By Hope Gainer
April showers not only brought us May flowers, but a postponed polo final in Wellington at the International Polo Club. The Gods opened up the sky and let torrential downpours soak the polo fields leading to a Sunday cancellation and a Tuesday finals. So I put my hat in the corner for a couple days and headed up to Wellington a few days later than previously planned. The players and ponies did not disappoint.
The U.S. Open Polo Championship is the most prestigious tournament in this country. It has been hosted at International Polo Club (IPC) in Wellington, Florida in Palm Beach County for the past 14 years. This year it pit legendary rivals Orchard Hill and Valiente against each other. Each team has at least one of the top-ranked players (10-goal handicaps) in the world. This year’s final match brought us 8 good reasons to watch the finals, Cambiaso, Cavanagh, Torres Zavaleta, Jornayvaz, Chavanne, Van Andel and a double dose of Pieres. The defending champion Orchard Hill team consisted of Polito Pieres, Juan Chavanne, Facundo Pieres and patron, Steve Van Andel. The 2015 champion team Valiente had players Bob Jornayvaz, Matias Torres, Zavaleta, Diego Cavanagh and Adolfo Cambiaso.
The final was exciting from the second the ball left the umpire’s had to begin the game. Orchard Hill’s Polito Pieres took the throw-in and found Facundo Pieres on the end of pass. Facundo bounced a shot in off the goal post to open the scoring less than 30 seconds into the game. Later Valiente showed why they were the highest-scoring team of the 2017 season to start the second half as Cambiaso scored off the first throw-in to cut the deficit to two goals. Seconds before the final horn, Orchard Hill had a penalty opportunity, with the ball sailing over the goalpost just wide, throwing the game into overtime. Cavanagh came through for Valiente putting the ball through for his seventh goal of the game handing his team the 13-12 victory and 2017 U.S. Open Polo Championship title.
Usually during the Sunday matches, I along with many other ‘spectators’, are actively sipping champagne and miss all this exciting action on the field. So there was indeed a silver lining for this Tuesday afternoon championship match where the crowds were thin, but with all eyes peeled to the field watching the legendary players and ponies strut their stuff. Half-time still included the stomping of the divot’s, but most bee-lined for the champagne truck pouring complimentary bubbly for all.
As always, there is a bit of pomp and circumstance with the polo awards ceremony at the end of the match. This day was no exception and included a few more accolades for the season winners as well. Ponies are honored as well as their human counterparts. This year’s ‘Horse of the Year’ was “Los Machitos Jazzita” played by Facundo Pieres, while the best playing pony of the U.S. Open final was “B09” played by Cambiaso. Matias Torres Zavaleta was named MVP. This year’s final was rebroadcast on CBS.
The final Sunday in April the sun was once again shining for the Federation International Polo match at IPC in Wellington. This was a match for Zone A of the World Championship Playoffs with Team USA competing. Brunch was served in the Pavilion for one final time and the bubbly flowed all afternoon….until next season. Perhaps, we’ll see you soon in the Hamptons this summer.
Photo Credits: David Lominska, Diana De Rosa Photography, Hope Gainer