SEALING THE DEAL: Valiente completes U.S. Triple Crown victory

Adolfo Cambiaso led Bob Jornayvaz’s Valiente team to victory in the final of the U.S. Open to take the title and the Triple Crown at International Polo Club Palm Beach in Wellington, Florida on April 25.

Valiente carried its momentum from the first two 26-goal tournaments, the Gold Cup and the C.V. Whitney, into the U.S. Open Polo Championship to defeat defending champion Crab Orchard and complete the Triple Crown.

Valiente, one of the largest polo organizations in the United States, seemed to be on top of its game in terms of players and horses. The team is rumored to have more than 200 horses at the ready. Add to that, 10-goal Adolfo Cambiaso, arguably the best player in the world, leads the team and has an uncanny ability to identify talented players to compliment him and team owner Bob Jornayvaz on the polo field.

This year, 6-goal Matias Torres Zavaleta and 8-goal Diego Cavanagh joined the team, which seemed to work like a well-oiled machine.

Valiente got off to a great start in the 26-goal season with a 14-11 victory over Orchard Hill in the C.V. Whitney Cup on February 26. With three teams vying for the title, Valiente received a bye to the final while Orchard Hill earned its way with a 14-13 overtime defeat of Coca Cola.

A month later, Valiente celebrated a 9- 6 victory over Coca-Cola in the final of the USPA Gold Cup. With four teams competing over two weeks, Valiente entered the final undefeated. Coca-Cola’s only other defeat came at the hands of Valiente in the opening match.

The Open matches began on April 5, with six teams divided into two brackets, playing a cross-bracket format. The top team in each bracket secured a spot in the semi-final, while the remaining two teams in each bracket played off for the other semi-final spots.

The first match pitted the favored Valiente team against the defending champion Orchard Hill. Spectators anticipated an exciting match, and they weren’t disappointed. Orchard Hill held a one-goal advantage after the first two periods and the teams tied to end the first half 6-6. Orchard Hill held a narrow edge in the fourth and fifth periods before Valiente knotted the score at 11 and forced overtime. A Penalty 3 conversion by Diego Cavanagh in the seventh tipped the scales in Valiente’s favor.

The following day, Flexjet edged Audi 10-9, while Coca Cola got the best of Travieso, making its 26-goal debut, 11-9. A few days later, Orchard Hill handed Audi its second loss, 12-8, while Valiente dominated Coca-Cola 17-12. Flexjet picked up its second victory, edging Travieso 11-9.

Valiente took its first loss of the 26- goal season, falling 10-9 to Flexjet in a match that, win or lose, still kept Valiente in first place, advancing it to the semifinal. The victory assured Flexjet the same trajectory.

The same day, Audi picked up its first win, defeating Coca Cola 14-8, while Travieso surprised everyone with a 9-8 defeat of Orchard Hill.

The mini-quarters pitted the second and third place teams against each other with the winners moving on to the semis. Orchard Hill edged Audi 11-10. Orchard Hill led 4-1 after the first 14 minutes and held a 6-3 advantage at the half. Audi chipped away at the deficit in the fourth and fifth to come within one goal going into the final period. Audi managed to score three more goals, but Orchard Hill matched them to maintain the one-goal advantage and take the win.

In the other match, Coca Cola, which had been having a successful season, couldn’t shake Travieso until the end of the first half when it took a 6-5 advantage in one of the better games this season. Costly mistakes by Coca Cola in the fourth found Travieso shooting open-goal penalties from the 30-yard line three times. Mariano Gonzalez had no trouble converting them, putting Travieso ahead 8-7. Travieso maintained the one-goal advantage into the sixth and managed to increase it to two goals for the 12-10 win.

The subsidiary Hall of Fame Cup had Audi and Coca Cola playing off the same day as the Open semi-finals were played. The teams were knotted at 5-5 at the end of the third and 7-7 at the end of the fourth. Audi got the 10-9 advantage in the fifth and increased it to 13-11 for the win, ending the season for both teams.

Audi’s Alejandro Novillo Astrada was MVP and Julian de Lusarreta’s Bossanova was Best Playing Pony.

The first semi-final pitted brothers against brother as Flexjet’s Nico Pieres and Gonzalito Pieres battled Facundo Pieres and their cousin Polito Pieres.

Flexjet started strong, leading 2-0 after the first and 3-1 after the second. Orchard Hill couldn’t seem to get any traction as Flexjet took a 4-2 lead at the half and led 5-3 after the fourth.

Facundo Pieres finally got the team back in contention with three goals in the fifth to come within one, 7-6. Facundo was on a roll and before you knew it had Orchard Hill leading 9-7 in the sixth. Flexjet fought back with a goal by Rodrigo Andrade and a Penalty 2 conversion from Gonzalito Pieres to force overtime. Just 2:31 in the overtime period, Facundo split the uprights to win the game and advance to the final for the third time in as many years.

The other semi-final between Valiente and Travieso was no contest as Valiente muscled its way from chukker to chukker. It lead 3-0 after the first and 6-2 after the second. It didn’t get any better as the game went on, with Valiente holding a 9- 3 advantage at the half and 11-4 after four periods. The writing was on the wall when Valiente went ahead 12-5 after the fifth. The final tally was 16-6 as Valiente coasted to victory.

Travieso’s Teo Calle was happy with his team’s first attempt in the 26-goal. “We put a good team together with friends and a lot of heart, and wanted to see how far we went. We had a lot of fun. I think we got as far was we could get. Our horses were a little tired at the end, but we enjoyed it and we had fun. It is an experience that I wish for everybody. I hope there will be more people joining and more teams forming. We are a team with passion and heart, and that’s what we want to be known for.”

USPA officials wrapped up their spring meetings and looked forward to a great final between two strong teams.

Meanwhile, the teams got their horses prepped and ready for some fast action, while the polo club made all the preparations for a big final celebration and welcomed the CBS news trucks for its filming of the event. But, as everyone was rising on Sunday morning, the skies were opening up. It was bitter sweet as the area has been in a drought for some time and could really use the rain ... but not when the U.S. Open final was scheduled!

The rains were unrelenting and by mid-morning the game was postponed. It was reschedule for two days later, on Tuesday, April 25. Unfortunately, many of the USPA officials and even many of the high-goal players had already left and the weekday game limited the spectators to the local polo crowd.

It was a hot South Florida day and even the 5 p.m. game time didn’t provide much relief from the heat.

A motivate Orchard Hill team got right to work, winning the opening throw-in and sending the ball through the goal for the first score. Moments later, it caught the umpire’s whistle and Valiente was awarded a Penalty 2, which Diego Cavanagh popped through the goal. The teams traded Penalty 4s to keep the game level at 2-2.

Polito Pieres, playing his best game of the season, finessed the ball through the posts in the second, but it was offset by another Penalty 2 for Valiente. Cavanagh scored another from the field but Facundo Pieres matched it to knot the score at 4-4. Orchard Hill turned up the heat in the third with five tallies including three from Polito Pieres. Cavanagh scored a pair to end the half with Orchard Hill on top 9-6.

Bob Jornayvaz explained, “They just did a great job on the throw-ins. They beat us to the punch. Polito had some incredible breakaways, as did Facundo.

“You never hear Adolfo say, ‘I don’t know what to do,’ it was a first. We said jokingly, ‘You can’t say that! You are the guy!’ We regrouped and everybody focused and took a man. We tried to play very disciplined and simple polo, and we started to click. You just had to go back to basics.”

Cambiaso appeared more motivated in the fourth, taking matters into his own hands and moving the ball to goal three times. Polito and Facundo each scored a goal to keep Orchard Hill on top 11-9. Cambiaso had effectively changed the momentum of the game and suddenly Orchard Hill was unable to complete plays it had made earlier in the game.

Goals by Matias Torres Zavaleta and Diego Cavanagh tied the match at 11 at the end of the fifth. Early in the sixth, Cambiaso put Valiente on top for the first time since the second period. Valiente missed a Penalty 3 and an opportunity to increase its lead. Instead, Orchard Hill kept fighting and a goal by Polito Pieres tied the match with time winding down.

With just over 30 seconds remaining in regulation time, Valiente was whistled on a play. The umpires then decided on no foul. Orchard Hill challenged and was eventually awarded a Penalty 4. Facundo Pieres took the potential game-winning shot, but as the ball dropped just wide of the goal, so did everyone’s jaws. The miss sent the game into sudden death. In the overtime period, after missed opportunities on both sides, Diego Cavanagh stole the ball and ran downfield sinking the golden goal for the 13-12 victory.

“I was thinking I missed the forty to win the game in the last chukker and I knew this was a second chance. The ball bounced and I had a second chance. I knew I had to put it in,” explained Cavanagh.

Looking back over the game Adolfo Cambiaso said, “I think Orchard Hill played really well in the first half. They won a lot of throw-ins. I think we were kind of asleep. In the second half we came out strong and we did it. I think we missed a Penalty 3 with three minutes to go, which put them back into the game. Luckily, Diego scored the winning goal, which he deserved.

Diego Cavanagh was high-scorer with eight goals. Polito Pieres led Orchard Hill with six goals. Matias Torres Zavaleta was MVP and Cambiaso’s B09, a clone of Cambiaso’s top mare Cuartetera, won the Willis Hartmann trophy for Best Playing Pony in the final at just 5 years old.

Other awards presented included Horse of the Year to Facundo Pieres’ Los Mochitos Jazzita and Best Argentine Bred Pony of the U.S. Open final to Adolfo Cambiaso’s Mentolada.

To add insult to injury, Polito Pieres was thrown from his horse walking back to the pony lines after the game. He swung his mallet in frustration, startling the horse.

Orchard Hill’s Steve van Andel was gracious in defeat. “We still made it to the finals and I tell you, making it to the finals, that’s worth it.”

Van Andel indicated he may be ready to hang up his high-goal mallets. He told the USPA’s Matt Baran, “I am not getting out of polo, but I may have ended my high-goal run. I have not made a final call on it. ... If you look at the last three years and what we have done, we have been right here all three years and we won one of them. We have won a couple of C.V. Whitney’s and have had a great push over the last three years. I don’t have a complaint. Obviously everyone would like to win everything, but I have had a great time with great people, with a great team. I love spending time on and off the field with them. For me it has been a great part of life.”

The final was rebroadcast on CBS on April 30 featuring game action, interviews and a recap of the entire tournament.

By Gwen Rizzo • Photos by Shelley Heatley




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