Argentina is home to the greatest Polo players (and teams) in the world. So, when we had the opportunity to see the championship game of the sport’s biggest tournament right here in Buenos Aires, we jumped on it. The final of the Argentine Open was between Ellerstina and La Dolfina. It was the prodigy vs. the legend - Facundo Pieres vs. Adolfo Cambiaso. The magnitude and importance of this match in the Polo world was nothing short of epic. The match went into sudden death overtime and definitely didn’t disappoint (neither did the after party).
Players are all ranked on Handicap from 1 to 10 (best) and this was the first time in the history that 2 teams of40 goals ( 4 x 10 – the perfect handicap) meet in the final. In the last Hurlington Open semifinal Ellerstina beat La Dolfina by 6 goals. Players of La Dolphina say that they only care about The Argentine Polo Open.
Adolfo Cambiaso (La Dolfina), the Michael Jordan of Polo, reached a handicap of 10 when he was 19 years old and 8 months, making him the youngest player in history to do so at that moment. He is now 34.
Facundo Pieres (Ellerstina), Polo’s Kobe Bryant, reached his 10 handicap at 19 years and 7 months, beating out Adolfo by a month and taking over the youngest player honor. He is now 23.
The Triple Crown is played in spring and is composed of 3 tournaments (Tortugas, Hurlington, Argentine Open). These are the most important cups worldwide. Each tournament has the same player and teams, however the only difference is that the best horses are reserved for the Argentine Open.
In these tournaments the 4 players are professionals, where as in the US and UK at most 2 players are professionals and normally at least 2 players are simply rich polo enthusiasts who jump in and usually pay all the expenses.
If Ellerstina had won last night they would have taken the Triple Crown. Winning Tortugas and the Hurlington Open already in 2009.
Our Polo instructor, Fernando, picked us up in a van Saturday afternoon with a group of international students from hostels around Buenos Aires. It was a short ride to the stadium and we got there in plenty of time. We didn’t have designated seats so we had to get there early to snag some good ones in the bleacher section.
As expected the atmosphere was very affluent. Mercedes sponsorships, beautiful models with free swag and hot women with old wrinkly men. We grabbed a good spot at about mid-field and waited as everyone else filled in (very tightly) around us. The seats were about as comfortable as being on the horse again, but the sun and the energy felt great.
The match itself was incredible. With our new found admiration for the difficulty of the sport we were amazed at the things they could do. These guys had the hands of Wayne Gretzky and the riding skills of Zorro.
Both squads were neck and neck the entire way. Greco called it a “real barn-burner” but we both decided that that might not be appropriate here. The crowd gave a light clap whenever their team scored or made a nice play but that was pretty much it. Fernando said that was about as rowdy as it would get. Usually at a less-important match it would be completely silence throughout.
There was a very sad moment in the middle of the match however, which Fernando told us he’d never seen. A horse was running across the field, landed wrong and broke his leg, throwing the player off onto the pitch. A big crew immediately rushed out and taped up the horses leg and helped him into a trailer. From their because of the pain (and cost) he would be taken to be put down. That really threw me off, especially when I looked around and people were only concerned about the rider. He was fine, but did seem shaken up about the horse.
Anyway, as the 8th and final chukker came you could finally feel the tension and electricity throughout the stadium heat up. People started cheering and yelling “VAMOS LA DOLFINA“. Yet, everyone remained seated. You would even get a “a bajo” (down) if you stood for too long.
With 20 seconds left in regulation Dolfina scored on a penalty shot to tie the game and send it into sudden death overtime… aka THE GOLDEN GOAL!
The Golden Goal was insane and all focused around one man… the legend, Adolfo Cambiaso.
Within the first minute Adolfo had the equivalent of a break away lay up in Basketball to win the game.. and missed. Moments later he was awkwardly thrown from his horse as it fell to the ground after a bizarre sequence of plays. Luckily, the horse and Adolfo got up okay after a few seconds of complete silence from the entire crowd. Everyone had a good chuckle afterwords as Adolfo’s wife ran about 100 yards across the field to check on him, beating everyone to the scene who didn’t have horses. Minutes later he was back on the horse. With the entire crowd finally on its feet and me screaming “VAMOS DOLFINA” he led a charge down field and 20-yards out he passed the ball back to a teammate who blasted a shot through the posts for the game winning goal for La Dolfina!!!
The somber crowd errupted into a futbol hooligan-esque celebration. Everyone from the bleachers we were in stormed the field. The team, their families, the crew and the rest of us crowded around a small tent at the end of the field to rejoice and sing (no idea what).
After the chaos in the tent we followed the team over to the Argentine Open Victory Ceremony where each player were presented trophies. As the sun set and the rest of our group dispersed, it was just Fernando, Nick and I in the mix. Fernando got us into the exclusive Stella Artois after-party right on the side of the field. There was free beer and eye candy everywhere. As we were about to take off for home, Fernando took us around to check out the other parties going on inside the stadium.
As we made it around the Chandon Champagne Party we noticed a big group gathered in one corner. So of course, we wanted to be a part of it. Turns out it was all the La Dolfina players, their families and crew celebrating the win in dramatic fashion. Some how we jumped right in the middle of the singing and beer spraying. We got to congratulate all the guys and even take some photos and touch the championship trophy. No big deal.
To Polo, this was like if the Lakers had one the championship and then went outside the Staple Center to party after the game and you were so close to the action that you danced with Kobe Bryant he soaked you with beers. It’s a whole different world.
FUN FACTS & RULES:
- At the Argentine Open each player uses an average of 10 horses per match.
- Adolfo Camiaso has more than 700 horses on his ranch.
- Each Polo horse costs a minimum of $100,000 US dollars.
- 4 players to a team.
- 8 chukkers (periods) in a match.
- 7 minutes per chukker.
- 1 Point for every goal.
- Sudden Death (Golden Goal) overtime.
- 300 x 160 yard field.
- Change directions after every goal.
T2t WORDS OF WISDOM: Take Lessons or go to a game with Fernando, it’s ridiculous. Here’s his CONTACT INFO.
Checkout all the photos from one of the greatest experiences of my life – The Argentine Polo Open Finals