IN LIVING COLOR: Artist depicts gauchos and other horsemen.
  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 superstitious may consider 13 unlucky, but for La Dolfina, the 2019 126th Argentine Open was its 13th title, its seventh consecutive, after overcoming Ellerstina, 16-12, in eight chukkers of regulation time. It was the end of a long Triple Crown season, which included the Tortugas, Hurlingham and Argentine Opens.

Eight teams between 30 and 40 goals competed in the first two legs, while two more teams—winners of their zones in a qualifying tournament—joined the fray for the Argentine Open.

With few exceptions, for the last decade, the finals of each leg of the Triple Crown have pitted La Dolfina against Ellerstina. A 40-goal Ellerstina team took the 2010 Triple Crown with brothers Facundo and Gonzalo Pieres, Pablo Mac Donough and Juan Martin Nero. Cambiaso convinced Mac Donough and Nero, along with Pelon Stirling, to join his team the following year. The combination seemed to work as the new La Dolfina squad won two out of three titles. Within two years, the combination was working like a well-oiled machine and won the Triple Crown three years running.

Ellerstina, made up of brothers Facundo, Gonzalo and Nico Pieres along with brother-in-law Mariano Aguerre, for the most part couldn’t seem to stop the La Dolfina train, settling for runner-up time and again. In 2015, the team adjusted the line-up by replacing Aguerre with cousin Polito Pieres. La Dolfina still took the Triple Crown that year, and since then Ellerstina hasn’t gotten any closer to an Argentine Open victory.

Since 2016, Ellerstina managed to take the Hurlingham Open title three years in a row, serving as a spoiler to La Dolfina’s Triple Crown runs. while La Dolfina won the Tortugas and Open titles. This year wasn’t much different.

Opening day of the 79th Tortugas Open tournament, Oct. 8, was cut short by heavy rain, giving a peak preview of what was to come. Several other preliminary dates were rained out, some matches were partially played in the rain and the semifinals were postponed for 10 days because of the weather.

When Mother Nature relented, the first semifinal match had La Dolfina roll over Cría Yatay, 20-4, with ease. The next match, between Ellerstina and Las Monjitas, was much more exciting. Las Monjitas led for most of the game, doubling up Ellerstina, 10-5, at the halfway mark. Ellerstina began to catch up, matching Las Monjitas in the fifth, and outscoring it 4-0 in the sixth before leveling the scoring in the seventh and forcing an extra chukker. Polito Pieres scored the golden goal to send Ellerstina to the final, scheduled for two days later. Unfortunately, a wet field postponed the final on Oct. 23 at the 4:45 mark of the first chukker when Pelon Stirling slipped and fell. La Dolfina was ahead 2-0. With the field unsafe and the Hurlingham Open scheduled to start, the remainder of the final was postponed until mid-November.

At the same time, the qualifying tournament for the remaining spots in the Argentine Open had seven teams between 28-29 goals playing off from Oct. 22-Nov. 7. The teams were divided into two zones, with the winner of each zone moving on to the Argentine Open. La Irenita defeated La Cañada, 12-6, and La Dolfina III, 12-10, to win Zone 1, while La Natividad defeated La Esquina, 11-7, Los Machitos, 13-7, and La Irenita II, 13-9, to win Zone 2.

The Hurlingham Open, managed for the second year by the Argentine Polo Association in cooperation with the Hurlingham Club, began on Oct. 25. La Dolfina and Las Monjitas topped Zone B and played off for a spot in the final. La Dolfina controlled the first half, amassing a six-goal lead thanks to deadly accurate foul shooting by Juan Martin Nero. Las Monjitas regrouped, outscoring La Dolfina, 5-1, to come within two goals, 13-11. In a game riddled with fouls, Sapo Caset was also accurate with his foul shooting, converting nine but missed two crucial fouls late in the game. La Dolfina held on for the 17-14 win to advance.

Zone A was defined in a match between Ellerstina and LD Polo Ranch, which had to win by four goals to advance to the final. Ellerstina lead the entire game to reach a 14-7 victory.

On Nov. 9, Ellerstina, hoping for its fourth consecutive Hurlingham title, met La Dolfina. It was clear from the first chukker, La Dolfina was hungry for the win. It doubled up the score in the first seven minutes, 4-2, and kept the pressure on. Leading 8-5 at the half, La Dolfina maintained a three-goal difference for the remainder of the match to win, 16-13.

Hurlingham Club President Fernando Kelly and AAP President Eduardo Novillo Astrada presented the trophies. The Javier Novillo Astrada MVP Award went to Juan Martin Nero; the Fair Play Award went to Gonzalo Pieres Jr.; The Daniel Kearny Best Playing Pony went to Adolfo Cambiaso’s Más Claudia; the AAP Best Horse in the final went to Dolfina Cuartetera B04 Clone, played by Nero; and the AACCP Best Registered Product went to Facundo Pieres’ Open Candy Kiss.

The teams met a week later, on Nov. 15 to complete the final of the Tortugas Open, picking up where they left off in the first chukker with La Dolfina ahead. It seemed like the results would be similar to the Hurlingham final after La Dolfina held the lead for the first six chukkers, but Ellerstina dug deep and outscored La Dolfina 3-1 in the sixth to come within one, thanks to the leadership of Gonzalo Pieres Jr. The team went on to scored two in the final chukker, including the game winner with less than a minute on the clock, while holding La Dolfina scoreless to take the win and deny La Dolfina its seventh consecutive title and a chance at a fourth Triple Crown.

Tortugas Country Club President Francisco Dorignac presented the trophies. MVP honors went to Nicolás Pieres; Facundo Pieres was high-scorer with six goals; AAP Best Horse was Pablo Mac Donough’s Irenita Acertada; and the AACCP Award for Best Registered Product was Nicolás Pieres’ Open Biznieta.

The teams changed their focus to the Argentine Open, with the games beginning the next day.
The ten teams (with the addition of the two qualifier winners) were divided into two zones. Despite a morning drizzle, the games got off as scheduled with La Ensenada Meta taking on La Irenita, that was making its debut. La Ensenada got the advantage, 14-7. Later La Dolfina Polo Ranch defeated La Aguada El Dok 17-9.

The next day, La Natividad, fresh from the classification tournament, shook up La Albertina Abu Dhabi, 13-7, in a fast open game. Victorino Ruiz filled in for an injured Agustín Merlos for the losers. La Natividad’s Camilo Castagnola, 16, made his Argentine Open debut.

The next match had Las Monjitas beat Cría Yatay Uphold, 17-9. Caset was high-scorer with eight goals. Days later, La Dolfina Sancor Seguros got the best of La Irenita, 19-7 while La Dolfina Polo Ranch beat La Ensenada Meta, 16-7.

A confident La Natividad didn’t have an easy time against Ellerstina Johor, falling 15-8, while La Albertina Abu Dhabi lost its second match, this time to Las Monjitas, 16-9. La Irenita picked up its first win over La Aguada, 16-11, while La Dolfina Sancor Seguros crushed La Ensenada Meta, 18-8.

La Natividad celebrated a second win, this time over Cría Yatay Uphold, 14-10, before Ellerstina edged La Albertina Abu Dhabi, 13-11. La Dolfina Polo Ranch beat La Irenita, 16-6, and La Dolfina Sancor Seguros defeated La Aguada, 18-6.

December began with Las Monjitas completing zone playoffs with a 3-0 record after edging a surprisingly tough Natividad (2-2), 11-9. Ellerstina also arrived undefeated after eliminating Cría Yatay Uphold, 14-9.

The 10 teams were ranked after receiving 150 points for each Argentine Open game win. If three or more teams are tied, its goes to who beat who. If the tied teams didn’t play each other, the team with the most goals places higher. The two lowest-ranked teams are out. The eighth-place team plays the winner of the Copa Cámara de Diputados for the last remaining Triple Crown spot. The teams that top the classification zones will join the eight Triple Crown teams in the 2020 Argentine Open.

On Dec. 6, Zone A’s La Aguada El Dok beat La Ensenada Meta, 17-10, to secure its spot in this year’s Triple Crown. Eighth place La Ensenada’s spot was unsure for this year until it defeated the winner of the Copa Cámara de Diputados.

With 0-3 records, Zone B’s Cría Yatay played La Albertina Abu Dhabi. La Albertina prevailed, 17-14, to maintain a spot in the Triple Crown. Last place Cría Yatay and ninth place La Irenita will have to earn their way back into the Argentine Open by winning their zones in the classification tournament.

Meanwhile, on Dec. 7, La Dolfina Sancor Seguros, celebrating its 100th Triple Crown game with its current line-up, topped La Dolfina Polo Ranch, 15-6, to earn its 19th (12-6 record) final appearance since its founding in 2000.

For the other spot, Las Monjitas played off against Ellerstina in a replay of last year’s zone definition. This time, Ellerstina got revenge in a tightly contested 11-10 match, to earn its place. It will be the team’s 12th (3-8 record) Argentine Open final appearance.

The Argentine Open final kept spectators on the edge of their seats, but not necessarily for the play. Less-than-ideal field conditions saw numerous slips and falls, including a scary fall that took Juan Martin Nero out of the game.

Pablo Mac Donough struck first with 5:38 on the clock. Cambiaso uncharacteristically missed three shots on goal, looking at the cane of his mallet on the third miss. With 34 seconds left in the chukker, Stirling’s horse propped to avoid the goal post as Stirling was reaching back, unseating him. He remounted and as play continued, La Dolfina was awarded a Penalty 4, which Cambiaso sent wide.

Less than a minute into the second, Stirling fell when his horse slipped behind, doing everything it could to stay on its feet, but unseating Stirling. A Penalty 2 by Facundo put Ellerstina on the board at the 4:34 mark. Cambiaso found his swing and followed with one of his own. Another Penalty 2 off Facundo’s mallet went wide, and Polito missed a field goal. Cambiaso split the uprights with a Penalty 3, then scored on a pass from Mac Donough out of the ensuing throw-in to end the chukker, 4-2.

Ellerstina had its chances to take the lead in the third but could not connect. Cambiaso scored, but Gonzalo Pieres responded in kind. Seconds later he just missed at the other end. Polito had two misses but the third time was the charm, keeping Ellerstina in the game, 5-3.

Facundo converted a Penalty 2 early in the fourth, but Mac Donough followed by bouncing a ball on the end of his stick and into the goal. La Dolfina kept the ball in front of the Ellerstina goal. Gonzalo Pieres’ clearing shot bounced off Stirling’s horse’s leg and into the goal. Cambiaso scored another, then escorted Mac Donough’s difficult angle shot along the back line into the goal with a second to spare. The half ended with La Dolfina comfortably ahead, 9-4.

La Dolfina kept up the pressure in the fifth, with three goals to Ellerstina’s two. Ellerstina made up some ground in the sixth with three unanswered goals, while La Dolfina had some bad luck with a Cambiaso miss, a Penalty 3 attempt by Nero that Gonzalo Pieres saved and a Mac Donough shot that crossed the line just after the bell. Still, Ellerstina trailed 12-9.

The teams traded goals in the seventh but when Nero had a serious fall a little more than two minutes into the chukker, it seemed to shake everyone. Despite getting rolled on by his horse, he gamely tried to continue playing after a short break but was visibly in pain and had to stop two minutes later, dismounting and limping away. The team’s substitute, Rodrigo Andrade was field side with a few of his own horses at the ready. He mounted up for Nero and played well, even adding a pair of goals to the team’s tally.

Stirling had his third mishap when his horse slipped behind, and fighting to stay on its feet, ran into Gonzalo Pieres’ horse, knocking it off its feet. Mac Donough later became unseated after getting hit in the side by a horse’s head. Despite the bumps, La Dolfina continued its dominance, outscoring Ellerstina 3-2 in the final chukker to win, 16-12.

Facundo Pieres was high-scorer with eight goals, but was not playing at the top of his game. For the winners, Cambiaso led with six goals, followed by Mac Donough with five. Mac Donough won the Gonzalo Heguy MVP award, while Cambiaso took the Javier Novillo Astrada trophy for high-scorer of the tournament with 39 goals. Playing several clones, Cambiaso also was named Best Mounted Player of the final and Best Mounted Player of the tournament. The Fair Play award went to Polito Pieres and the Rubén Sola Revelation Award went to up-and-coming brothers Bartolomé and Camilo Castagnola.

For the horses, Dolfina B06 Cuartetera (clone) took home the Lady Susan Townley Cup for Best Horse of the Final. The AACCP Best Registered Horse went to Más Claudia, this time played by Pelón Stirling, and the American Polo Horse Association award, presented by Grant Ganzi and Juan Bollini, went to Cambiaso’s Dolfina B09 Cuartetera (clone).

A tough-as-nails Nero joined his teammates on the podium for the trophy presentation, even smiling and celebrating. It was later revealed that he had broken his fibula and required surgery. He is in a walking boot until it is fully healed.

After the tournament, musical teams began. Polito Pieres will leave Ellerstina in favor of La Natividad with the Castagnola brothers and Ignatius Du Plessis. The addition of Polito and handicap changes (each brother went up by two and Du Plessis went up one) put La Natividad from 27 goals to 36 for 2020. Polito Pieres’ spot on Ellerstina will be filled by 10-goaler Hilario Ulloa. It is unclear who will fill Ulloa’s spot on Las Monjitas.

-- Photos by Sergio Llamera

 

 
 
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