2005 Polo Excellence Awards
Recognizing outstanding talent in the sport today.

Each year POLO Players’ Edition surveys the best players in the sport today to nominate individuals competing in the highest levels to be recognized for their outstanding performances. Awards are given in five categories: Player of the Year, Young Player of the Year, Amateur Player of the Year, Horse of the Year and Corporate Sponsor of the Year.
The Polo Excellence Awards were first introduced in 1986 by Polo magazine founder Ami Shinitzky. He commissioned artist Tom Holland to sculpt a bronze likeness of the legendary polo player Thomas Hitchcock. Today, the Tommy’s are polo’s version of the Oscars and symbolize excellence in the sport. To qualify for a player award, overall playing ability, win-loss record, horsemanship, sportsmanship and contributions to the team are considered.
It has often been said that a horse is no less than 75 percent of a player’s game. Yet until recently these magnificent equine athletes got very little recognition. Traditionally, only the best horse in the final of the U.S. Open Championship is recognized. The Horse of the Year was introduced two years ago as a way to recognize a horse that stands out during the high-goal season, whether or not its team makes the final.
The Corporate Sponsor of the Year recognizes a company that makes a significant contribution to supporting polo and ultimately helping promote the sport.

Player of the Year

Mariano Aguerre

Sometimes you just have one heck of a year. Well, for 10-goal Mariano Aguerre 2005 was certainly a year to remember. Though he has played for one of the biggest polo organizations in the world since 1986, White Birch, the team had won nearly every tournament possible except for the 26-goal U.S. Open. Aguerre and his teammates were certainly hungry for the title, which had eluded them for so long. Little did he know what lay ahead for him.
Things were looking good for the team when they entered the start of the 26-goal season. They ended up with the title of the first event, the Hall of Fame Cup and followed with a win in the C.V. Whitney Cup. It was uncertain if the team would be able to keep the momentum for the grand finale event, the U.S. Open Championship, but with Aguerre captaining the team they captured that title too.

Previous winners:
2004 Carlos Gracida
2003 Francisco “Paco”
de Narvaez
2002 Adam Snow
1999 Hector Galindo/
Memo Gracida
1998 Adam Snow
1997 Memo Gracida
1996 Memo Gracida
1995 Carlos Gracida
1994 Mike Azzaro
1993 Carlos Gracida
1992 Owen Rinehart
1991 Memo Gracida
1990 Memo Gracida
1989 Carlos Gracida
1988 Gonzalo Pieres
1987 Owen Rinehart
1986 Carlos Gracida

Those wins would have satisfied any player, but Aguerre wasn’t quite finished. He took the Hampton-Butler Cup, the Greenwich League, the East Coast Open and the Mercedes Cup, all played at the 20-goal level. He also won the 26-goal Graff and Greenwich Cups last summer. But remarkably his wins didn’t end there. He capped off the year by winning the coveted Argentine Open.
Now 36 years old, the Argentine Aguerre has been riding since he was 3 years old and started swinging his first foot mallet at age 4 with the encouragement of his father, Martin, and brother, Martin Jr. Remarkably, he played in his first polo tournament when he was 6. He hasn’t stopped since. He came to the United States as a 0-goaler and a little more than a dozen years later, in 1990, he reached 10-goal status.

Corporate Sponsor of the Year

Stanford Group

The sport of polo has been fortunate to have a friend in Texas-based Stanford Group. Stanford Group, a money management firm that is a member of the Stanford Financial Group of companies, has been sponsoring polo for nearly a dozen years. Each year, its commitment to the sport has grown.

Previous winners:
2004 Bombardier
2003 Stanford Financial Group
2002 Outback Steakhouse
1997 Coca-Cola

Stanford Group was the recipient of the 2003 Corporate Sponsor of the Year, and its commitment to polo has only increased since then. The company signed up for a multi-year title sponsorship for the 26-goal U.S. Open championship and continues to sponsor the 20-goal Silver Cup and the 20- goal Texas Open. Stanford Group Co. Executive Director Jay Comeaux took up the sport about five years ago and sponsors a team in the 8-goal Pro-Am series in Houston. The company also sponsors numerous fund-raisers at the Houston Polo Club, such as the International Paella Festival, the annual Father’s Day Tournament and the Brinker Cup. Internationally, the company sponsors Prince Charles’ Charity Polo Day in aid of the British Forces Foundation in England.
Comeaux says: “Polo is a global sport and we are a global firm. I am deeply impressed by the degree with which the pros and players devote to being excellent at the game, and I would like to think our firm feels the same way about the way we approach wealth management—helping our clients realize their goals. So, polo is a perfect partnership for us. …”

Previous winners:
2004 Ulysses Escapite/Miguel Torres, Jr.
2003 Weston Gracida
2002 Julia Gracida/Frederick Mannix
1999 Jeff Blake
1998 Nicholas Roldan
1997Jeff Hall
1996 Joe Wayne Barry
1995 Lucas White
1994 Tiger Kneece
1993 John Gobin
1992 Todd Offen
1991 Julio Arellano
1990 Mike Azzaro
1989 Ted Moore
1988 Tom Biddle, Jr.
1987 Mike Azzaro
1986 Dana Fortugno

Young Player of the Year

Facundo Pieres

At just 19 years old Facundo Pieres is counted as one of the best players in the world today. Currently rated 9 goals in the U.S., he carries a 10- goal rating in Argentina, the most competitive polo arena in the world. For those 22 years old and younger, his talent is unmatched. In 2005, he played with his older brother Gonzalo Pieres Jr. on Neil Hirsch’s Black Watch team with friend Nacho Figueras. The team played for the first time in Wellington’s 26-goal season and before long earned a spot in the final of the C.V.

Whitney with a remarkable 4-1 record. Though they lost in an incredible overtime match against powerhouse White Birch, Facundo scored 31 goals throughout the tournament, tying with Lucas Criado for the most goals scored in the event.

Facundo headed back home to Argentina to compete in the fall high-goal season where he, his brother and cousins won both the Tortugas and Hurlingham Opens. Their bid for the Triple Crown was taken away by a single goal, when La Dolfina won the Argentine Open match against Pieres’ Ellerstina team in an amazing overtime final. Facundo continues to impress and will likely be counting many important victories in the near future.

Horse of the Year

Califa

This 10-year-old handsome bay gelding is played by Mariano Aguerre and owned by White Birch Polo. Califa first started getting noticed during the 2004 season when White Birch made their way to the final of the U.S. Open. He carried the 10- goal Aguerre in two chukkers during that intense final match and earned himself the Willis L. Hartman Best Playing Pony Award. Aguerre counted on him again for the 2005 high-goal season. Califa didn’t disappoint and Aguerre partnered with him in numerous crucial games as the team took all three 26-goal tournament victories last season.
Aguerre says the best thing about Califa is he gives you whatever you ask of him. “Califa is handy when he needs to be, fast when he needs to be, gives me time when I need it and quick—whatever you need.”
Aguerre knows he can play Califa two chukkers if necessary, but he often saves him for the crucial fifth or sixth chukker. Despite his power, Aguerre admits he can be lazy when he’s not playing. “He is very quiet, very lazy. He is one of a kind. He is very quiet to ride, but because he is lazy it takes longer to get him fit.” Once he gets fit, almost anyone can ride him, but until then, watch out! “When you first start exercising him, he can buck you off. You can be stick and balling for 15 minutes and he will buck you off. Once he is fit, a kid could ride him.”

Previous winners:
2004 Wembly, played and owned by Memo Gracida

Califa was bred by Aguerre’s father-inlaw, former 10-goal great Gonzalo Pieres. He is out of one of the more famous Argentine polo mares, Luna. Aguerre bought Califa when he was 5 and he has become one of the best horses in his string. “He proved to have unbelievable stamina. He is very powerful and brings the best out in me,” says Aguerre.

 
Amateur Players of the Year

S.K. Johnston, III

S.K. “Skeeter” Johnston III tried a new combination to comprise his Skeeterville team in his bid for the three tournaments that make up the 26-goal season in Florida. He, along with longtime teammate Owen Rinehart, enlisted the help of Julio Arellano and Lucas Monteverde. The formula worked and the team won every match it played up until the final of the first event, the 26-goal Hall of Fame Cup, when they lost by just a goal. They won their preliminary games in the next tournament before being eliminated, then headed in to the Open games.

Previous winners:
2004 Scott Devon
2003 Thomas Boyle
2002 Gillian Johnston
1999 Andy Busch

Remarkably, they went 4-0 before advancing in the quarterfinal, then the semifinal to earn a place in the final match. They played a tremendous game before losing in overtime. With the number of strong teams, no team can count that much success without all four players contributing greatly. Skeeter, playing the No. 1 position, had a fantastic season. He played a strong, steady offense while counting numerous wins in one of the most competitive fields ever.

Camilo Bautista

Camilo Bautista’s Las Monjitas team had some success in 2005, but more important Bautista’s greatest success was as an individual player. Win or lose, Bautista’s love for the game is evident, and he exhibits tremendous sportsmanship on and off the field. He is a solid player who continues to improve each year. Playing with and against the best players in the world, he isn’t afraid to execute a needed play, and his teammates know they can count on him. Further, he takes a real interest in the sport off the field.

Previous winners:
1998 Steve Van Andel
1997 John Goodman
1996 Georges Daou
1995 Doug Matthews
1994 Fred Mannix
1993 Adam Lindemann
1992 The Busch Brothers
1991 Merle Jenkins
1990 Peter Brant
1989 Peter Baldwin
1988 Norman Brinker
1987 Rodger Rinehart

Bautista hails from Colombia, South America. He has been playing the sport for several years, joining the high-goal competition in South Florida four years ago. In his bright orange and blue jerseys, he has teamed up with the Novillo Astrada brothers. His positive attitude is an example for others in the sport.