Building a successful U.S. Open Championship team requires many quality horses and a
talented combination of top players who work well together. It often takes at least a few highgoal
seasons before the team finally clicks. A mid-season line-up change usually ends a team's
chances, but for Zacara, it likely put the team in the winner's circle.
British-born business mogul Lydon
Lea, 43, had a stellar summer
season after winning the British
Open. His next goal was the U.S. Open.
He has been investing in horses, both
in the U.S. and U.K., for quite some
time and lined up quality players in 10-
goal Facundo Pieres, 8-goal Magoo
Laprida and 7-goal Joaquin Pittaluga
for his Zacara team.
Being English, the British Open
was always the tournament I most
wished to win, followed by the U.S.
Open. I certainly had no dream we
would win both within a 12-month
period," explained Lea.
"They are each special in their own way.
The British Open has the most teams and
is therefore possibly the most competitive.
Having said that, this was the most
competitive U.S. Open I have ever seen and
was well attended. The U.S. Open, being 26
goals, separates it and puts it in a league of
its own. I also like the U.S. Open as there is
no artificial foreign player restriction,
which will always hold back high-goal polo
in the U.K. So, they each have their
attractions and certainly both are special.
Previously, Lea's polo teams have been
named after businesses he owned
including Typhoo tea and Jimmy Choo
shoes, however he changed the names
each time the companies were sold. The
Zacara name is likely to stay with him,
not only because it has been successful,
but since it is named after his children
Zachary and Chiara.
In the Open Zacara would have to face
George Rawling's Crab Orchard team
with superstar Adolfo Cambiaso, Pelon
Stirling and Mike Azzaro. But as Lea
says, polo is full of surprises. Without
doubt the team was favored to win, but
before the season began Stirling's
handicap was raised from 9 to 10. Now a
27-goal team, one of the players would
have to go. Instead the team dropped out
and all three pros were left without a team.
Finding a team within weeks of the
season is almost impossible as most patrons
have already committed to their players.
When Bob Jornayvaz heard Cambiaso and
Stirling were available, he decided to enter a
second team, Valiente II led by his son
Robert, using both Cambiaso and Stirling.
Azzaro, however, was still watching from
the sidelines when the season began. Zacara
did fairly well, winning its first two games of
the C.V. Whitney but lost in the semifinal.
As co-founder of Lion Capital, Lea's
success in the business world is due to his
knack for knowing when to buy and when to
sell. In the Gold Cup, Zacara counted two
wins under its belt when he decided it was
time for a change.
"Sometimes difficult choices need to be
made, which you don't want to make but you
know should be made. That is where the
experience in business comes into play. I had
to make one such decision this year when I
saw Pittaluga was not playing up to his
potential," explained Lea.
Former 10-goaler Azzaro, now rated 7
goals, was brought in to replace Pittaluga.
The team won its next game, but again got
knocked out of the tournament in the
semifinal round. Azzaro was originally put in
front of Pieres with Laprida at back. Eventually the players shifted so Azzaro
would play behind Laprida with Facundo at
No. 1, a position he knows best. Lea would
play at his prefered No. 2 spot. "We really hit
our stride when Mike started playing back,"
By the time the U.S. Open
began, most teams were either
beginning to gel, with their
horses peaking, or were realizing
it wasn't going to be their year.
Having only played two games
with the team, Azzaro was just
getting used to his teammates.
His horses were fresh and with
some additional horses from Lea
he was in good shape.
Zacara won its first game 15-
10 over Alegria thanks to nine
goals by Facundo Pieres. Its next
game a week later had Zacara over Orchard
Hill 15-12 with Pieres again scoring nine
goals. It was evident Pieres was benefitting
from the support of his teammates. Lea said,
"The team wanted to win. Everyone
subjugated their egos and played for the
collective [good]. We created space for
Facundo. When he has space, he is
The team's next game was against
Valiente I, winner of the C.V. Whitney.
Zacara took an early lead and never looked
back. It took the 11-9 win with Pieres scoring
six goals and Laprida and Azzaro adding two
apiece. Zacara was the only team to go
undefeated heading into the quarterfinal
round where it smoked Coca-Cola 13-7.
Valiente II suffered after Cambiaso broke
his hand in the Gold Cup. It was eliminated
by Valiente I in the Open quarterfinals.
Zacara's win put it into the semifinals
against a tough ERG squad. Scott Wood's
ERG was driven by 9-goal brothers Tincho
and Sebastian Merlos and 8-goal Paco de
The pressure was really on in the semi-final, knowing we were so close. We played
Tincho and Sebastian who we had played
against in the final of the British Open,
which was a close affair. I thought maybe it
would be their turn," said Lea. "They are
always difficult to play against and did an
effective job of not allowing us to play our
open, running game."
When Zacara held a 7-4 lead after two
periods, it looked liked it would coast to
victory but costly fouls and persistence
brought ERG within two, 8-6, at the half.
ERG was gaining momentum and by early in the sixth had tied the score. Pieres
capitalized on a Penalty 4 and Laprida gave
Zacara some more cushion. Agustin Merlos
scored one for ERG but ran out of time and
Zacara had the win.
After Victor Vargas' Lechuza Caracas,
led by 10-goalers Juan Martin Nero and
Sapo Caset, and 5-goal Facundo Obregon,
edged Valiente I in overtime, the final was
set for Sunday with Zacara taking on the
The days leading up to the Open were
rain soaked, putting into question if the
final could be played as scheduled. On
Sunday, with a mix of clouds, sun and
showers, International Polo Club brought in
several helicopters to hover over the field to
help ensure the grass would be playable.
Meanwhile Zacara's focus was on
winning. Its strategy was to keep the ball
away from Nero and play its own running
game. "I thought the final was a 50/50
chance," said Lea. "Victor is a fantastic
competitor and always dangerous if you let
him have the ball. He creates winning teams
Lechuza held one-goal leads in the first
two periods, but a pair of unanswered goals
by Azzaro put Zacara ahead 5-4 at the half.
Zacara went up by three in the fourth, but
Lechuza fought back to within one going
into the sixth. Zacara's strategy was working
but the game wasn't over yet. It was still too
close to call, but a goal by Laprida and
another by Lea pushed Zacara ahead by
three. Lechuza battled back when Caset
sunk a Penalty 3, but that would be its last
tally and Zacara would hang on for the wellearned
U.S. Open victory.
Sapo Caset was high scorer with five
goals for Lechuza. Mike Azzaro was named
MVP after putting in a stellar effort and
leading Zacara with four. The win was his
sixth U.S. Open title. Lyndon Lea's La Lina,
a 10-year-old bay mare recently purchased
from Ruki Baillieu in U.K. and played by
Pieres in the second and sixth periods, was
named Best Playing Pony of the final.
For Zacara, the line-up change likely
made the difference. Lea said, "If we had
persevered [with Pittaluga] then I don't
believe we would have won the U.S. Open. ...
It was a tough decision but, in hindsight,
clearly the right one."
When asked if Lea will keep the team
next year, he said, "How could I not!"