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
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.
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
Young Player of the Year
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.
Corporate Sponsor of the Year
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.
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.
Amateur Player of the Year
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.
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’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.
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.