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In the Money

Las Monjitas wins first leg of Gauntlet

April 2020

Las Monjitas was not content with settling for runner-up in last year’s C.V. Whitney Cup, falling hard to eventual Gauntlet champion Pilot, 13-6.

  Played Entire Triple Crown    
  La Dolfina Sancor Seguros:
Adolfo Cambiaso
David Stirling
Pablo Mac Donough
Juan Martín Nero
40
10
10
10
10
 
  Ellerstina Johor:
Pablo Pieres
Gonzalo Pieres Jr.
Nicolás Pieres
Facundo Pieres
39
10
9
10
10
 
  La Aguada:
Lucas Díaz Alberdi
Alfredo Bigatti
Alejandro Novillo Astrada
Ignacio Novillo Astrada
32
7
8
8
9
 
  La Albertina Abu Dhabi:
Agustín Merlos
Francisco Elizalde
Ignacio Toccalino
Alfredo Cappella Barabucci
32
8
8
8
8
 
  Las Monjitas:
Facundo Sola
Hilario Ulloa
Guillermo Caset
Santiago Toccalino
38
9
10
10
9
 
  La Dolfina Polo Ranch:
Guillermo Terrera8
Juan Britos Jr.
Diego Cavanagh
Alejo Taranco
32
8
8
8
8
 
  La Ensenada Meta:
Facundo Fernández Llorente
Juan Martín Zavaleta
Juan M. Zubía
Jerónimo del Carril
30
7
8
8
7
 
  Cría Yatay:
Valerio Zubiaurre
Cristian Laprida
Joaquín Pittaluga
Ignacio Laprida
32
8
8
8
8
 
  Played Argentine Open only    
  La Irenita:
Juan Ruiz Guiñazú
Juan Jauretche
Clemente Zavaleta
Diego Araya
28
8
6
7
7
 
  La Natividad:
Camilo Castagnola
Matias Torres Zavaleta.
Bartolomé Castagnola
Ignatius Du Plessis
28
6
7
7
8
 

The team is named after patron Camilo Bautista’s wife’s family farm in Bogota, Colombia. It was a monastery in the 18th century so that is where Las Monjitas (the nuns) comes from.

This year, the team began with a new line-up after Francisco Elizalde was raised from 8 to 9. The Columbian-born Bautista elected to keep Argentine Elizalde at his new handicap. Rounding out the international squad, 3-goal American Mackenzie Weisz took 4-goal Matt Coppola’s spot and 10-goal Uruguayan David “Pelon” Stirling took over for 10-goal Hilario Ulloa.

Stirling said he didn’t receive the call to play until December, so his horses arrived late. Until they are ready, he is using horses of Adolfo Cambiaso, Michel Dorignac and Nacho Novillo Astrada.

The first leg of the Gauntlet of Polo, the C.V. Whitney Cup honors polo player Cornelius Vanderbilt “Sonny” Whitney (1899-1992), son of 10-goaler Harry Payne Whitney. An aviation-industry pioneer, he founded Pan American Airways and was the first assistant secretary to the U.S. Air Force. A 6-goaler in his prime, Whitney won the U.S. Open three times. He was also heavily involved in horseracing as a leading owner and breeder.

This year’s tournament included 14 teams (down two from last year), divided into six brackets. Brackets I and II had three teams each and played within their brackets. The remaining brackets had two teams each with Bracket III playing cross bracket with Bracket IV and Bracket V playing cross bracket with Bracket VI. Winners of Brackets I and II along with best records from Brackets III/IV and Brackets V/VI advanced to the semifinals.

Play began on Feb. 8. Las Monjitas got off to a great start, defeating Equuleus, 10-8, and Coca-Cola, 15-13, to top Bracket II. Indiana also started strong with an 11-7 defeat of Park Place and an 11-9 defeat of Cessna to top Bracket 1. Both Patagones and Postage Stamp Farm edged Old Hickory Bourbon and Daily Racing Form, tying for first place in Brackets III/IV. A shoot out put Patagones in the semis. In the last two brackets, defending champion Pilot narrowly edged Dutta Corp, 10-9, and Tonkawa, 12-11 in extra time, to advance.

The first semifinal had Las Monjitas taking on Patagones. Las Monjitas jumped out to an early 3-1 lead, increasing the difference to three, 7-4, at the half. Las Monjitas carried the momentum into the fourth, doubling up Patagones, 8-4, before Patagones rallied in the last 14 minutes to come within one, 10-9. But time wasn’t on Patagones’ side and Las Monjitas moved on to the final for the second year in a row.

In the second semifinal, La Indiana upset Pilot. It was a sticky, foul-riddled match with Pilot giving up an early lead, narrowly trailing, 6-5, at the half. The teams leveled the score, 7-7, in the fourth. Jeff Hall was injured in the fifth period, and was replaced by Facundo Obregon, who made the most of the opportunity. He seemed to be everywhere and added a pair of goals to two from Polito Pieres to put La Indiana up, 11-9. The teams went back and forth in the last seven minutes, trading penalty conversions, but Pilot was unable to overcome the deficit. La Indiana advanced with the 12-10 score, taking away Pilot’s chances to repeat last year’s undefeated season and become Gauntlet champions.

After several days rest, the final was held on Feb. 23. Hall was back in the saddle for La Indiana. A calm, cool 17-year-old Mackenzie Weisz put Las Monjitas on the board in the first with a Penalty 3 conversion, the only goal of the chukker. Elizalde found the mark with a neck shot in the second but Pieres and Hall responded to level the score. Weisz put Las Monjitas ahead again early in the third, but a pair of Penalty 4 conversions from Pieres switched the lead. Elizalde sunk a Penalty 6 to tie the score, 4-4, at the half.

The teams continued to keep it close in the fourth with Elizalde and Hall trading goals. But, Las Monjitas owned the fifth with Elizalde scoring back-to-back goals followed by a Penalty 4 conversion. Stirling, who was working hard at back and feeding long drives to his teammates, added his first goal, a Penalty 2, to put the team ahead, 9-5. Rattled, La Indiana missed a Penalty 2 and a Penalty 4 before Pieres split the uprights late in the chukker to cut the difference to three going into the final seven minutes.

Elizalde kept up the pressure, scoring from the field and sinking a Penalty 4 to put Las Monjitas comfortably ahead, 11-6, early in the chukker. La Indiana wasn’t about to concede and kept fighting. Hall found the goal and a Penalty 1 put the momentum back in La Indiana’s favor. Santiago Gomez Romero scored from the field, bringing the team within two, 11-9, with little time remaining. Just seconds on the clock, Pieres scored another but the team ran out of time and Las Monjitas took the 11-10 victory.

“Game by game we improved; we [made] a step forward, which is always very important at the beginning of the season,” explained Stirling. “We knew we had to play well because {La Indiana] was a very strong four-man team. Fran played an outstanding game, he was by far MVP ... and Mackenzie managed the pressure as well as anyone. Camillo ... played his best game of the season. Hopefully, we [will] keep going, that’s the idea.”

The win gave Las Monjitas an exclusive chance to be this year’s Gauntlet champion. The team also was awarded with $100,000 in prize money. La Indiana didn’t go home empty-handed. New this year, instead of last year’s winner-take-all format, the runner-up went home with $25,000.

Elizalde, who scored a game-high eight goals, was MVP and his Dolfina Molinera, last year’s U.S. Open Best Playing Pony, was once again presented with the Best Playing Pony blanket.

Camillo Bautista said, “It’s nice to be back. The last [tournament] we played here was the U.S. Open final. It’s our second C.V. Whitney Cup so we are very proud. We have two very tough tournaments coming so it’s going to be fun. We are taking it one game at a time. It worked this time so hopefully it keeps working. It’s been a hard two or three weeks.”

In consolation matches, Postage Stamp Farm got the best of Cessna, 11-8, while Coca-Cola edged Park Place, 13-11.

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