POLO MASTERS: La Dolfina continues to dominate Argentine Open

La Dolfina’s Juan Martin Nero shot through the golden goal in overtime to give the team its fifth consecutive Argentine Open victory over Ellerstina.

Number 10 represents polo’s magnificence. When a player reaches 10 goals, it is clear he has entered the story books. The 2017 Argentine Open in Palermo could be considered a 10, not only because for the first time since 1968 there were that many teams competing but because the emotional show that was offered in the 20 qualifying matches and the final deserved that maximum rating. Or maybe more ...

The most important event on the planet began its renewed 124th edition on Saturday, Nov. 14. U.S. Polo Assn. was the official apparel sponsor for the Open and outfitted the umpires with shirts and pants. It also had an on-site retail store at Palermo and signage on the field.

In the first round, on Palermo’s Field 2, La Irenita San Germán Seguros defeated La Esquina Los Machitos Navarro Correas by 14-11, with six winning goals off the mallet of Juan Ruiz Guiñazú. The match was the debut of Pascual Sainz de Vicuña, No. 1 of the losers who became the first Spanish player in the Open. “I have been called by sports’ newspapers Marca and As from my country, which ... only has space for Real Madrid, Barcelona and the Spanish national football team. I’m thrilled to be considered an athlete,” he said.

Mariano Aguerre, who returned to play the Open after three seasons, had in his squad a local debutant (Rodrigo Rueda) and another foreigner: the Brazilian Rodrigo Ribeiro de Andrade, participating for the seventh time.

Action then moved to the Cathedral, where members of the Argentine National team that won the FIP World Championships in Sydney paraded around the field before the second match for Group A, in which La Aguada Las Monjitas had Alfredo Bigatti premiering in place of Eduardo Novillo Astrada, injured before the Triple Crown began. Bigatti, playing No. 2, was vital to defeat La Albertina Abu Dhabi 13-10 despite the team having one less handicap goal.

The next day, action in Group B began on Field 2 with a tribute to brothers Eduardo and Alberto Heguy, who were starting their 31st Open together with Julián de Lusarreta, who was making his debut. To continue the celebration, Chapaleufú Cardón won 3-0 in the initial chukker against Cría Yatay Colony. But the brilliance of Joaquin Pittaluga (10 goals in the afternoon) appeared to turn the score and with a second overwhelming half (12-3), the Laprida’s team scored a resounding 18-8 victory.

On Field 1, Alegría Land Rover made it clear that the final in Hurlingham was no accident and beat La Dolfina Polo Ranch, where Uruguayan Alejo Taranco made his debut in the Open, 17-12, with 10 goals coming from Guillermo Caset.

The second round was celebrated the following weekend, with the introduction of the top two candidates. On Saturday, for Group A on Field No. 2, defending champion La Dolfina Sancor Seguros had no trouble against La Esquina Los Machitos Navarro Correas to overcome it 24-6 with an unexpected best scorer in Juan Martín Nero with nine.

In the second game, La Aguada Las Monjitas maintained the winning step against La Irenita San Germán Seguros, scoring a 12-7 win with five tallies from Miguel Novillo Astrada. On Sunday, Ellerstina Johor appeared, also on Field 2, with a 21-7 win over Chapaleufú Cardón with 10 goals by Polito Pieres. Later, on Field 1, Alegría Land Rover added its second victory, this time against Cría Yatay Colony by 14-11, with Sapo Caset’s half dozen conversions.

The third round raised some controversy because it was played on weekdays during working hours, so Palermo did not attract the standard public (a minimum of 10,000 people on a weekend). However, those who came enjoyed remarkable games.

For Group A, La Aguada Las Monjitas accumulated its third victory after defeating La Esquina Los Machitos Navarro Correas 11-8 and secured a place in the virtual semifinal. Then, La Dolfina Sancor Seguros rolled over La Albertina Abu Dhabi 22-6.

The next day, for Group B, the first match was played on a stage more similar to Cowdray, England than Palermo. When the game between Alegría Land Rover and Chapaleufú Cardón got underway, an intense downpour broke out that, at times, obscured the players from spectators in the stands. But the excellent Tifton turf on Field 2 resisted the rainstorm and the eight chukkers were completed without problems, closing 18- 10 in favor of Alegría, captained by Fred Mannix. In the second match, with the clouds dissipating, Ellerstina Johor suffered against La Dolfina Polo Ranch on Field No 1 despite the nine goal handicap difference. They played as equals before Ellerstina won 12-11.

The fourth round was held the next weekend. On Saturday, Nov. 18 Adolfo Cambiaso entered into the history books as having played 100 games in Palermo. La Dolfina Sancor Seguros’ frontman, who wore a shirt with 100 on his back instead of the traditional No. 1, lived the extravagance of playing seven clones of Cuartetera and the original 16-year-old mare in the eight-chukker 21-4 victory over La Irenita San Germán Seguros.

“To have been able to celebrate this day, using the 100, was [fantastic]. It was something very nice,” acknowledged the crack from Cañuelas, best scorer of the afternoon with eight goals.

Later, La Albertina Abu Dhabi achieved its first win after beating La Esquina Los Machitos Navarro Correas 17-8. On Sunday, Nov. 19, La Dolfina Polo Ranch achieved its first success in the tournament after beating Chapaleufú Cardón 10-8. Next, Ellerstina Johor showed its great horse capacity and after winning the first half of the match against Cría Yatay Colony 6-4, took advantage in the second half by a wide 8- 2 to shape the 14-6 final score.

The finalists were defined the weekend of Nov. 25-26. In the clash of Group A’s undefeated teams, La Dolfina Sancor Seguros was absolutely dominant to get an unusual 14-1 final against La Aguada Las Monjitas, a superiority unthinkable before the first throw-in. Thus, the defending champion completed an initial phase in which it shined, not only for its attacking ability (81 goals in four games) but it also exhibited an incredible defensive strategy (allowed only 17 goals) to advance to its 17th Palermo final in 18 years (only lacking in 2004).

In addition, La Albertina Abu Dhabi beat La Irenita San Germán Seguros by a clear 20-11 to confirm its place in the next Triple Crown.

The definition of Group B had more suspense. Sunday started with the 11-10 victory of La Dolfina Polo Ranch over Cría Yatay Colony in an extra chukker, with a golden goal by Diego Cavanagh. The win allows the team to maintain a place in the Triple Crown next season.

Then, in the Cathedral, Alegría Land Rover was on the verge of knocking out Ellerstina Johor in a repeat of the Hurlingham final. Alegría recovered from a poor first half (7-4 for Ellerstina) and managed to equal 11-11 at the end of the sixth chukker. In the seventh, the teams matched each other with two goals per side, and in the decisive eighth chukker, Mannix deflected a Caset penalty into the goal. But, the team was unable to maintain control of the ball and the Pieres men were unforgiving. Facundo converted a penalty to knot the score and Polito finished it off with a great run to goal that gave the team its 11th ticket to the grand final in the last 13 years.

The most anticipated match of the year was held on Saturday, Dec. 2. And while in Argentina there are no official bets, there were not too many among the 15,000 spectators who chose the Pieres as winners since twice in the preliminaries they had been a goal away from disaster while La Dolfina advanced to the definition at an overwhelming pace.

But the members of La Zeta (Ellerstina) decided to make fun of the doubters and played a strong initial chukker to silence the critics, finishing the first chukker with a 3-1 advantage, thanks to Polito’s efforts. And in the next period they stayed in front, although the light was reduced to one goal (4-3).

Just after the third period, Cambiaso appeared and changed the trend for his team to end the chukker with a 5-4 advantage. The match went back and forth and when the fifth period closed, the teams were equalized 8-8.

Guided by Pablo Mac Donough, La Dolfina achieved a 5-2 run in the following 13 minutes and entered the last chukker three goals ahead. It seemed the issue had been settled, but Ellerstina reacted and with one goal coming from Polito, and Facu sinking two penalties—the last less than half a minute from the conclusive bell—sent the match to an extra chukker, as happened between these old rivals in 2005, 2007 and 2009 (victories of La Dolfina), 2008 and 2010 (triumphs of Ellerstina).

La Zeta had the first chance, but Polito Pieres’ long shot went wide. In reply, there was no forgiveness: Cambiaso stopped the gallop at mid-field and paused to find a hole to hit through, when, like a ghost, the least expected attacker appeared: No. 4 Juan Martin Nero. The Back did not hesitate in front of the posts and scored the golden goal that allowed La Dolfina to nearly double the number of wins in the duel with Ellerstina (27-14). It also gave the team its 11th victory for the most desired trophy on the planet (fifth consecutive).

Cambiaso, who celebrated three other times as a member of Ellerstina in the 90s, won four individual prizes: he was distinguished with the Equine Promotion Cup given to the best mounted player of the Open; he received the Lady Susan Townley Cup for the best horse of the final for his clone Dolfina B09 Cuartetera, a mare that was also recognized by the Argentine Association of Polo Horse Breeders and by the Argentine Rural Society.

For his part, Nero was chosen as the best player in the final, for which he received the Gonzalo Heguy Trophy, and the best mounted of the decisive match, for which he was honored with the Gonzalo Tanoira Award.

“I think we were deserved champions, but we could not deliver all our game. It’s worthwhile for them that they did not let up for a minute,” Nero explained.

The Fair Play award for the most disciplined player in the tournament went to Pablo Mac Donough. The remaining member of La Dolfina, David Stirling, got a virtual prize as he achieved his sixth victory in Palermo and surpassed Carlos Gracida as the foreigner who has been crowned the most times in the Open.

For the runners-up there were two consolations: Pablo Pieres, author of 38 goals in the competition, was awarded with the Javier Novillo Astrada Trophy to the championship best scorer, while the Fair Play trophy of the final awarded by the players’ association was left in the hands of Gonzalito Pieres.

“We really wanted to take the Open. If I could have taken the ball I stole in overtime maybe we would be talking about something else, but luck again failed us,” said Ellerstina’s No. 3.

by Gwen Rizzo
Photos by Sergio Llamera



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