Any attempt to tackle an angry bull must surely seem like madness, but the men of Forcados Aposento de Turlock have the experience and knowledge to approach the task in a deliberate manner.
The Forcados, often referred to as the “suicide squad,” have the job that is unique to Portuguese-style bloodless bullfighting, the featured event Friday night at the end of Tracy’s week-long Festa do Espirito Santo at the Campo Pequeno bullring on Ninth Street.
The bloodless bullfights show off the skills of the cavalieros. Alberto Conde of Lisbon, Portugal, and Jorge Hernandez Garate of San Luis Potosi, Mexico, and their horses lead the bulls on chases around the ring. Matador Fernando Labastida of San Luis Potosi dodges the bull’s charges while sticking colorful hook-and-loop fabric-tipped spears on a pad on the bull’s back.
The forcados, including teams of eight men from Aposento de Turlock and Amadores de Merced, have to understand a little bit about bull psychology in order to grab onto and immobilize the bull.
First they have to get the bull to charge. It took a while for the first bull in the ring to go after the suicide squad from Aposento de Turlock.
“He was trying to play games. He was trying to tell me that this was his territory, he was going to come when he wanted to,” said Darren Mountain, 24, of Modesto, the lead man in the group trying to tackle the bull.
On the first pass the bull side-stepped Mountain and plowed into the other seven men, causing them to scatter and regroup. The bull charged again after the forcados backed him up against the wall.
“We put him in an uncomfortable spot, a spot to defend himself,” Mountain said.
“The second time around he gave what he had and it was a done deal. The group was there, a hell of a job by the group, and did everything they were supposed to do. They get to the spots they need to so all eight can grab the bull. Not just one guy can grab a bull. You need everybody.”
Eventually the men have to release the bull. The last one to let go, Derek Castro, 27, of Galt, held the bull’s tail, and was spun around the ring a few times as the bull tried to get at him.
“He had me spun so fast for the first two seconds he almost threw me off, but I held on,” Castro said.
Chris Peichoto, 29, of Riverdale, was the lead forcado on another bull later in the evening, and said there’s little guesswork involved. Peichoto said that the bull’s reaction to the cavalieros and the matadors shows the forcados what to expect.
“We study his passes at the (matador’s) cape, because our bodies are essentially that cape. He’s going to do what he’s doing to that cape to us,” he said. “He was going smooth into the cape we figured he was going to do that and just push through the group.”
Then the bull did something unexpected and tossed Peichoto to the ground.
“He just came in a little lower and caught my legs out from under me before I could grab his horns,” Peichoto said. “He landed on top of me but he didn’t do any damage.”
Again the forcados regrouped and grab the bull on the second try.
This is the 90th year that Tracy’s Irmandade Portguese da Festa do Espirito Santo has hosted the weeklong festa, with the bloodless bullfights a highlight of the celebration since the 1940s.
“I think the bullfights, for people in the Azores this is like their Super Bowl, or their football game,” said IPFES president Pete Corallo. “To them bulls are everything. For the American people who live in the community it’s something different to come see.”
Candido Borges of Modesto, who is originally from Portugal, said he goes to about a dozen bullfights each year.
“We were here last Friday (for Corrida de Stockton), and we came again today, and Monday we go to Gustine,” he said.
“It’s the old heritage from Portugal, the islands. It’s from way back.”
Eric Almason of Tracy, a past president of the local IPFES, said that the weeklong festa, including the bullfights, is a reunion for people of Portuguese heritage. He estimated that about 40 percent of the people in Friday’s crowd are originally from Portugal.
“It’s just what they love. It’s our passion. It’s the history of our church, our religion and what we do. That’s why we have such a crowd,” he said.
• Contact Bob Brownne at email@example.com or 830-4227.