noches de Colón", and "Uno y
uno"). Even more, races are a subject of conversation amongst friends ("El día que yo me
vaya"), and provide a definition of a popular and emotional character based in his desire to
live, to become something else, and to dance in a clique of philosophers at bars, jokes at
the Obelisco, bandoneon and imitations of Gardel ("Buenos Aires es tu fiesta" and "El
tango no tiene contra").

But on top of all this, the races are the natural field for the description and painting of
different social stereotypes. In the first place, we observe the characters that have
abandoned their family and a life of order succumbing to the temptation of easy money at
the illegal football and horse racing bets ("Farabute" and "Palermo"), the people who raises
horses in the hope of making a life out of their luck with the help of mate and some heavy
drink ("Tardecitas estuderas") and the heartthrobs who sports a smile, forged grandiosity
and fake love to millionaire´s hunters ("A mí déjame de cuentos", "Amarroto", "Gigoló
compadrito" and "Sangre guerrera").

In the second place, the different characters who participate in the illegal bets system. The
local jargon of the horse course is packed with "lunfardo" terms (papusa, papa, refijota, la
gran muñeca –to refer to big profits-, gil –the cheated-, catedrático –the swindler-,
biromista –the bet taking-, pingo y yocaba –the horse-, paco –the bill´s was-, tirar un
lance –to try one´s luck-; but also with foreign words as chanc, man, clis, gor luna, crack,
etc., to creat an atmosphere of fake illusions, purse´s theft and promises of false
expectations. The prat states his point of view in "Carreras son carreras" and "La tierra"
through the suffering of the humble people that cannot make ends meet. He places all his
hopes in the lotto and the horse races, in a continuous suffering caused by the guilty feeling
of gambling again to recover from this loss ("Los burros" and "Mi pingo lindo"). We also
have the swindler, who pulls his stunt hiding behind the trees at the racetrack, with the
aim to make a living without working, just from the earnings made at the illegal gambling
during the weekend. This character appears at "Boliche", "El catedrático", "El lapicero",
"La catedrática", "Soy una fiera", "Tírate un lance" and "Tonguero".

A special mention goes to the tango "Milonga burrera", due to its funny character. It
depicts a fan of horse and greyhound racing, who buys a thoroughbred. Regardless of his
careful preparation, the horse turns to be slow. However, the animal is so ugly that scares
all the other horses in the race and finally wins the National Prize, despite the fact that he
is three days late and the time is calculated with a monthly calendar.

Another landmark in the tango scene is dedicated to the people who gave artistic
expression to the passion for horse racing. Here we find some well known interpreters as
Enrique Campos, Carlos Gardel (who personally experienced a bursting passion for the
horse course as a socialite at the races, a gambler and the owner of thoroughbreds), or
Jorge Vidal, as well as the orchestras of Astor Piazzola and Juan D´Arienzo, which filled
with magic the compositions of the following lyricists and musicians, among others: José
María Aguilar, Juan Amado, Alfredo Attadia, Rodolfo Rafael Avilez, Barbieri, Joaquín
Barreiro, Zeliz Blanco, Hermido Braga, Miguel Buccino, Enrique Cadícamo, Francisco
Canaro, Juan Cao, Ernesto Cardenal, Antonio Casciani, Roberto L. Cayol, J. Celena, Andrés
Chinarro, Pascual Contursi, Enrique Delfino, Lucio Demare, José Eneas Riu, Horacio
Ferrer, Celedonio Esteban Flores, Omar Facelli, Ada Falcón, Julio Fava Pollero, Osvaldo
Fisari, Roberto Fugazot, Héctor Gagliardi, Carlos Gardel, Raúl Garello, Roberto Gimenes,
Alberto Gómez, Graciano Gómez, Leopoldo Herrera, Raúl de los Hoyos, Agustín Irusta,
Francisco Isart, Nolo Lopez, Maffia y Smurra, Héctor Marco, Francisco Martino, José
Paradiso, Pelay, Armando Pontier, H. di Poole, Roberto Ratti, Julio Ravazzano
Sanmartino, Alberto Remersaro, Oscar Roma, Domingo Schiaraffia, Federico Silva, Mario
Soto, Luis Spinelli, Bernardino Teres, Juan Traverso, Óscar Valles, Jorge Vidal, Jaime Vila
and Juan Villalba.


A third group of factors makes reference to the cultural creation in literature, graphic
humour, movies and exhibitions. The literary production has united tango and horse
racing in Musicals thanks to the inclusion of the tangos "¡Qué Calamidad!" and "Noches de
Colón" in the playwrights "Señora Revista" (1925) and "En el Maipo· (1926), respectively,
and the tango "Palermo" in the one-act farce titled "El bajo está de fiesta" (1929).

Amarroto was the inspiration for the recreation by the cartoonist Oski in the graphic comic
"Rico Tipo". The tango "Por una cabeza" was the sound track of "Scent of a Woman", the
1992 movie directed by Martin Brest with Al Pacino in the lead role, which was also staged
at the Megaexposición Tango", held at the Palais de Glace of Buenos Aires in
October/November 2000.


Summarizing, horse racing and tango concentrate the intense desire of a full blast race that
will allow for a better life with a luck stroke, beyond the difficulties of its sharp bends. They
highlight the dual face of that stroke of luck, luxury lifestyle and social status vs. the
bitterness of beaten existences, destroyed by uncontrollable passions, deceit and illegal
gambling, in a series of bets that risk and loose all their illusions and hopes. The melodic
notes of the bandoneon gather the nostalgia and love for the cadence of language, but
while the football based compositions are capable of contain the bursting joy of the fans,
the songs inspired by horse racing themes reflect a world of truncated hopes, sadness and

General bibliography and discography

BARELLA, Humberto, El tango después de Gardel, Buenos Aires, Editorial Corregidor,


CASTAÑÓN RODRÍGUEZ, Jesús, "Gambetas que encandilan las pupilas", La Página del
Idioma Español, Río de Janeiro, December 21, 2000.

- "Tango y fútbol", Idioma y deporte, Valladolid, January 15, 2001.

- "Música y deporte en Argentina", Nutrición, Deporte y Fitness, Buenos Aires, April 28,

CLUB DEL TANGO, <http://www.clubdetango.com.ar/>, Buenos Aires.

EDUARDO RAFAEL, "El deporte y Gardel", en Gardel Extra III ¡Qué los cumpla feliz,
Troesma!, Los Ángeles, Tango Reporter, 1998.

Megaexposición Tango, Buenos Aires, Palais de Glace, October and November, 2000.

ROMANO, Eduardo, Las letras del tango, Antología cronológica 1900-1980, Córdoba,
Editorial Fundación Ross, 2000.

SESSA, Aldo, Tango, Buenos Aires, Sessa Editores, 1999.TANGO SHOW,

<http://www.tangoshow.com>, Buenos Aires.

VARELA, Sergio, Tangos que cantó Gardel, Buenos Aires, Distal, 1998.

Discography of tangos

BARBIERI, Mi manta pampa (zamba).

BLANCO, Zeliz, ¿Sabes Buenos Aires?
BUCCINO, Miguel-CAO, Juan, Amarroto.
CADÍCAMO, Enrique, Gigoló compadrito.
CARDENAL, Ernesto-VILA, Jaime, Milonga burrera.
CASCIANI, Antonio-BARREIRO, Joaquín, Farabute.
CAYOL, Robero L.-HOYOS, Raúl de los, Noches de Colón.
CONTURSI, Pascual-TERES, Bernardino, ¡Qué Calamidad!
CHINARRO, Andrés-MAFFIA Y SMURRA, El tango no tiene contra.
ENEAS RIU, José-DELFINO, Enrique, Los burros.
ESTEBAN FLORES, Celedonio-AGUILAR, José María, Tengo miedo.
FACELLI, Omar, Amigotes.
FACELLI, Omar, La tierra - tango.
FALCÓN, Ada, Lo que nunca te dirán.
FERRER, Horacio-GARELLO-Raúl, Buenos Aires es tu fiesta.
GALGIARDI, Héctor, Carreras son carreras (recitado).
GALGIARDI, Héctor, El jugador (poema).
GARDEL, Carlos, Boliche.
GARDEL, Carlos-LE PERA, Alfredo, Por una cabeza.
GÓMEZ, Alberto, Mereces un monumento (milonga).
HERRERA, Leopoldo-AMADO, Juan, Este tango es pa'l morocho.
IRUSTA, Agustín-CADÍCAMO, Enrique-DEMARE, Lucio-FUGAZOT, Roberto, El día que
yo me vaya.
ISART, Francisco-AVILEZ, Rodolfo Rafael, Tonguero.
LÓPEZ, Nolo-ROMA, Óscar, Sálvame Legui.
MARCO, Héctor, Como querés que te quiera.
MARCO, Héctor, Tardecitas estuderas.
MARCO, Héctor, Tírate un lance.
MARTINO, Francisco, El catedrático (milonga).
MARTINO, Francisco, La catedratica (milonga).
MARTINO, Francisco, Soy una fiera.
PAPÁVERO, Modesto H., ¡Leguisamo solo!
PARADISO, José, El pulpo.
PARADISO, José-REMERSARO, Alberto, Mi pingo lindo.
PELAY-CANARO, Francisco, Tango de la mula.
POOLE. H. DI-CELENA, J., Yo te saludo palermo.
RATTI, Roberto, Crueldad mental.

RAVAZZANO SANMARTINO, Julio, De mis barrios.

RIVERO, Te lo digo por tu bien.
SCHIARAFFIA, Domingo-GÓMEZ, Graciano, A mí déjame de cuentos (milonga).
SERRAT, Joan Manuel, Muchacha típica.
SILVA, Federico-PONTIER, Armando, Palermo en octubre.
SOTO, Mario-ATTADIA, Alfredo, El Yacaré.
SPINELLI, Luis-GIMENES, Roberto, Lo que nunca deschave.
TRAVERSO, Juan-FAVA POLLERO, Julio, Uno y uno.
VALLES, Óscar, Mi barrio de San Benito.
VALLES, Óscar, Sangre guerrera (tango).
VALLES, Óscar-FISARI, Osvaldo, El lapicero.
VIDAL, Jorge, Pulpo viejo.
VILLALBA, Juan-BRAGA, Hermido, Palermo.

All the lyrics can be found at "Letras de tango", the website for tango lyrics:

Traducción: Cristina Márquez Arroyo


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