As usual, Palermo gets decked out to close the high handicap season. The Argentine Open was exciting from beginning to end and it did not disappoint. No one who enjoys polo wanted to miss such an important event. La Dolfina made history in polo as they won the Triple Corona for the third consecutive year (Abierto de Tortugas, Hurlingham, and Palermo).
The 122nd Argentine Polo Open Championship HSBC took place from Friday, November 20 to Friday, December 12. This was the fourth and last high handicap competition (after Abierto del Jockey Club de San Isidoro, Tortugas, and Hurlingham). It is the principal one that closes the international season.
It is the highest polo tournament between clubs in the world, an exhibition with the best in all aspects—players (with the highest handicap), horses (clones included), organization (better each year), spectators (from all over the world although locals prevail), and the place Palermo, a legendary field in the middle of the city.
“The Cathedral of Polo” is entitled as its fields are famous for this tournament, giving a spectacular final touch to the year, for the best players who are eager to participate with the best horses in the world, for its long history of achievements and records and its unbeatable location (just ten minutes from the commercial center and the old town of Buenos Aires), the beauty of its gardens and the latest improvements which makes it worthy of its well-deserved reputation.
At present, the land is a historical landmark and national pride. It was conceived and built from an idea by the Managing Board of the Argentine Polo Association (APP) directed by Mr. Juan D. Nelson (member and Captain of the achievers of the greatest deeds in England in 1922 and in Paris in 1924), together with the Commission for the Promotion of War Horses, now General Direction of Riders and Veterinary, officially opened on October 27, 1928 with a match between soldiers and civilians.
It is also famous for its impressive stands, which seats 15,000 spectators, where the match is enjoyed in a very special way. On Calle Dorrego is the entrance to the stands with this street name; the central part made of concrete, which has seats now, is the best location on this side. The lateral gallery is still made of wood and remains unnumbered. It is the closest to the fence and in general, the hottest, as it is on the sunny side and the most economical area. However, it is also the most entertaining, as it is common to see a celebrity nearby and some sports fanatics who shout and swear to the referees and even to some of the players of the rival team.
Opposite stands C, A, and B are impressively high and they are the best location from the bottom to the top with the box seats in the middle. It is a much quieter area, although there is always someone shouting at the top of their lungs claiming a foul or cheering a player with the usual language used at these events. On the side of these stands, you can find the sponsors’ stands where guests enjoy the best location while they are having a drink or receiving a souvenir, like a hat, even though they are sitting in the shade. There is also a press area for the journalists and photographers who come from different parts of the world to cover the tournament and choose the best location to get the best results.
This Sport of Kings has a long history in Argentina—with great tournaments, unforgettable matches, and teams who made history, polo families like El abierto del Jockey Club, La Cámara de Diputados, Coronel Suárez, Indios Chapaleufú, Chapa II, Ellerstina, and La Dolfina, the Heguy, the Pieres, the Harriot, and Cambiaso. They are usually mentioned at all the talks that take place before any matches at the Argentine Open.
As the years go by, Palermo has become modernized, the number of spectators are bigger, more varied, and everything around it is expanding in order to become a big social gathering with its own identity. When the matches finish, people crowd together in fields one and two where social events are held before and after the matches. They all meet up in this area. There is music, something to drink, and something to buy, like caps or t-shirts of your favorite team, exclusive watches, or the associated publication within its blue bag.
Here are the located stands for the teams, The Association of Argentinian Polo, the canteen of “ALPI” (Civil Association that raises money for building a Centre for Child Care and Therapy) which sells fast food at the bars, and ALPI Chico The Polo Pub, together with the Argentinian Polo Association and Riding and Veterinary who have joined to help and improve the lives of thousands of families for the last 59 years.
There are more stands for sponsors. The classic ones stand out like Jaeger (which has consolidated and incorporated the rendition of its Reverso watch with an additional watch strap designed by Casa Fagliano, using the same materials they use to make the most famous boots in the world), La Martina, Mercedes Benz, and Stella Artois (which has become involved with social issues and charity causes like ‘Buy A Lady a Drink,’ where Belgian beer associated with Water.org in order to raise consciousness with the lack of water worldwide). The Argentine Polo Association Championship is part of the global program ‘Best Events in the World,’ which mounts efforts that are not often shown in public. They are involved in all types of events around the world that meet certain standards of excellence, including the Open Golf Championship, the Derby of Kentucky, the Cannes Film Festival, and Wimbledon Championship, among other big international events.
Once the second match on the second date had finished, people started moving towards field number two to see another edition of ‘Chandon Polo Bike’ that took place for the second consecutive year thanks to the support of the Argentine Polo Association. Matches between men and women were alternated. On one side, the team formed by Juan Leguizamón, Humberto Tortonese, Alejandro Agote, and Rifle Varela played against the team with Agustín Creevy, Martín Landajo, Ignacio Azumendy, and Juan Cahen D’Anvers. In ‘Women Polo Bike,’ the blue team formed by Lara Bernasconi, Juana Hoeffner, Catalina Manzorro, and Sofia and Marcela Zuberbuhler stood out and played against the orange team where Anita Bereciartua, Elina Blaquier, Fuchi Donovan, and Cecilia Pieres played. After the match, teams and guests enjoyed the after-polo at the Chandon Bar, another classical spot of this Argentinian Open.
This is the place where prizes are awarded (except for the finals when a stage is placed on the field) at the end of the matches. Here, they all meet—winners and losers, fans, some who talk about what they heard, men who talk about horses, women involved in their own conversations, Argentinians who like sports, foreigners, ex-players, and those men who have been on the fields and now analyze matches from all possible points of view (field condition, team performance, player’s individual capacity, horses, etc.).
Low handicap teams and teams who come from the classification play a different tournament with great action, a great horse display, and interesting matches worthy to be seen. This is the opportunity to see very even matches between those teams who came from the classification playing against the classic ones. For example, Washington beat Indios Chapaleufú (without Bautista Heguy because he’s injured and was substituted by the South African player Ignatius du Plesis) 15-12 in an exciting match of the highest level. The quartet of Cordoba got their second victory in the two matches for Triple Corona (they had beaten La Aguada 15-12 in Hurlingham). This improves their handicap, with Ezequiel Martínez Ferrario that has added now 8 and Alfredo Cappela Barabucci who reached 9.
La Aguada also performed well, however not as well as it was expected for a team that won the Triple Corona in 2003 and was the first team in history formed by four brothers who won the greatest award in world polo. In 2016, the team Open Door will have a formation in the style of Novillo Estrada with Eduardo, Miguel, Ignacio, and Alejandro who have a handicap of 35 goals.
The finals at Palermo is a different subject—the match they are all waiting for. Despite the weather conditions (cloudy and stifling hot with a few raindrops), it was thoroughly enjoyed by a big crowd.
A fascinating final under difficult weather condition—light but unpleasant rain, the long-awaited match was played. La Dolfina Sancor Seguros (40 goals of handicap) beat Ellerstina Piaget (39 goals), unbeaten at the beginning of the tournament with a close 13-12. The team, led by Adolfo Cambiaso, achieved this victory, a historical moment. No other team had ever won the Triple Corona of the AAP for three consecutive years, not even Coronel Suárez, the unforgettable team formed by the Huguey family and the Harriot family who won this honorary trophy four times (1972,1974,1975, and 1977) but could not win for three years in a row.
General Rodriguez’s team created a new team this season with Pablo Pieres, Gonzalito’s cousin, Facundo, and Nicolás, who played at the highest level in Alegría (the team owned by Frederic Mannix), played the final in 2013 against ‘Z’ in a semi-final match to be remembered.
Alegría, despite the fact that Polito had left and Hilario Hulloa (now 10 goals of handicap) has joined, played at an excellent level. And next year, Guillermo Caset (10) will be part of this 37 goal team.
As usual, there was a good atmosphere at the stands, mainly in the Dorrego lateral gallery. It was all decorated in black and white on Ellerstina’s side, with posters, balloons, drums, and Asian decorations near the fence of La Dolfina due to the popularity of Pelón Stirling (number two in Cambiaso’s team and the only foreigner at the finals). The winner’s stand drew all the attention as it was covered in Uruguayan flags.
Palermo, each year, gains more identity, greater importance, more spectators and sponsors, a higher level, and additional interest—it never disappoints. This year, there was a historical fact added to its history—the third Triple Corona for ‘Adolfito’ and company.
Juan Carlitos Harriot or Cambiaso? It doesn’t matter. Both and many others have made this tournament what it is. It was a real luxury to see 79 goals of handicap at the final in Palermo.