At the beginning of the season, before the Jockey Club Open, we spoke about how La Dolfina had started a trend last year, being the first big team to take part in the tournament which precedes the Argentine Triple Crown. Ellerstina, Alegria and La Aguada Las Monjitas followed suit.
It seems that this trend is also followed by polo umpires. Last year, by invitation of the Argentine Association of Polo (AAP), Englishman Peter Wright became the first non-Argentine umpire to be involved in the Triple Crown. Wright was entrusted with the responsibility of overseeing the final of the Argentine Open in Palermo. Peter Wright, just like La Dolfina, started a trend. This year Wright will not be the only foreigner on Argentine fields; Julian Appleby and Héctor Galindo will also be involved at the request of the United States Polo Association (USPA).
Englishman Julian Appleby has great experience from working all over the world, notably in Australia, England, France and the US; he will be one of the umpires in charge of Hurlingham and Palermo.
Héctor Galindo, American of Mexican origin, debuted as a high-goal umpire in Palm Beach this season; he will be in charge of low and medium goal tournaments.
PoloLine had the opportunity of talking with all three umpires. While Wright prepares for his second experience in the Argentine high-goal, Appleby gets ready to take on the greatest challenge of his umpiring career. For Galindo, this is the perfect opportunity to learn the ropes.
JULIAN APPLEBY: “Umpiring Argentine players on their home soil will be an unforgettable experience.”
How did the chance of umpiring the Triple Crown in Argentina come about?
The APP got in touch with the USPA and asked if I could come to Argentina as part of the umpire’s Programe A. It was an honour whenthey confirmed that I would be involved in Triple Crown games.
How do you feel about the challenges of umpiring the Hurlingham Open, and more importantly, the Argentine Open?
It’s incredible. Being picked to form part of the group of umpires who direct the best polo in the world is something that doesn’t happen every day, especially if you are a foreigner, so I’m very happy to have been given the chance. Just being on the fields of Palermo is a dream come true for me.
Have you ever umpired in Argentina before?
No, this is the first time I’ve come. I’ve always wanted to come and watch polo here, but it’s tricky because I live in New Zealand and their season clashes with the high-goal over here. I still play with my family when my umpiring duties allow. At this time of year I am generally in Australia, umpiring at Ellerston and Garangula (Black Bears).
What expectations do you have about umpiring the best polo in the world?
Good question! I’m very excited. Saying that you umpired the Triple Crown must be incredible. I have umpired the best players in the world in England, Sotogrande, Deauville and the US, but doing it in their home country is something I will never forget. I hope that my experience helps me when dealing with the teams… We’ll see how it goes!
How do you feel when you umpire the high-goal in the US, for example?
Umpiring in the United States is a great challenge due to the rules they have. The players know how to work the game and there are many plays which are open to interpretation. This stops the game being as fluid as it is in Argentina or Europe. We are also observed by cameras and drones. I’m not saying it’s bad, but a camera does not have the same viewpoint an umpire has. I mean to say that we are human and humans make mistakes. But in the US we are expected to make the right call between 96% and 98% of the time, which is challenging in itself. I believe that we do make the right call most of the time. Next season in Palm Beach will be interesting; the USPA plans to adopt rules similar to those the AAP and HPA enforce.
How do you feel about having the possibility of being chosen to umpire the final of the Argentine Open, like Peter Wright did last year?
Peter is a great friend and colleague of mine and we have umpired many finals together, such as the Queen’s and Gold Cup in England, as well as test matches and finals in Deauville and Sotogrande. I was very happy for Peter when I learnt he was going to umpire the final. It’s the most important polo match of the year; being chosen to umpire the final is be the biggest compliment an umpire can receive, whether Argentine or British. I can’t even imagine how I would feel if I were to be chosen – it would definitely by the highlight of my fourteen year career as a professional umpire.
PETER WRIGHT: “Just being on Palermo’s number one ground is an honour for players and umpires alike.”
How did this second chance to umpire the Argentine Triple Crown come about?
Honestly, for a long time I thought it wouldn’t be possible to get a second shot at umpiring the Triple Crown. It was confirmed at the end of September and I arrived for the semifinals of Tortugas. I’m very happy to be back umpiring the best polo in the world and I am ready for the challenges ahead.
What did you take from last year’s experience?
Last year exceeded all of my expectations. I learnt a lot about what it’s like being on the biggest polo stage in the world, and I saw how the polo world has changed in Buenos Aires since I had last been in Argentina, over twenty years ago. I hope this year will be as great as last year.
How did you feel when you were called to umpire the final of the Argentine Open last year? What was it like on the field?
Just being on Palermo’s number one ground is an honour, for players and umpires alike. If you don’t feel that way then it is time to hang up your boots and call it a day. Umpiring the final was the most important moment of my career. It’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life, even if I don’t get another chance to do it.
This year other foreign umpires will be involved. Do you think that last year’s experience, and having been the first non-Argentine umpire, set a precedent?
I think last year’s experience has made it easier for foreign umpires to come over. I’m sure the AAP would have hesitated had my performance last year had been disastrous. But I don’t think it’s about nationality as much as it is about having the best umpires in the world directing the best players in the world.
Now that you’ve had experience in Argentina and in England, what would you say are the differences between the Gold Cup and the Argentine Open?
Having umpired in both, I don’t think that you can look at it in terms of similarities and differences. Cowdray Park has the best ProAm tournament in the world. Palermo is the height of the sport and cannot be compared to any other tournament. Each has it’s challenges when it comes down to umpiring. The difficulty lies infinding a balance between keeping both the horses and players safe and happy while trying to give the audience a spectacle.
HECTOR GALINDO: “The idea is to umpire and learn more.”
How did the opportunity of umpiring in Argentina come about?
Charlie Muldoon called me and told me to come to Argentina because the rules used in Argentina will soon be applied in the US. The idea is to learn how to put them into practice.
What do you have planned to umpire in Argentina?
Primarily medium and low goal; I am staying until December 13 and I’ll mostly be umpiring in Pilar.
When was the last time you were in Argentina during the polo season?
I’ve visited a few times, the last journey being ten years ago with Tommy Lee Jones who was looking for horses. We stayed a couple of weeks.
What do you expect to gain from this experience in Argentina?
My aim is to learn and watch good polo. If I get the chance to umpire, all the better. I came to learn the rules of the AAP.
What was it like umpiring the high-goal in the US?
I started umpiring about a year and a half ago. This year I got the chance to umpire the US Open, but I was present during the whole 20 and 26 goal season. Umpiring in the US is difficult, but I love doing it. Umpires receive training once a week and that helps a lot – so do the drones and cameras, even though they make the games much longer. It’s tricky; it’s the highest handicapped tournament outside of Argentina.