Hilario Ulloa puts the pressure on Peke Gonzalez in the Open final.
The color red often indicates a danger or threat. This season, the red-shirted Scone team was the exclamation to that point, proving to be the greatest threat to the other teams vying for a Gauntlet title.
Scone capped off the season with a victory in the U.S. Open Polo Championship, April 18, at International Polo Club Palm Beach in Wellington, Florida. It was the second of three Gauntlet tournaments the team claimed this season.
The team was led by 10-goaler Adolfo Cambiaso, who turned 46 on April 15 and seems to be showing few signs of slowing down. Not only is he a talented player, but his ability to organize teams and collect a seemingly endless supply of horses, is unmatched in the sport today. He has been plagued with back problems the last year or so, but as long as his back holds up, he is likely to be a contender in any tournament he plays. His fire to win is still burning bright. This season, his teammates consisted of his 15-year-old son Poroto, 22-year-old Peke Gonzalez and 62-year-old Australian-born David Paradice, playing in the U.S. for the first time.
Scone faced Park Place, a team led by 10-goaler Hilario Ulloa with Juan Britos, Matt Coppola and Andrey Borodin. Park Place was the spoiler for Scone’s Triple Crown run, edging the team in the C.V. Whitney Cup, the first leg of the Gauntlet. The teams stayed within a goal of each other throughout the match with the exception of two chukkers when Scone briefly got ahead by two. Knotted at 10-all ending regulation, Borodin substitute Jack Whitman scored the golden goal for Park Place in sudden death. It was Scone’s first loss of the season. Ultimately, it was the one goal that kept Scone from claiming the Gauntlet title and a $500,000 bonus.
Scone narrowly ousted Park Place, 9-8, in the semifinal of the next leg, the Gold Cup. Entering the final with a 3-1 record, Scone met Tonkawa (Jeff Hildebrand, Lucas Escobar, Sapo Caset, Fran Elizalde) in the final, carrying a seven-goal lead into the last chukker before winning 13-10.
In the U.S. Open, the final leg of the Gauntlet, Scone eliminated Tonkawa, 10-6, in the quarterfinal, before eliminating defending champion Pilot (Curtis Pilot, Facundo Pieres, Gonzalo Pieres, Keko Magrini), 14-10, in the semis.
Park Place and Scone both entered the final with 3-1 records. Both teams felt good about their chances, having confidence in their teammates and horses, but knew it would be a battle. And it was.
Park Place started off on the right foot with Coppola slicing the first ball into the goal just two minutes into the game. A minute later, Ulloa sunk a Penalty 2. Scone got into the game when Adolfo Cambiaso buried a Penalty 4. Coppola added his second goal under pressure from Gonzalez. Scone won the ensuing throw-in and Poroto took it straight to goal with Britos on his heels. Park Place held a 3-2 lead at the end of the first, but the game was leveled in the second when Cambiaso and Gonzalez found the mark and Borodin carried the ball to goal, ably assisted by Britos who held off an opponent. Both teams also had shots go wide and the chukker ended with a Park Place foul.
Scone began the third with a Penalty 2, which Gonzalez easily tapped in. Adolfo passed to Poroto for the next two goals, putting Scone ahead by three, 7-4, but a Penalty 2 given to Park Place cut the difference to two, 7-5. Another Park Place foul ended the chukker and the half.
Coach Julio Arellano used the halftime break to keep the Park Place team positive and focused, and strategized with the players for the second half. For Scone, it needed to keep doing what it was doing. Adolfo regularly sent the ball to Poroto and if he was being covered, it would be sent to Gonzalez. At times, it was difficult to tell the difference between father and son, who share a similar helmet, physique and riding style. While Paradice wore the No. 1 shirt, he worked hard at defense. Gonzalez was tasked with taking the open-goal penalties (he was 4 for 4), while Adolfo took the Penalty 4s. On the other side, Ulloa took all the penalties.
Poroto said, “Our strategy today was to play as we had been playing, passing the ball, playing as a team, being in order defensively, and facing the game with a lot of confidence.”
The fourth chukker began with a Penalty 2 for Scone, which Gonzalez converted. Park Place knew it would have to keep pressing but over the next few minutes started showing some cracks. Runs by Coppola and Ulloa went just wide, as did a Penalty 4. Scone was not having the same luck. Gonzalez picked up a pass from Adolfo and running flat out, found the goal with an angle that offered a target of just inches. Ulloa converted a Penalty 2 but soon after Poroto picked up a pass from his father, slipped a Coppola hook and put it through the posts. Scone had doubled the difference and now held a 10-6 lead. As the chukker ended, Poroto saved a goal by hitting it over his own back line, setting Park Place up for a Safety, but making the team work for it.
Ulloa accepted the challenge and sent the ball between the uprights. Scone was unable to capitalize on a Penalty 4, but Cambiaso made up for it, jumping on a miss hit from Park Place and sending the ball in one shot to goal. Ulloa then took the ball out of the lineup, hitting the target. Later, Cambiaso and Ulloa both had shots go wide. The chukker ended with Paradice caught in the way of Ulloa who was accelerating to goal. Scone was ahead, 11-8.
The final chukker began with a Penalty 2 for Park Place, which Ulloa converted. It was just what the team needed to start its comeback. But Scone wasn’t having it. Adolfo shot from distance and hit the mark then Gonzalez capitalized on a pair of open-goal penalties to take a five-goal lead with just over four minutes left. Everything would have to go its way if Park Place was going to have a chance of winning, but it was up for the challenge.
Hilario ran to goal with Poroto on his hip, then sunk a Penalty 3 at the two-minute mark. Britos carried the ball to goal but was ridden off by Gonzalez; fortunately, Ulloa was there to clean up. The team was down by two, 14-12, with a minute remaining. A Park Place win was all but impossible but Ulloa wouldn’t give up. He crossed the goal line with his final goal at the one-second mark, but it wasn’t enough and Scone took the win, 14-13.
Scone pocketed the $200,000 prize money and will have its name engraved on the base of the historic U.S. Open trophy. Runner-up Park Place settled for $50,000.
Adolfo Cambiaso was named MVP and horses he played went home with a bevy of horse prizes. Valiente’s 10-year-old Gete Libelula (Machitos Libano x Lelina) was the Willis L. Hartman Best Playing Pony of the final; his 8-year-old Lovelocks Camuseritch (Open El Padrino x Dolfina Querencia) was Best Playing Pony of the U.S. Open tournament and the entire Gauntlet, and was also named IPC Horse of the Year. Finally, his 11-year-old Dolfina Maria (Durazno x Dolfina Celina) was the Best Argentine Bred horse of the Open final. Lovelocks Camusericht is co-owned with Pelon Stirling. Adolfo had the mare flown in from Argentina, one of a couple, in the last weeks of the season to fortify his string for the Open.
La Indiana’s Michael Bickford was named MVP Patron of the Gauntlet.
The win was Adolfo Cambiaso’s ninth U.S. Open title, tying him with Carlos Gracida for the second most wins and seven short of Memo Gracida’s record of 16. Playing with his son made this win all the more meaningful for Adolfo.
“Winning with my son is unbelievable. Ten years ago he was only 5 years old so it was a dream that was kind of far away and today it came true,” Adolfo explained. “I never thought that I was going to be in the position that I am now, playing in the U.S. Open with my 15-year-old son and winning, so I am really happy. I want to thank David Paradice for trusting me to play with someone who is so young.”
The team also thanked Valiente’s Bob Jornayvaz, who helped the team with horses. Adolfo normally plays with Jornayvaz who sat out this season.
“I loved participating in the tournament and playing with Adolfo, but above all, I loved the team, the family and the people who were involved. I am very thankful to Adolfo and Bob Jornayvaz who enabled me to do this,” Paradise explained.
Gonzalez was thankful for the opportunity. “This win means everything to me. It’s amazing! It is what we have been working for the whole season. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he said. “I am very thankful to the entire Scone team, Adolfito and Poroto for giving me the opportunity to play with them, and everyone involved, including the grooms and all the guys who are helping the organization day after day. They did a great job throughout the whole season and we couldn’t have made it without them.”
Days after the final, handicap changes were announced. Poroto, who was rated 6 goals this season, went to 8 goals June 1 and will go to 9 goals on Jan. 1. He is likely to meet or beat his father’s accomplishment of being the youngest player to reach 10 goals when he was 17. Gonzalez will go from 6 to 7 goals beginning Jan. 1.
On Park Place, Coppola went from 4 to 5 on June 1, while Britos will go from 8 to 9 Jan. 1.
By Gwen Rizzo