THE 11-GOALER
La Dolfina, led by Adolfo Cambiaso, takes Ellerstina’s thunder.

Appearing at just the right moment, Adolfito Cambiaso made the difference in the perfect
Argentine Open final, driving La Dolfina Peugeot to its fifth title in Palermo.

GROUP A
GROUP B
Ellerstina Etiqueta Negra
40
La Dolfina Peugeot
40
Facundo Pieres
10
Adolfo Cambiaso
10
Gonzalo Pieres
10
Lucas Monteverde
10
Pablo Mac Donough
10
Mariano Aguerre
10
Juan Martín Nero
10
Bartolomé Castagnola
10
Pilara Piaget
37
La Aguada Tupungato Winelands
37
Agustín Merlos
10
Javier Novillo Astrada
10
Santiago Chavanne
8
Eduardo Novillo Astrada
8
Sebastián Merlos
9
Miguel Novillo Astrada
9
Marcos Heguy
10
Ignacio Novillo Astrada
10
Indios Chapaleufú II
34
Chapa Uno Hope Funds
34
Alberto Heguy
8
Rodrigo Ribeiro de Andrade
8
Ignacio Heguy
9
Hilario Ulloa
9
David Stirling
8
Bautista Heguy
8
Eduardo Heguy
9
Francisco de Narváez
9
Alegría Air France
31
El Paraíso Polo Team
31
Frederick Mannix
6
Guillermo Caset
6
Francisco Bensadón
8
Ignacio Toccalino
8
Juan Ignacio Merlos
9
Mariano González
9
Luke Tomlinson
8
Alejandro
Novillo Astrada
8

Cambiaso has become a symbol of the Argentine countryside. On the field his particular riding style makes it clear he is full of pride. Off the field, he is a bit shy and laconic, and stops deadly short of blasting some of his fellow countrymen. Once, years ago, he took a new impetus after La Dolfina was crowned the Argentine Open champion: “Palermo is another thing, it is not for everyone,” he said at his residence in Cañuelas, after winning the most desirable trophy in the world for the first time with his new team at the end of 2002.

This year, after La Dolfina Peugeot was crowned the 116th Argentine Open Champion, an anonymous polo guru seated in one of Palermo’s 16,000 seats defined Cambiaso simply: “He is an 11- goaler,” not only in reference to his production in this final but showing the difference between the other colossal 10- goalers. When a leader like Cambiaso enters La Dolfina in nine Argentine Opens since 2000—winning five of them—those words take on the force of law.

Initially, the 2009 Open did not show the best scenario for La Dolfina. While the team has never been characterized as putting its best efforts in the first two Triple Crown tournaments, there were several factors that gave doubt to Cambiaso & Company’s future. New rules, which punish players walking with the ball and forming a team train, and players circling with the ball, seemed designed to undermine the game plan based on the great Cambiaso’s ability. Further, the first official 80-goal match, pitting Ellerstina Etiqueta Negra against La Dolfina in the Hurlingham Open to determine the Group A winner, showed Ellerstina overwhelmingly win 19-13 on the way to the team’s second title of the season.

The Zeta (Ellerstina) seemed unstoppable to get the Triple Crown victory. The brothers Pieres, who had won everything in the U.S. and Britain, were on the verge of achieving what had been denied two years ago. They were well mounted, had matured and were exhibiting the best style of the eight contenders for the title. But they did not count that this Open–with the highest handicap in history with a 35.5 goals per team average–would be one of the most unpredictable in recent years.

The debut in the Cathedral was a delight for Ellerstina, beating Alegría Air France 20-15 in a great match played openly without almost any interruption (only eight of the goals were obtained by penalty conversions). It was very clear which team would be the candidate to lift the cup, regardless of the fact that the victory was in doubt in the first half of the game, when it closed the fourth chukker tied at nine goals. The other opening day’s game, Saturday, November 14, also in Group A, was not as bright. Intermittently, Pilará Piaget confirmed its power by defeating Indios Chapaleufú II 16-15 in a complicated duel. The Pilará team led by Marcos Heguy was leading 12-6 in the middle of the fifth period when his cousins’ Indios Chapaleufú II team, including a matured Uruguayan David Stirling, awoke, tying the score at 14 just seconds into the final chukker. The appearance of Pilará’s Agustin Merlos after a month-long suspension allowed the Blues to get the job done.

Group B playoffs got underway the next day. While La Dolfina swept El Paraíso 21- 8, with 17 goals from Adolfito (two less than his record in Palermo), the performance of the team from Cañuelas did not arouse great emotions. It was a different story in the next game with the solid performance of La Aguada Tupungato Winelands, which gave no chance to Chapa Uno Hope Funds, defeating it by a clear 13-9. Based on consistency, defense and adjusted collective play, the Novillo Astrada’s were absolutely dominant in all aspects of the game against a rival, which had just enlisted the Brazilian Rodrigo Ribeiro de Andrade.

As had happened throughout the season, the rain began to play its own game. The water struck at the right times and forced nearly two weeks postponement. When the fields could be put back into playing condition things did not improve for La Dolfina, which barely overcame Chapa Uno. In the third chukker, Bautista Heguy’s team had a 6-2 advantage thanks to Hilario Ulloa’s efforts and the reappearance of Alejandro Diaz Alberdi, replacing the injured Ribeiro de Andrade, in a remarkable match. La Dolfina managed to tie the score in less than 10 minutes and was ahead 13-10 with just seven minutes to go.

Worse, Bauti left the game injured. But Pablo Pieres, his replacement, played the chukker of his life, equalizing the score at 14-14 and forcing overtime. Triumph was for La Dolfina thanks to a languid penalty shot by Cambiaso. In contrast, La Aguada made clear its ability to liquidate El Paraíso 17-8 with a perfect scheme in which each brother knew his role perfectly: Miguel distributed the ball, Ignacio defended and showed his marksmanship in free throws, Eduardo ran and Javier, incredibly recovered from a brain tumor, was efficient near the goal. Another cause for celebration was that in this game on Palermo’s Field No. 2 there were five Novillo Astradas. Added to the four making up La Aguada, the 2003 Triple Crown champion, was little brother Alexander, playing Back for the opponent.

After a 72-hour hiatus, play continued in Group A and gave the wallop of the year. Celebrating its silver anniversary (25 years) in Palermo, Indios Chapaleufú II played the best game in years, stopping Ellerstina’s 12-game winning streak, and repeating its 1995 feat when it cut the same team’s 19-game winning streak. The Heguy brothers stuck fast, and within 10 minutes were winning by an astounding 7- 0, with Pelón Stirling playing a remarkable game. The Zeta attempted a reaction, but could never get into the game, and only through Indios Chapaleufú II failures, were they allowed the opportunity to come within one goal, 14-13. The outcome left both teams with chances to reach the final. Pilará was also added as a candidate, taking out Alegría 17-14 in a very unusual game. Alegría had surprisingly downed Pilará 18-10 in one of the Hurlingham matches earlier in the season.

Group B was the first to complete its matches but not without controversy. The final two matches were scheduled for December 5, the first starting off early when, on Field No. 2, El Paraíso took advantage of a patched Chapa Uno team, winning 13-12 on Guillermo Caset’s golden goal in overtime, a big achievement for the team, which earned its place in the qualification tournament. A second game followed on Field No. 1, although the match between La Dolfina and La Aguada lasted barely 40 seconds. After a few slips, both captains asked the authorities to suspend the match for safety, prompting boos from the spectator galleries. The game resumed 48 hours later and, for the first time this year, La Dolfina shined like old times. Recovering from a 3-0 deficit in the first two chukkers, it managed to tie the difficult match thanks to Mariano Aguerre’s talents. With the score equaled at 8-8 at the end of the fifth, Adolfito’s power appeared in the next 14 minutes and defined the game with remarkable goals. La Dolfina won 18-13, and finally began to resemble a 40-goal team.

Three teams in Group A still had chances to reach the final when the last two games were played. Indios Chapaleufú II did its part and beat Alegría 15-14. Still, only a rare outcome in the second game—with Ellerstina winning by just a single goal, thus getting 13 gross goals or less—would put Indios Chapaleufú II in their first final since 2005. Nonetheless, the brothers Pepe, Nachi and Ruso Heguy closed the year after having defeated both 40-goals teams. The ticket to the final would go to Ellerstina at last, even though it seemed it had not yet recovered from its earlier stumble against the Heguys.

While Zeta got the necessary result, 15- 13, it had several scary moments against Pilará, which could have still reached its first final with a loss of a single goal. At the beginning of the third chukker Ellerstina was ahead 6-2. A period later it was on the bottom of an 8-6 score. Then La Zeta reacted to finish the sixth with a commanding 12-8 lead. After seven minutes without any big surprises (Pilará trailed 13-10), the last chukker was a heart-breaker. The Blues were just a pair of goals down, 14-12, when Agustín Merlos missed the 60-yard penalty that would have put them in the final. And after the teams scored a goal apiece, Marcos Heguy’s magic ran out 31 seconds to the ending bell, when he missed a ball that could have given the pass to the final.

The final match was repeated as in three of the last four years, with the two archrivals mano-a-mano. In 2005 and 2007 it was victory for La Dolfina, a year ago it went to Ellerstina, in all instances wins were by a golden goal in extra time. But this time was a little more significant and the Cathedral was primed to welcome the first official meeting of two 40-goal teams in a competitive setting. Only once had Palermo housed two perfect teams.

On November 1, 1975, El Trébol (Alberto Pedro Heguy, Daniel González, Gonzalo Tanoira and Alfredo Harriott) beat Venado Tuerto (Horacio Heguy, Gastón Dorignac, Juan Carlos Harriott and Francisco Dorignac) by 7-6 in a memorable exhibition. Now, the clash between the 40-goal quartets was for the best, most sought after polo trophy in the world. The teams faced the difficult challenge by playing a careful game, measuring and respecting their opponents in the initial moments. It was not an open game but a tense match. While Ellerstina started to dominate the scoreboard, you could not draw too many conclusions as the advantage was only two goals, 5-3, to close the second chukker. The nerves weighed in. As the teams approached the defining moment, the chosen mounts came out. With 90 seconds left, Facundo Pieres converted a 30-yard penalty that appeared would end the match 16-15. But, then Adolfito’s figure emerged. As he did the entire match, he put the weight of his team on his shoulders and managed to tie the score with a controversial penalty conversion near the goal seconds before the closing bell.

The extra chukker seemed defined by the first ball when Cambiaso stole the throw-in and headed to goal in one of his classic breakaways. Incredibly, in a rarity, he missed the final shot. Ellerstina’s knock-in was interrupted by a fall from La Dolfina’s superior No. 1, fortunately without any consequences in contrast to the fall Bartolomé Castagnola took during the second chukker, when his mare Nina was seriously injured. The Zeta protested the place where the umpires resumed play and it played against them. Cambiaso was again the fastest and his path to victory was crowned by teammate Mariano Aguerre putting in the final goal for the decisive 17-16 victory and the coveted title.

The paradox of the captain’s soft touch to goal is Aguerre’s announced retirement at the conclusion of the tournament. Not only was it the last scene for Mariano on the La Dolfina team after five seasons, but it left Palermo’s champion no longer holding a 40-goal handicap.

BORN IN THE USA
More American-bred horses are playing on Palermo’s hallowed grounds.

Argentina has long been known as producing the best players and best polo ponies but there are indications that may soon be changing. How so? By the number of American-bred polo ponies making their way to Argentina. And not just for breeding or playing in any polo, but competing against the country’s best horses in the coveted Argentine Open.

In the most recent Argentine Open Championship, at least five American-bred horses competed. Superstar Adolfo Cambiaso played two of the five: Cautiva, a bay mare, and Ela, a grey mare he got from Matias Magrini. Cambiaso’s La Dolfina teammate Mariano Aguerre played Jeff Hall’s famous Maple Leaf. Ellerstina’s Facundo Pieres played John Goodman’s black mare, Lexus and Fred Mannix, playing for Alegría, was mounted on Thunder, a chestnut mare also from Jeff Hall’s stable.

Another Magrini horse, Bardot, a chestnut mare from Australia, that like the others is registered with the American Polo Horse Association, played under David Sterling on the Indios Chapaleufú II squad.

American Polo Horse Association founder Sunny Hale was at the Open to watch the horses. Since these horses are registered with the APHA, they can be followed throughout their careers so future owners and fans will know what accomplishments the horses have made, like horses in other equestrian disciplines.

It just goes to show you that American-bred horses are every bit as good as Argentinebred horses and sometimes even better. These top players only play horses they have the utmost confidence in and if they didn’t think these horses were something special, they wouldn’t be playing them at this level.

 
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