It started with a magnificent golden goal from Gillian Johnston in the 20-goal Herbie Pennell Cup and came to an end with an astounding golden goal by Facundo Pieres in the final of the 26-goal US Open. It was certainly a season full of surprises.
Let’s start at the end, with the fantastic match between Orchard Hill and Dubai that ended in a nail-biting seventh chukker. Over a hundred games have been played since December 31, where Coca Cola beat Enigma 15 goals to 10 and qualified for the first tournament of the year, the Herbie Pennell Cup. The 20-goal tournament came to a dramatic end with a golden goal from Gillian Johnston. Coca Cola had struggled against Villa del Lago, but they came back strong to win the game in extra chukka. Villa del Lago’s Hilario Ulloa was named MVP of the final.
Four months later, on the same ground at International Polo Club Palm Beach (IPC), Facundo Pieres celebrated as he scored the goal to crown Orchard Hill US Open champions. It was the team’s first ever 26-goal title in over twenty years.
“It is always nice to win,” said Facundo after the match. “Especially after we lost last year’s final. We thought we deserved to win last year, but things didn’t happen our way. The opposite happened this year, because we were down the whole game and we came back at the end to win it. I am happy to have won the US Open, but even more so because I won with Orchard Hill, a team who had never won the title. That is what motivated me to win.”
Playing with Facundo was Juan Martín Nero, a key figure in the success of the team. One of the top players of the season in the Dominican Republic, Nero travelled to the US unexpectedly, after being asked to fill in for an injured Polito Pieres. “This is my second US Open title, and it came as a complete surprise. Polito was really unlucky, and that is why I was called in. But I am happy to have played in this team and to have won. Adolfito [Cambiaso] is so good that it’s really hard to catch him and read what he is going to do; that’s why Dubai could have won the game in that extra chukker at any time.”
Steve Van Andel, Orchard Hill’s alma mater, became US Open champion for the first time in his polo career, after many attempts and near-misses: “We’ve tried to win this tournament for many years. We have lost many finals, but not today. We finally got to win, but it was not an easy game at all. We had to push and fight constantly, as we have had to do throughout the season. All of the teams we came up against were very good. I think we all played well today. I want to thank all the polo players around the world for being part of this beautiful sport.”
Almost all of the season’s finals, 20- and 26-goal, were played at IPC: The Herbie Pennell Cup (won by Coca Cola), The Joe Barry Cup (won by Audi), The CV Whitney (claimed by Orchard Hill after their defeat over Audi), The USPA Gold Cup (won by Dubai, who beat Audi) and the US Open. Heavy rain fell from the end of January through to February, and numerous matches had to be suspended and cancelled. The final of the 20-goal Ylvisaker Cup, where Orchard Hill would meet Dubai, was never played.
It was an interesting year in Palm Beach: IPC was sold and bought; games were dominated by fouls and long umpire analyses; the rain poured for most of the season, but the sun emerged toward the end of April; and many players suffered injuries. But this year will be remembered for Bob Daniels, a leading figure in American polo, who gave his life for the sport.