Discovering great horses by chance is something many top polo players have experienced throughout their careers. Either watching a game, taking part in a practice, or even during a polo game they themselves are playing in, a horse may stand out among the rest and make the wheels start turning in the mind of a player. For 7-goaler Mariano Gonzalez, he made this discovery during a practice in the summer of 2017 at the Greenwich Polo Club in Greenwich, Connecticut. A beautiful 6-year-old grey mare played at the time by Nick Manifold caught the eye of Gonzalez and he knew he had to have her. Little did he know that less than a year later she would take the Florida high-goal scene by storm, garnering three Best Playing Pony prizes, and catching the eye of yet another player, Adolfo Cambiaso.
What made you decide to add Macarena to your string?
“I have only had her since August of last year. She originally belonged to Mikey Matz who purchased her off the race track and trained her. He sold her to Mariano Aguerre and Nick Manifold. That was only last February of 2017 here in Wellington, Florida. She was still pretty green then and they brought her to New York to play her at the Greenwich Polo Club. They invited me to play for the summer. During practice one day, Manifold came onto the field with this grey mare that caught my eye. I really like greys, I have seven now. I asked what her story was and they told me she was an American Thoroughbred that they recently purchased and was just getting started. At that time, she jumped the lines and was looking around a bit while learning the game. During the practice, I watched Manifold play her and even with her being green, she was everywhere. Throughout the entire practice, I kept seeing a flash of grey out of the corner of my eye. So I asked if I could try her and they agreed. I played her for four weekends and then I knew I wanted her. They had just asked me to return in September to play in the East Coast Open. So I made a deal with them and made her a part of my string. She didn’t play in the East Coast Open because after the summer, I wanted to give her a bit of a break before coming down to Florida. Once we arrived here she was completely relaxed and ready to take on the high-goal season.”
What made you feel that she was going to be a top mare for the season?
“I started playing her in the first chukker simply to see what she was capable of—she’s young and still learning. I kept her in the first chukker for the month of January and I felt that she did better and better each game. Once we moved into the month of February and we made it into the quarterfinals of the Ylvisaker Cup against Pilot, I was asking myself, ‘Why am I playing her in the first chukker when I really want to play her in the fifth?’ That day I moved her to the fifth chukker and she won her first Best Playing Pony blanket. The following Sunday in the final, she won it again! I’ve been very careful with her, letting her take her time and tell me when she is ready. In my mind I should have turned her out already and let her process the season. However, she’s not changing, she’s enjoying it. In my experience, at this point in the season is when the horses begin to show signs of breaking down or mentally being ready for their vacation. We always say to ourselves, ‘it’s only this many more days, they can make it.’ And that’s when things go wrong. I’m definitely scared of hurting her or having her get mentally fried from the pressure.”
“You have to plan for the future which is very difficult in this sport. To know my son might possibly play her or some of her children in the future is also amazing. It’s all a gamble, but I’m willing to bet on it.” – Mariano Gonzalez
Do you feel that her playing the first chukker has benefited in her performance in the fifth chukker?
“Yes, definitely. When I play her in the first chukker, I warm up on her as well, I would take her on purpose to all the corners, to see everything, hear all the noises. By the time she got to the throw in she was completely mellow. In the fifth chukker, as a player you are full of adrenaline and that translates to the horse. The only warm up you have aside from the groom warming them up on the side of the field is the run from the sidelines to the throw-in. I think it helped her a lot and it will help her again to go back to the first chukker for a few games.
You have been receiving a lot of attention from her recently, how does that make you feel?
“It’s been amazing. In one of the first games in February, we played against Valiente. Everyone was warming up on the field before the game. Adolfo Cambiaso rode up to me and asked, ‘And that one?’ I told him I had just bought her in August. He continued, ‘Nice, is it good?’ I couldn’t help but laugh as I told him, ‘I like her, I play her in the first chukker and she does well.’ He continued to ask me how she played and how good she was and I told him to watch her in the first chukker. It’s always hard to say what can improve Cambiaso’s string because what may be very good in my string may not be the best in his. I played her in the first chukker against him and right afterwards as I was riding off the field, he rode up to me and asked, ‘Is she for sale?’ At this point, I told him I wasn’t sure and that I needed to think about it. After that, I received several phone calls from players asking about her. The more I thought about it, I decided not to sell her. Since Cambiaso was the first to ask about her, I decided to lend her to him. Simply to see her play under a player like Cambiaso. In exchange they lent me some horses to help mount myself and my son for the rest of the season. The plan is to send Macarena down to Argentina after the season and pull embryos from her.”
“Macarena is an amazing, fantastic horse that can run as long as I need her to, she will rest for a bit now then go to Argentina to play the Argentine Open with me.” – Adolfo Cambiaso
What made you decide not to sell her?
“It’s very difficult for me to decide to sell horses these days because I’m mounting not only myself, but my son Peke as well—both in the United States and in Argentina. It’s obviously nice when everyone wants your horse. And after two Best Playing Pony Blankets in the same week, it makes you think. I thought about Peke and I want to keep the best horses I can for him to help him improve and to keep myself at the top of my game. That is why I made the decision not to sell. Pulling embryos from her will hopefully create more great horses for Peke and myself in the future. Being two players in two different places is very difficult if you don’t have back-up horses. I never sold my best ponies and that extended my career. You have to plan for the future which is very difficult in this sport. To know my son might possibly play her or some of her children in the future is also amazing. It’s all a gamble, but I’m willing to bet on it. It’s part of the lifestyle and it keeps it exciting.”
What are some things about her personality that stand out?
“The thing I love the most is that she is so lazy. She runs like a machine, but she’s always lazy and mellow. She can make a crazy fast run down the field and back again, then when the play is finished, she has her head down and is relaxed. You stop in a throw-in and she’s dead calm. With her engine, you would think she would get over excited and ramped up, but she just relaxes and keeps playing. She has the personality that I like which is lazy and powerful. It’s a very difficult combination, because mostly when you have the power, you get nervousness.”
Do you have a favorite playing memory?
“The fifth chukker of the quarterfinals and the fifth chukker in the final of the Ylvisaker Cup. I haven’t had her for that long, so you could say those are my first favorite memories of playing her. Those were her first fifth chukker games and from there everyone started asking about her. The one play that stands out for me, was when a backshot was hit and Santi Torres ran for it. I was about 15 or 20 yards behind him and I thought to myself, well if I don’t get to the ball, at least I’m going to put pressure on Torres so that maybe he doesn’t get to it. By the time I got to Torres, I had the ball on the near side and was running towards goal. I learned so much more about her abilities during that game.”
Where would you like to see her in five years?
“I would like to see her play the Argentine Open in Argentina at Palermo under Cambiaso. It doesn’t have to be in five years, there is a chance that it will happen this year. And in five years, if I’m not playing her, I would love to see my son playing her, or one of her children. We have not had the opportunity to play mothers and daughters before so it would be a very cool experience.”