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Valencia crowd cry 'Bully for Gitanito'

MADRID - 'Once upon a time there was a little white bull . . . ' Anyone old enough to remember Tommy Steele's tear-jerking hit will be happy to know that, even in real-life Spain, a bull can sometimes walk away if not victorious, at least with a noble draw, writes Phil Davison.

It wasn't a little white bull but a big, equally brave 485kg (1,070lb) black animal called Gitanito (Little Gypsy) that became the first bull in more than a decade to win a reprieve for bravery at a Spanish fight. Bloodied but unbowed, Gitanito walked from the ring at Valencia on Wednesday night after the president of the corrida deemed him to have matched the bravery of the veteran matador Damaso Gonzalez. It was the first time in recent memory that Spain's pro and anti-bullfighting lobbies must have seen eye-to-eye.

Spain's best bullfighting writer, Joaquin Vidal of El Pais, described the scene graphically: 'The crowd had shouted ole with every pass. Then suddenly, a bellowing voice from the back rows shouted 'Don't kill him.' Other voices joined in, then there were hundreds, then thousands, chanting 'Don't kill him.' Handkerchiefs (the traditional sign of approval) turned the terraces into a sea of white.

Then it appeared, over the balustrade of the president's box, an orange handkerchief, signifying a reprieve.'

For the sake of ritual, the matador faked a kill, plunging the espada (sword) well wide of the beast and into the sand.

Officials said that the wounds from the mounted picador and multi-coloured banderillas (arrows) would be patched up before Gitanito returned home in triumph to the stud farm of Domecq in Andalusia.