By Liz Leamy
Last Sunday was one for the books as Gardenvale, the electric Australian-based contingent racked up an all-important 10-8 win against Audi, the illustrious Greenwich-based squad, to designate a memorable first-round kickoff match in the 2021 East Coast Open Championships. This high-octane match, held at the famed Greenwich Polo Club on Hurlingham Drive, drew more than four thousand spectators and featured all the stuff of a premiere sports showdown.
Throughout the entire match, the two teams flew up, down and around the massive Conyers Farm field with the ferocity and focus of world-class athletes intent to clinch a big prize, which in this case, is the historic Perry Cup, an artful silver trophy designed by Oscar L. Lenz and crafted in 1904 by the Gorham Manufacturing Company in Rhode Island. More than a century later in 2015, the trophy was restored through the efforts of the Greenwich Polo Club.
Certainly, a great deal of the excitement surrounding this match was due to the reputation of this storied 20-goal tournament, which is known as one of the premiere summer high-goal polo events in the U.S. (The other much buzzed-about high-goal summer tournament is the Pacific Coast Open, held at the Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club in Southern California at the same time as the East Coast Open.)
On this particular afternoon, amidst looming gray skies, the horses, players and their teams delivered the goods as Audi, whose roster includes the venerable Mariano Aguerre, the Museum of Polo and Hall of Fame member and renowned eight goaler, Chris Brant, the team’s ever-steady number-one player, Peke Gonzalez, its rock-solid Argentinian six goaler and Facundo Obregon, its esteemed Argentinian six goaler, put the pedal to the metal, leading the match from the first through the fifth chukkers.
All the while, Gardenvale, lead by Shane Finemore, its Teflon-like patron who originates from Wagga Wagga, Australia, played in formidable fashion, riding around the field on their powerful charges with notable quickness, technique and energy.
Subsequently, their efforts subsequently yielded results in the sixth (final) chukker, as Gardenvale dramatically edged out Audi by two goals, rendering a 10-8 finish in the final tally.
“I think we all tried to concentrate and play strong together,” said Finemore, who grew up on a farm in Wagga Wagga. “To come here and play against this team at the Greenwich Polo Club is a big thing, so we have been working hard to be prepared and just do our best.”
Clearly that seemed to be the case as Finemore and the rest of the Gardenvale contingent, including Pedro Falabella, the vibrant Argentinian six goaler, Felipe Viana, the prominent Argentinian six goaler and Christian ‘Magoo’ Laprida Jr., the esteemed Argentinian eight goaler who was named Most Valuable Player of this match, worked in effective and graceful concert together.
“It was a really good, but tough game,” said Falabella. “Audi is very strong and in the last chukker, the game could’ve gone to either team.”
Falabella said that everyone was good and it was all about just doing one’s best.
“We’ve been working hard all year and we want to just really go for it and do our best,” added Falabella.
The Gardenvale contingent, which has been based at the Mashomack Polo Club in Pine Plains, New York for most of the summer and also trains in Wellington, Florida during much of the winter season, said they knew they had to play well at this match considering the strength and expertise of the entire Audi squad.
“It was an intense game out there and everyone played well,” said Felipe Viana. “There is so much work that goes into what you see. When we play, it is the [culmination] of the efforts of so many people, including those who handle and take care of the horses every day. We practice a lot and work hard, but it is also the commitment of everyone involved that helps make everything happen. It is about everyone working together and that’s what I like the best about it.”
This year’s East Coast Open tournament roster features a total of four prominent 20-goal teams including Ellipse and Altaris, as well as Gardenvale and Audi, all of whose athletes, both equine and human, have been marquee players at the Greenwich Polo Club throughout the 2021 season.
Going into this tournament, the players and members of these teams seem to be taking things one match at a time in their quest toward claiming the Perry Cup.
Meanwhile, adding to the excitement, energy and star-studded standard of this famous annual event is, of course, the presence of all the equine stars, who always wow the spectators at the Greenwich Polo Club with their incredible speed, aptitude and power.
At the conclusion of this match, Mariano Aguerre’s lightning-quick charge, Machitos Marfil, was named Best Playing Pony for his terrific work out on the field.
Machitos Marfil is a member of the renowned Los Machitos organization based in Buenos Aires which is owned and managed by Aguerre and his longtime friends and colleagues, Naco Taverna, the Argentinian high goaler and Nick Manifold, the Australian high goaler.
Certainly, this was an afternoon to remember on all counts, especially for those in the stands and on the sidelines.
“This has been a very competitive and close game and it’s all been very exciting,” said Stelios Stavrianos, co-founder of Pasha’s Perfect Lemonade of Stamford, a main spectator hotspot at the Greenwich Polo Club matches. “It’s packed here. The athletes and horses are incredible and everyone is enjoying the game and having fun. Being here is always a great experience.”
Representatives of Audi of America and the Tri-State Audi dealers, the presenting sponsor of the 2021 East Coast Open Polo Championship, agreed.
“It’s a beautiful day for everyone to watch and enjoy this incredible sport,” said Jennifer Kircher, Regional Marketing Manager of Audi of America. “This is our seventh year participating with the Greenwich Polo Club and we love being here. Everyone is just wonderful and we always have a great experience.” (A big draw at the Audi tent, on a side note, was the Italian ice cream served gratis to its guests by representatives from Gelato & Ciccolato, the popular dessert shop based in Cos Cob.)
Ralph Pietrafesa, president of Longford’s Ice Cream based in Stamford, cited the uniqueness, energy and beauty of the Greenwich Polo Club.
“This is such a unique and incredible place and everyone is nice. That’s why we keep coming here,” said Pietrafesa, whose ice cream truck consistently has long lines of people looking to enjoy its offerings. “This is our fifth season here and we’re happy to be back. It’s great here.”
Asked about whether there is enough ice cream at the Sunday matches for all their customers each week, Pietrafesa said it is all about being prepared.
“We generally stock up for about 1,000 people,” said Pietrafesa, adding that the most popular flavors at the matches are the mint chip, Caramel Seesaw and lemon and raspberry sorbets. “This tournament has been very exciting and it’s fun to see everybody. There is an energy here like no other.”
The 2021 East Coast Open Championship tournament, which will be televised on ESPN, will be held at the Greenwich Polo Club through Sunday, September 12th.
For more information, please visit the GPC website at greenwichpoloclub.org