Valiente and HB Polo Get a Communal Leg Up on Tuesday’s Jaegar LeCoultre Gold Cup Opener
By Darlene Ricker
Last Thursday morning eight T-shirt-clad guys on horses were chasing a ball around the field at Dubai’s farm in England. But these weren’t just any eight guys. You didn’t need team jerseys to recognize among them the moves of Adolfo Cambiaso, Juan Martín Nero and David “Pelón” Stirling, the troika who, with Pablo MacDonough, won the 2015 Argentine Open for La Dolfina.
This time, though, something was out of whack. The magical Cambiaso-Nero dynamic had vanished. Not only that, but the two were clearly at odds. Nero stole the ball from Cambiaso and hoofed it down the field. Equally strange, on another play Valiente patron Bob Jornayvaz sent the ball to HB Polo Team patron Sebastien Pailloncy, who ran it through the posts. Since when do players help the opposing team make goals?
When they’re preparing for a high-stakes tournament like the British Open. These lineups were completely scrambled—intentionally. Valiente and HB Polo each sent two players to the other side for an oddly skewed practice match between 19-goal and 25-goal pseudo teams. (The Jaeger-LeCoultre Gold Cup is 22 goals.) The practice lined up Cambiaso, Stirling, Jornayvaz and Sebastien Pailloncy against Nero, Ludovic Pailloncy, Ralph Richardson and Ignacio “Cubi” Toccalino. That’s not how it will look this week in the Gold Cup. The tournament rosters are: Valiente (Cambiaso, Nero, Jornayvaz and Richardson) and HB Polo Team (Stirling, Toccalino and the Pailloncy brothers).
It may appear bizarre that opposing teams would take the chance of tipping their hand before the tournament. However, Valiente might not even play HB Polo in the Gold Cup. Because of the positions they drew (Valiente is in group A and HB Polo is in C), the only chance of a faceoff would be if they both make it to the final phases of the tournament.
“They needed to practice and we needed to practice, so why not?” said Sebastien Pailloncy, with the easy manner of a Frenchman strolling along the Seine with a warm fresh loaf of bread tucked under his arm. He and his brother have played practice matches in Spain with Cambiaso and others from La Dolfina, Dubai and Valiente to prepare for tournaments in Sotogrande.
Thursday’s practice afforded Valiente and HB Polo an opportunity try out some plays and tune up their horses. The primary focus was solidly on the latter. Both patrons said everyone had the same goal: to let the horses loosen up and run at speed to get back in tune. HB Polo reserved some of their top mounts for the Gold Cup, so they did not compete them in the Queen’s Cup. Several of Valiente’s A-list horses haven’t played since they won U.S. Open under Dubai players two months ago. Among them is the magnificent stallion Boeing, one of Cambiaso’s absolute favourites.
“Boeing finished in the U.S. on April 24 and immediately went out to pasture,” said Jornayvaz. “We gave him several weeks off and then shipped him to England and gave him a couple more weeks off there. He got a good rest. He didn’t play in the Queen’s Cup, so he’s really ready to go.”
All told, Valiente shipped 40 horses to England for the season. “We wanted to make sure we had plenty of horses and that there are enough for Ralph [Richardson] and extras for Adolfo,” said Jornayvaz. “If you go through to the finals, horses are so important. At the end of the day you don’t want to come up short. This is the way Valiente does it.”
The teams set strict parameters for Thursday’s practice. “We played short but fast chukkas, with little if any bumping to keep the horses safe,” said Jornayvaz.
Who won the practice match? No one.
“We didn’t keep score,” said Pailloncy. “If we did, everyone would start trying to score instead of working on plays and giving their horses the preparation they need. It’s the same reason we mixed the teams. If you put four Valiente players against four HB Polo Team players, it’s no longer a practice.”
Playing on a makeshift team with the top players in the world comes with unparalleled benefits. “Those guys make long hits and are always moving, so you have good runs, which was exactly what the horses needed,” said Pailloncy. It was also a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the 3-goaler. “When else is Adolfo Cambiaso going to drop a ball in front of the posts for me so I can score?”
Valiente and HB Polo will practice separately Monday, their last chance to get ready for the Gold Cup. In Tuesday’s opening match, HB Polo will be in the irons against Talandracas, followed by Valiente vs. Cowdray Vikings.
Jornayvaz is beyond stoked for his debut this year in the British Open, which has long been on his dream list. Pailloncy, meanwhile, is hoping for a less eventful evening than the one he had before his last match, which was for the Cartier Trophy in the Queen’s Cup subsidiary final. After a nice dinner at home, he was relaxing in front of the TV with his wife and kids when a sustained torrent of rain turned his garage into the Thames.
“I spent most of the night bailing water out of my garage with buckets,” he said with a laugh. “But at least we won the next day!”