Team takes second win in two years.
Mike Azzaro, the only player to compete in every Outback 40-Goal Challenge, finally got to the winners’ circle.
He scored five goals and played superb defense en route to being named the MVP as Bombay Sapphire defeated Crab Orchard 12-7 in the sixth annual Outback 40-Goal Challenge February 18 on Stanford Field at International Polo Club.
Proceeds from the event benefit the Polo Players Support Group, formed after the initial 40-goal game in 2000 to raise money for 8-goaler Rob Walton, who was injured in Malaysia. Since then, the Polo Players Support Group has evolved into a charitable organization helping sick and injured players and grooms. Over the years, several people have benefited.
Ten-goaler Adolfo Cambiaso, regarded as the world’s best player, did not play because of an injured leg. He was replaced by 9- goalers Gonzalito and Facundo Pieres, who each played one half for Crab Orchard. Both players were recently raised to 10 goals in Argentina. Though Cambiaso didn’t play, he did support the cause, donating his time for a silent auction item—a free stay and polo lessons at his farm in Argentina. He was also in the stands and at dinner.
Crab Orchard defeated Bombay Sapphire in 2004 by a score of 14-10.
Joining the Pieres brothers on the Crab Orchard team were Carlos Gracida, Pite Merlos and Miguel Novillo Astrada. For the Bombay Sapphire team, Azzaro was joined by Mariano Aguerre, Javier Novillo Astrada and Agustin Merlos, who as the newest 10-goaler played the match for the first time.
“It’s always fun to play this type of a game, especially for a cause like this,” said Javier Novillo Astrada, who scored one goal for Bombay Sapphire.
“It was an awesome game,” said Azzaro. “We had good chemistry between Mariano [Aguerre] and Javier [Novillo Astrada] and me. I love playing with Tincho [Agustin Merlos]. This was a fun team to play on.”
Both Agustin Merlos and Aguerre added three goals for Bombay Sapphire. Bombay Sapphire led 5-4 at halftime but scored six unanswered goals, three by Merlos and two by Azzaro, in the fourth and fifth chukkers to virtually clinch the victory.
Javier Novillo Astrada started the breakout by converting a 2-yard penalty shot with 3:19 left in the fourth chukker to put Bombay Sapphire ahead 6-4. Agustin Merlos made a brilliant 90-yard forehand from the right side with 1:55 remaining, and Azzaro knocked in a 20-yard backshot with 37 seconds left.
The onslaught continued in the fifth chukker. Merlos stole the ball near midfield and scored on a breakaway two minutes into the fifth. Azzaro made it 10-4 on a near-side neckshot 46 seconds later and Merlos finished it with a nice goal with 2:33 left. Facundo Pieres scored two goals in the final 2:01 to cut the margin to 11-6, but Crab Orchard couldn’t make up the deficit. “I thought that I was playing well, and I looked up and they scored all those goals,” said Carlos Gracida of Crab Orchard, which was sponsored by high-goal patron George Rawlings. “It was a great game, there were a lot of people and it was for a great cause.”
Facundo Pieres, the youngest player in the game, led Crab Orchard with three goals. Gracida and Gonzalito Pieres added two goals each while Pite Merlos scored one goal. Miguel Novillo Astrada did not score. Proceeds from the gate, a VIP dinner as well as a silent and live auction benefit the Polo Players Support Group Inc., a non-profit corporation created by Dave Offen in 2001 to provide financial assistance to
injured or ill polo players or grooms. Players who’ve received financial help are Walton; Ruben Repollo, who suffered stab wounds in 2002; Sebastian Bonorino, who is battling liver disease; and several others. What makes the Outback 40-goal special is it allows the best players in the world to play competitive polo but without a lot of pressure. It is a great opportunity for these talented stars to showcase themselves and even try out some difficult plays. When they first began the matches were more of an exhibition, but the players themselves have made it into something much more competitive. The chance to be named MVP amongst the best in the world is something they all strive for, and they have to play hard Polo Players Support Group Inc., a non-profit corporation created by Dave Offen in 2001 to provide financial assistance to injured or ill polo players or grooms. Players who’ve received financial help are Walton; Ruben Repollo, who suffered stab for that to happen.
Aside from admission to the game and a delicious sit-down dinner, the silent and live auctions bring in a lot of money. The day’s major sponsors include Outback Steakhouse, Bombay Sapphire, Crab Orchard, Carrabba’s, Michelob Ultra, Bud Light Polo, Brown Distributing, Bessemer Trust, Polo Gear, The Tackeria, Lady Walton Cookies, Salvatore Ferragamo, Catena Watches, The Morning Line and Kendall Jackson wines.
—Y.A. Teitelbaum contributed