By Alejandra Ocampo & Andrés Ugarte Larrain
(Special thanks to Darío Welschen and Lourdes Weis for the file photos)
He was named Juan Carlos after his father, but he has always been referred to as “El Ingles”, Juancar, or most commonly, Juancarlitos. Juan Carlos Harriott, a polo legend, considered by many as the greatest player this sport has ever seen, turns eighty today.
Harriott epitomises a golden age of polo; he is an icon in Argentina and around the world, only comparable to what Adolfo Cambiaso has become today. A man of few words, Juancarlitos spends his time in his beloved Coronel Suarez, only appearing at the polo for the final of the Palermo Open, where he is given the seat of honour in the C stand.
Born on October 28, 1936, in Coronel Suarez, Province of Buenos Aires, Juancarlitos learnt to ride and stick and ball at a very young age. He began to show promise straight away, and in 1953, after winning the kids tournament (Vargas Cup), his handicap was raised to one. That same year he was put straight up to 3-goals and was on his way to becoming a polo legend.
At that time in the late 1930s, El Trébol and Venado Tuerto dominated the polo scene. In 1951, Los Pinguinos cut the Alberdi and Cavanagh winning streak and in 1952 the name Harriott appeared among the winners of the most important tournament in the world. Juan Carlos Harriot (Senior) joined Coronel Suarez and gave the red and blue shirts their second Palermo Open title (the first was won in 1934 by Ricardo E. Garrós 4, Eduardo E. Garrós 4, Enrique J. Alberdi 7 and Juan C. Alberdi 5). The Harriot name entered the history books, and was there to stay.
The 1952 Coronel Suarez champion team was made up of Harriot (8), Rubén Fernández Sarraua (5), Francisco Reyes Carrere (7) and Enrique Alberdi (9) (the latter was also in the 1934 winning team and had previously played in the legendary Venado Tuerto). Suarez repeated in 1953, but Harriott was not in that lineup.
Juancarlitos’ turn came in 1957. El Trébol and Venado Tuerto claimed the title back and forth between 1954 and 1956, but Coronel Suárez came back all guns blazing in 1957. Juan Carlos decided to bring his 7-goal son into the lineup (alongside Enrique Alberdi and Bertil Andino Grahn), and Coronel Suárez went on to win the most prestigious polo title in the world. In 1958, another legendary lineup was formed as two Harriot’s and two Heguy’s (from Intendente Alvear, La Pampa) formed Coronel Suarez Los Indios. This is the only team in the history of polo to win the Palermo Open with a lineup consisting of two father-son pairs: Juan Carlos and Juancarlitos Harriott, and Antonio Heguy and his son Horacio. Juancarlitos was already one of the best in the world, rated at 9-goals. The team won the Open again in 1959, but with Luis Lalor (7) playing instead of Antonio Heguy.
In 1960, El Trébol broke Suarez’s winning streak for the last time. From 1961 through to 1980, polo was to be dominated by one player: Juancarlitos Harriot. He was raised to 10-goals in 1961, a handicap he maintained until he retired from the high-goal in 1980. Always playing as Suárez’s number 3, Juancarlitos became the perfect player – a brilliant strategist and playmaker. In 1967 the most famous lineup was formed with brother Alfredo. Now two pairs of brothers ran the polo stage: Juancarlitos and Alfredo Harriott, and Horacio and Alberto Pedro Heguy. Together they played some of the most memorable games in polo history as they took on their greatest rival, Santa Ana. In 1974 Coronel Suarez became the first team to ever reach a perfect 40-goal handicap.
The achievements of Coronel Suarez are overwhelming, and Juancarlitos lead the team to victory over many years: he won the Argentine Open twenty times, the Hurlingham Open fifteen times, and the Tortugas Open seven times, as well as winning the Triple Crown four times (1972, 1974, 1975 and 1977). With Suarez he won a total of 28 tournaments. He represented Argentina in the Copa de las Américas, winning the Cup in 1966, 1969, 1979 and 1980 (the Argentine team at that time was composed of the same four Coronel Suarez players).
Overall Juancarlitos claimed over fifty titles, not only in the Triple Crown, but in tournaments organised by the AAP. Fun fact: Juancarlitos never won the Copa República Argentina, the only tournament in the world with no handicap limit (for teams from 0 to 40 goals).
In terms of international polo, Juancarlitos won the Gold Cup in Sotogrande in 1975 and 1976. He was prized many times, winning the Silver Olympia on five occasions; in 1976 he became the first polo player to ever win the Gold Olympia for Sportsman of the Year. The only other player to share this honour since has been Adolfo Cambiaso, who won the title in 2014.
On July 1, 1980, at 44 years of age, Juancarlitos hung up his stick and his helmet. That year he was honoured again, winning the Platimun Konex Prize for Best Polo Player in History and receiving a Merit Diploma. In 2015 he entered the Hall of Fame at the Museum of Polo & Hall of Fame in Palm Beach.
Juancarlitos Harriott is charismatic, humble, and passionate about horses and the sport. He is the polo legend who ruled polo for over two decades, drawing thousands of people to Palermo at a time when there wasn’t social media or television. People travelled from all over the world to watch the extraordinary player. Today on his 80th birthday, his legend continues to grow.
To prove Juancarlitos’ enormous influence we can recall an anecdote which links him to another Argentine sports star: Guillermo Vilas, the most famous tenis player in the country’s history. In a whiskey advert, Vilas stated that his “Great Willy” (shot where he hit the ball with his racquet between his legs) was inspired by Juancarlitos and the backhanders he hit between the horses legs.
Here is to a true polo legend: Happy Birthday Juancarlitos!