Pelon Stering and Adolfo Cambiaso. Photos: Liz Lamont Images/Phelps Media Group.
Wellington, FL – March 12, 2015 – Three exciting matches and a penalty shootout took place at the International Polo Club Palm Beach (IPC) as play continued Thursday in the 26-goal USPA Piaget Gold Cup. Valiente defeated Coca-Cola 12-8, with both sides of the field so lined with vehicles and spectators that it looked like a Sunday feature match minus the grandstand. Audi bested Las Monjitas 16-12 and Orchard Hill took Lechuza Caracas 12-11.
Alejo Taranco looked at Bob Jornayvaz after the game and came out with the understatement of the season: “I felt like we clicked more today.”
“Clicked” doesn’t even begin to describe the 42 minutes of synchronicity the four Valiente players displayed. Their playbook looked like it had been choreographed by Martha Graham. With the hand (if not the mallet) of megastar Adolfo Cambiaso in nearly every play, Valiente’s action was cohesive beyond belief.
All the way until the final chukker, the score was either tied or separated by a point. Although the action on the field was fast, the game began in fits and starts, with seven whistles in the first chukker. Cambiaso put increasing pressure on Julio Arellano in the second chukker, every now and then charging down the field glued to Arellano’s hip. The two intermittently took turns throwing a hook on each other and otherwise mixing it up.
Arellano was by no means the only recipient of Cambiaso’s attention. The game soon turned into a battle of the Titans between the two 10-goalers. Cambiaso had Pelon Sterling in his crosshairs from the get-go, and vice versa. They seemed to read each other’s plays as though looking through crystal balls (not surprising, given that three years ago they played on a Valiente team together). In the second chukker Cambiaso took the shot on a penalty three, making a 40-yard drive with spot-on accuracy – only to be thwarted by Sterling, who blocked it from cruising into goal. The two tangled again in the third chukker, when Sterling rode Cambiaso off the ball and made a dropshot direct to the mallet of Erskine, who scored.
In a textbook example of how to play polo at its pinnacle, Sterling tied the game at 4-all in the third chukker. After finagling the ball away from Cambiaso and company, he surveyed the field while on the fly aboard a full-steam-ahead gray. The moment a window cracked open, he took a shot from at least 80 yards out and easily found the goal.
For most of the first half, Taranco had been assigned to cover Sterling, with Guillermo Terrera on Erskine. A midgame powwow with Cambiaso resulted in a strategic shift that paid off in spades for Valiente. At the master’s direction, Taranco and Terrera swapped targets for the rest of the game, a move that seemed to keep Coca-Cola guessing how long it was going to last.
The fourth chukker saw renewed Cambiaso-Arellano friction, with one or the other trying to pressure his opponent into a foul (a skill that Cambiaso has nearly branded). One of their more intense skirmishes resulted in an automatic goal on a penalty one, which broke the tie and gave Coca-Cola a 5-4 lead.
Valiente had to regain ground, and Taranco came through for his team with two consecutive goals, the first on a penalty. Then he scored from the field on a play that showed the prowess of both teams. It began with Gillian Johnston slickly picking off Cambiaso’s backshot. He swooped in, took it back in his claws and toyed with it for a bit, leaving his opponents puzzling over what he had in store. Suddenly the ball was hurtling through the air toward goal, and just as quickly Erskine dispatched himself to stop it. Taranco, who had been waiting in the wings, read the play perfectly. He redirected the ball out of Erskine’s self-appointed danger zone and tapped it into goal.
Coca-Cola stormed into the fifth chukker determined to get the upper hand. In a smooth-as-silk series of touches, the ball sailed directly from Sterling to Arellano to Johnston and straight into goal to tie the score 6-all. Then it was Erskine’s turn to score for the team in red. On a determined run, he checked over his shoulder for a split second and then snapped his head forward, turned the corner, moved inside and slammed the ball into goal. (Announcer Gus Whitelaw said it looked like Erskine had looked back to ask, “Who’s there?” and answered himself, “Who cares?” as he smoked on.)
Erskine perpetually made himself the bane of Valiente’s existence. That came as no surprise to the team in white, nor did the strength of Coca-Cola as a unit. As Taranco said of his opponents, “We knew from the beginning that it wasn’t going to be easy. They play simple and classic polo, and they do it very well.”
It all came down to the final chukker, which began tied at 8-all. The game could just as easily have gone in Coca-Cola’s favor, but Valiente pulled the rug out from under their opponents. Cambiaso was at the controls from the moment the chukker opened until the final horn. He scored two goals, followed by one each by Taranco and Bob Jornayvaz. Those four goals went unanswered by Coca-Cola.
“We had a very good sixth chukker, which we needed,” said Taranco. “And we have Adolfo! He made a big difference in how the game ended.”
The quarterfinals of the USPA Piaget Gold Cup will be held Sunday, March 15 at IPC. Alegria plays Valiente at noon and Las Monjitas faces Lechuza Caracas in the 3 p.m. featured match on Engel & Völkers field.
Orchard Hill Hangs Tough to Defeat Lechuza Caracas
Orchard Hill vanquished Lechuza Caracas 12-11 in a nail biter to garner an undefeated record in USPA Piaget Gold Cup bracket play at International Polo Club Palm Beach. Facundo Pieres scored the final goal to secure the win just before the last horn. Facundo had nine goals in the match to outscore all players, including his brother Nico who trailed him with eight goals scored.
The third round match had strategic importance for both teams. Orchard Hill entered the match with a 2-0 record and had the goal in mind of securing the top spot in Bracket II and the bye to the semifinals. Lechuza wanted to win to avoid a shootout scenario that could potentially lead to elimination from the tournament.
Orchard Hill superstar Facundo Pieres emphasized the significance of the win, “It was important to win and go straight to the semifinal. We have played a lot of polo, first with the C. V. Whitney final, then we played hard against Lechuza and Coca Cola. It would have been very hard on our horses to play a quarter this weekend in the heat.”
The first half had a lot of quick runs to goal and great teamwork from each team. It also featured some great defense especially from Lechuza’s 10-goal player Juan Martin Nero. Nero played stellar defense against the normally invincible Facundo Pieres, it took Facundo until almost the end of the second chukker to get a goal from the field
After a steeply angled cut shot to goal from the corner by Nero in the first chukker, Lechuza in turn struggled to evade the quick sticks of Orchard Hill. Fortunately for Lechuza, Nico Pieres was shooting his penalties with authority. Nico Pieres was perfect on his penalties including three first half penalty four conversions from the 60 yard line. Thanks to the accuracy of Nico Pieres, Lechuza rode off the field at halftime with a slim 6-5 lead.
Orchard Hill found another realm of speed after the halftime break. Polito and Facundo Pieres teamed up for three flying goals from the field, outrunning Lechuza throughout the chukker. But they couldn’t outrun the steady penalty shooting of Nico Pieres, who continued his perfect performance from the penalty line to the match tied at 8 all.
Orchard Hill briefly took the lead in the fifth as Facundo Pieres won the initial lineup and darted to goal, Nico countered with his first field goal to keep the score tied 9 all.
As temperatures soared on the sultry day, so did the tension level heading into the sixth chukker. The teams traded goals, neither team willing to give an inch. First Nero scored, then Facundo converted a penalty four. Agustine Grossi won a lineup close to goal for a quick shot, only to see Polito dribble the ball through the pack to tie it back up at 11 all. With 1:19 left in the chukker, Orchard Hill was awarded a penalty 5 near mid field. Facundo went to the sidelines for his spare, which was C. V. Whitney Best Playing Pony NutraSweet. The agile mare carried Facundo around the Lechuza defenders, got him back to the ball after a Lechuza back shot, and Facundo and NutraSweet swept through the goal to make the score 12-11 for Orchard Hill just before the end of the chukker.
“That game was not easy. They were super tough!” exclaimed Orchard Hill captain Steve van Andel after the match. “They didn’t let up much. We finally had to start shooting from farther away and it worked, we pulled it out in the end.”
Orchard Hill will be fine-tuning their semifinal strategy this weekend while the quarterfinal teams battle it out on Sunday, March 15 at International Polo Club for the right to play them.
Audi Plays the Game Wide-Open
Defeats Las Monjitas 16-12
Audi defeated Las Monjitas 16-12 in bracket play for the USPA Piaget Gold Cup at the International Polo Club Palm Beach.
The match started out with Audi in the lead 1-0 due to handicap, but Las Monjitas did not let it ride for long. After shots by both teams went wide, Las Monjitas warmed up and got down to business. Camilo Bautista scored the first goal of the match on the field, tying the score briefly before Facundo Sola and Sebastian Merlos went on a scoring spree for the remainder of the chukker, ending it 4-1.
Merlos and Sola started out the second chukker in the same fashion, scoring two more goals within the first minutes. However, the tide began to turn as Marc Ganzi drove the ball up field for Rodrigo Andrade to tap in. A foul in the goalmouth had Audi awarded a penalty one, and Fred Mannix hit a backshot for Gonzalito Pieres that brought Audi within three points of Las Monjitas.
Audi took advantage of the situation and took the bull by the horns, rapidly scoring two more goals to make the score 6-5. Another foul in the goalmouth resulted in a second penalty one for Audi, and Mannix sealed the second goal with a backshot Audi to take the lead 7-6. Two more penalty conversions before the end of the second chukker put Audi firmly in the lead 9-6 going into the third chukker.
Both teams fought valiantly to score in the third chukker, but shot after shot went wide in what seemed like a wide streak of la mala leche, or bad luck. Pieres managed to make one penalty conversion before the half, increasing Audi’s lead to 10-6 at halftime. Las Monjitas rallied with a penalty conversion to start off the fourth chukker, but Pieres drove in an answering conversion to maintain Audi’s four-goal lead.
Las Monjitas continued to chip away at Audi’s lead, with Audi responding with goals of their own. The chukker ended 12-9. Merlos tapped in a goal while evading defenders to bring his team within two at the beginning of the fifth chukker. Pieres racked up another penalty conversion, and Andrade made the shot of the game, taking the ball from Audi’s backfield all the way down field and sinking a cut shot from 70 yards out. Ganzi drilled in a goal on the run to end the fifth chukker 15-10.
The sixth chukker started similarly to the third with wide shots on both sides, but Andrade delivered the knockout punch with a breakaway goal to put one up on the scoreboard for Audi. Bautista charged down the field and tapped a goal in for Las Monjitas to make the score 16-11. A final safety penalty conversion by Merlos ended the match 16-12.
Audi patron Ganzi credited his team’s strategy for their success.
“That was a tough team we beat today,” said Ganzi. “They play a very specific brand of polo and it’s very effective. We spent the first chukker looking at them and looking at the ball. We weren’t looking at the man. Once we spread them, we could cut the angles. If you can spread all four guys out, you create space and you have openings.”
Pieres felt that the time between this game and the semi-finals was a welcome relief for everyone.
“I think it will be good for [the horses] to rest this weekend because we have been playing Thursday through Sunday,” said Pieres. “It will be good for everybody – and the horses too.
Lechuza and Valiente Take Advantage of a Second Chance to Advance to USPA Piaget Gold Cup Quarterfinals
Sharpshooters Nico Pieres and Adolfo Cambiaso were perfect and nearly perfect from the penalty line to advance their teams through the penalty shootout tiebreaker to the USPA Piaget Gold Cup quarterfinals.
By virtue of the 1-2 tie in Bracket II in which all three teams had beaten each other, Coca-Cola, Lechuza Caracas and Valiente found themselves settling the tie with penalties. Earlier in the day, Lechuza suffered a heartbreaking loss at the last second to Orchard Hill, while Valiente edged out Coca-Cola in the last chukker to get their first win of the tournament and arrive at the shootout. The winner and runner-up of the shootout advances to the quarterfinals, with the winner playing a lower ranked team from the other bracket. The third place team does not advance. Each team sent their best penalty shooter to shoot penalties and face the pressure.
Nico Pieres began, followed by Adolfo Cambiaso, then Julio Arellano. Players shoot in the same order throughout the shootout. All three players nailed the initial penalty attempt from the 40 yards line.
The next step was penalty attempts from the 60 yards line. In a game, the 60-yard penalty four is defended, in a shootout tiebreaker it is not. Pieres split the goal posts on his attempt, Cambiaso followed with a successful conversion as well. Arellano walked up to the ball, concentrating hard, swung and the ball veered left of the goal. Pieres and Cambiaso breathed sighs of relief.
With Lechuza and Valiente qualified for the quarterfinals at this point, the pressure was reduced as Pieres and Cambiaso continued to shoot from the 60-yard line for bracket position. Both were supremely accurate through the next two shots. After Pieres’ fourth 60-yard attempt went straight through the goal, Cambiaso’s fourth 60-yard shot veered off course.
Nico Pieres found redemption for his Lechuza team in the tiebreaker after their loss earlier in the day to Orchard Hill. “We were unlucky against Orchard Hill, and we did not play a good game against Coca-Cola, but I think we deserve to be in these quarterfinals.” He was also perfect for the day, in both the game and the tiebreaker, on his penalty shots. “I have been practicing a lot the last week, because in the 20 goal I wasn’t hitting the penalties well. I have been practicing a lot with Milo and doing better,” referring to Milo Fernandez Araujo, the coach for Lechuza Caracas.
For the quarterfinals of the USPA Piaget Gold Cup Valiente plays Alegria at noon and Lechuza Caracas squares off against Las Monjitas at 3 p.m. on Sunday, March 15 at International Polo Club Palm Beach.
The 18-goal Liberty Cup resumes Friday, March 13 at IPC.
International Polo Club Palm Beach Fast Facts
What: Created by players for players, the International Polo Club Palm Beach was born out of the dream to build a facility to showcase the incredible skills of the ponies and players that dominate the sport.
Members and guests enjoy panoramic views of the action from field side box seats or lawn and terrace seating. Sponsors and fans convene at The Winners Circle to congratulate the players during the awards presentation following the games.
Gourmet brunches, après polo celebrations and the prerequisite charitable events will take place in The Pavilion, designed to accommodate large parties, corporate clients, as well as family and friends.
Herbie Pennell Cup – 20 Goal
Jan. 1-4, 2015
Joe Barry Memorial Cup – 20 Goal
Jan. 4-25, 2015
Ylvisaker Cup – 20 Goal
Jan. 28 – February 22, 2015
Iglehart Cup – 20 Goal
Feb. 28 – March 8, 2015
USPA C. V. Whitney Cup – 26 Goal
Feb. 15 – March 1, 2015
Piaget USPA Gold Cup® – 26 Goal
March 4-22, 2015
111th Maserati U.S. Open Polo Championship® – 26 Goal
March 25 – April 19, 2015
From the Turnpike:
Take the Lake Worth Exit
Head west on FL-802 W/Lake Worth Rd toward Hooks Rd
Continue to follow Lake Worth Rd (3.9 miles)
Turn right onto 120th Ave S
Destination will be ahead on the left (0.4 miles)
Exit Forest Hill Blvd, head West
Make Left turn onto 441/St Rd 7
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3667 120th Ave S, Wellington, FL 33414
International Polo Club Palm Beach: 561-204-5687
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John Wash – President of Club Operations