Every year in September the polo world turns its attention towards Argentina for the Fall Open season and more precisely towards Buenos Aires and its breathtaking city stadium: Palermo, where the Argentine Open is played ...Every year in September the polo world turns its attention towards Argentina for the Fall Open season and more precisely towards Buenos Aires and its breathtaking city stadium: Palermo, where the Argentine Open is played ...
Every year in September the polo world turns its attention towards Argentina for the Fall Open season and more precisely towards Buenos Aires and its breathtaking city stadium: Palermo, where the Argentine Open is played through November and early December. On any given Saturday and Sunday of the four weekends of November, as the tradition goes, eight teams compete hard in a round-robin to decide the two who will have the supreme honor to play in the final of the Argentine Open, the biggest, most prestigious polo tournament in the World.
Prior to the Argentine Open, the same 8 teams will have competed in two other Open tournaments: the Tortugas Open and the Hurlingham Open. These two tournaments are played as preps to the big one, the Argentine Open, not so unlike the derbies ran in thoroughbred racing prior to the Kentucky Derby.
In these two tournaments, players practice hard to get up in form and spirit, they work on their team strategy and spend all their time tuning up their horses in preparation of the Argentine Open.
On the first Saturday of December, after a full round-robin and semifinals, the two finalists Indios Chapaleufu II and La Dolfina face each other for the most important game of the year, the final of the Argentine Open. It is the most important because the players are the best in the world, the horses are great and at peak form, and the two teams have proven that during this season they were the two best. This year on December 2nd, 2000, Indios Chapaleufu II soundly defeated La Dolfina 16-13 to duplicate its championship win of 1999.
The tournament final was tough. On one side Indios Chapaleufu II, fielding the three Heguy brothers, 10 goalers Eduardo and Nachi and former 10-goaler?now 9 goals?Pepe, and 9 goaler Milo Araujo to complete the quartet, had developed a very strong system based on the interdependence among all four players. The style has been called classic because players favor team control in an organized manner: the positions are more static (front to back), individuals less inclined to play selfishly.
The other team, La Dolfina–named after its founder 10-goal prodigy Adolfo Cambiaso–is less structured. It was built around the amazing ability of Cambiaso who plays the most forward position, has been known for scoring most goals, but is likely to do the knock-ins from the backline as well. The other three players are Adolfo’s best friend Lolo Castagnola and brothers Pite and Sebastian Merlos, all rated at 9 goals. La Dolfina’s style is looser, more imaginative, sometimes whimsical.
La Dolfina had had great success earlier in the season, throughout the round-robin of the Argentine Open and in the semifinal handily defeating last year’s Open finalist La Ca–ada, 10-8.
La Dolfina used what’s been called the rotation style, whereas players constantly rotate positions among each other for the benefit of speed and acceleration.
Both La Dolfina and Indios Chapaleufu II had already advanced to the final of the Hurlingham Open, played prior to the Argentine Open. The rain–always an unwanted player in this South Hemisphere’s Spring season–had delayed the playing of the final, which was postponed to mid-Dec. after the Arg. Open final.
Clearly La Dolfina and Indios Chapaleufu II were the best of the field of 8, however they came into the Open final without having met earlier. Where other teams had not been able to control La Dolfina’s style of speed and acceleration, Indios Chapaleufu II saw it differently, imposing a very drastic marking of La Dolfina’s players, man to man, which literally destroyed the team’s rotation style.
Contacts between players were rough, Chap. II’s Nachi Heguy ran over Cambiaso who hit the ground. There was a higher number of calls made by the umpires than usual, and after four chukkers of brutal play, La Dolfina opened up its guard (still leading by one, 10-9) and Indios Chapaleufu II ran through it with a 6-1 punch to lead 15-11 late in the game, winning 16-13.
Absent from the Argentine Open final were two great organizations: first, Indios Chapaleufu I played by the 4 Heguys, all 10-goals and Argentine Open Champions in 1991-1993 and 1995. One of the brothers, Gonzalo, died in a car accident in April, and the team lost a lot of its engine. For the first time in 17 years, Chapaleufu I did not make it past the round-robin.
The other great absent from the final was Ellerstina, winner in 1994 and 97-98, led by former 10-goal genius Gonzalo Pieres. In the semifinal, Ellerstina lost to the Champion Chap. II by the score of 16-13. Playing with Ellerstina in this Argentine Open was America’s only 10-goal player Mike Azzaro. It was Azzaro’s second invitation to play in the Open–the first one came in 1995 invited by the Merlos brothers, the team was honorably beaten in the final by Indios Chapaleufu I. In 1995, Azzaro was mounted on unexceptional horses and did what he could. This year, Mike Azzaro was mounted by the superb Ellerstina string, and he did very well considering the lack of preparation. He only played 3 games this season. Azzaro confirmed his 10-goal handicap, one of only 7 in Argentina. The team fought well with two younger, inexperienced players: Brazil’s top player Fabio Diniz rated at 8 goals and Gonzalo Pieres’ own 18-year-old son Gonzalito, whose efforts were rewarded by the Argentine Polo Association which raised his ranking to 8 goals.
As an aftermath, the final of the Hurlingham Open was finally played on December 8. It was another hard-fought game, but this time la Dolfina prevailed over Indios Chapaleufu II (17-13), winning its first Open (the team was founded this year, but also depriving its opponent to realize the triple crown, a prize given to the winner of all three Open tournament in a single year.
In that final, five of the players were put on probation for verbal abuse and dangerous play. One more was suspended for three months. The polo Association also rendered its verdict regarding the handicaps awarded to the players. Indios Chapaleufu II was not given the recognition it was hoping for: 40-goals as two of its players kept at 9 goals. A few other players were lowered from 9 to 8 goals reflecting a poor season for The Paradise after its leading player, 10 goaler Mariano Aguerre, was injured during the Tortugas Open.
The Argentine Open comes back every Nov-Dec, always seems to unearth big chunks of Argentina’s polo memories, often unleashing extreme joy or unbearable pain.
At the end of the season, the horses went back to their favorite pastures thru next August, with plenty of time to recount their exploits and mend their injuries.
For the men, it will be a full year of traveling to the U.S., England and continental Europe, before they have a chance to measure up to their rivals once again. Some of the men will not come back. For the spectators in Buenos Aires, it will be a long wait, indeed.