PILOT: THE TEAM TO BEAT
10-goaler Facundo Pieres returns to the Gauntlet of Polo following back-to-back victories in the 2021 USPA Gold Cup and U.S. Open Polo Championship.
Among the many teams returning to the Gauntlet of Polo this year is Pilot, one of the most successful teams since the Gauntlet was established in 2019. In fact, Pilot is the only team to have won all three tournaments in the same year during the inaugural season, hence taking the Gauntlet of Polo trophy. Last year, Pilot won the USPA Gold Cup and the U.S. Open Polo Championship, missing only the C.V. Whitney Cup.
Pilot will see the return of Matias Gonzalez for the first time since 2019, replacing Mackenzie Weisz*. He will team up with Curtis Pilot, Facundo Pieres, and Matias Torres Zavaleta. “I had the chance to play on a couple of successful teams and the goal is always to win. I don’t know if we have an extra dose of responsibility, being the champions. I think we have to go one match at a time to try and reach every final and, once we get there, win them,” Zavaleta told CLICKPOLO.
Pilot’s Matías Torres Zavaleta.
Zavaleta will once again play alongside 10-goaler Pieres. “I played a lot with Facu, we have a very good relationship and it’s super easy to play with him. He’s a great partner and I’m very grateful to him and Curtis for giving me another chance to try and repeat what we did last year.”
Pieres’ contribution to Pilot exceeds his talent on field, as he will also be lending many horses to the other players of the team. “Facu is a team player, he likes to pass the ball and it’s impressive to play with him and see what he does on the field, you learn a lot. But he also lent me many horses and you also learn from that, from the way they play and move,” Zavaleta added.
With a very similar team as they had last year, Pilot will definitely be the team to beat.
LA ELINA RETURNS WITH AN ALL-AMERICAN TEAM
Team USPA alumnus and 2021 U.S. Open Polo Championship runner-up Jared Zenni.
La Elina will definitely be the local favorites, as they are the only team in the upcoming Gauntlet of Polo that will feature four American players. Last season, La Elina stunned everyone when they reached the final of the U.S. Open Polo Championship. However, only Jared Zenni* will return from the original formation, whereas the Obregon brothers will be replaced by American polo legend Jeff Hall*, as well as fellow Americans Matt Coppola* and Nicolas ‘Nico’ Escobar*.
The players might have changed, but the essence of the team remains, as La Elina will portray a well-balanced team with two 5-goal and two 6-goal players. This team will also represent the United States in the Westchester Cup against England.
“It’s a great honor to play for this team, especially because we are four Americans […] I’m very close to Jeff, Jared, and Matt, I grew up watching and playing with them. I think it’s good for us to know each other,” Escobar told CLICKPOLO.
This will be Escobar’s fourth time playing the Gauntlet of Polo. Playing alongside three of the most experienced American players, La Elina will try and repeat last year’s success.
FIRST TIME IN THE GAUNTLET FOR VALIENTE
Valiente returns to the high-goal season with the addition of 10-goaler Adolfo Cambiaso.
The high-goal American season will see the return of Valiente, one of the most important organizations in the world. As proof of their depth and horsepower, J5 and Valiente provided all the horses for the XII FIP World Polo Championship that took place in Florida last fall. Now, many of those horses will be back at NPC to try and win the three most important tournaments in the United States.
While the return of Valiente was a pleasant surprise for many, their reappearance was decided last year on the opposite coast of the United States. “Adolfo Cambiaso called Luckitas Criado, and I last year while we were in Santa Barbara. We played together for almost two months and, thankfully, the team was later confirmed,” Peke Gonzalez told CLICKPOLO.
Teaming up with Cambiaso, Gonzalez knows that everyone expects them to fight for every tournament. “I hope we can win, but it will be important to see if we can play well together first. Plus, there are many good teams this year. I’m very grateful to Bob and Adolfo for giving me the opportunity to play in such an important organization with Luckitas, who is one of my closest friends,” Gonzalez said.
While Valiente has never played the Gauntlet of Polo before, as the series was established in 2019, they have experienced major success in the past. With four C.V. Whitney Cup wins, five USPA Gold Cup championships, and two U.S. Open Polo Championship titles in their cabinet, Valiente is well established as a force to be reckoned with.
PARK PLACE AND SCONE RETURN
Park Place and Hilario Ulloa enter as strong contenders following their 2021 C.V. Whitney Cup victory.
If Pilot is the team to beat, then Park Place and Scone are the great contenders. Last year, Park Place won the C.V. Whitney Cup and fell in the final of the USPA Gold Cup and the semifinal of the U.S. Open Polo Championship to Pilot. On the other hand, Scone lost all of their playoff matches against Park Place. The final of the C.V. Whitney Cup, the semifinal of the USPA Gold Cup, and the quarterfinal of the U.S. Open Polo Championship, though the last two tournaments they had to play without their main star, Adolfo Cambiaso.
Scone’s Poroto Cambiaso.
Park Place has a solid formation. Having been an established team for years in America and England, the yellow and blue shirts have had almost no changes in their formation, and even have the horsepower to field more than one team, especially in Europe. The dynamic duo of Juan Britos and Hilario Ulloa return once more, uniting in one of the teams with massive firepower. This year, Andrey Borodin’s fourth player will be Jason Wates instead of Cody Ellis*.
Ellis might be out of Park Place, but he still managed to land on another solid organization, as he will play for Scone this year. The Australian organization has another fearless duo themselves, as Poroto Cambiaso will play alongside his La Dolfina teammate, Pelon Stirling. The young star who won the Argentine Open days before turning 17 will lead David Paradice’s team once more hoping to capture additional silverware this year.
LA FE AND DAZOS JOIN FORCES FOR THE GAUNTLET
La Fe and Louis Devaleix returns in their second consecutive high-goal season.
La Fe and Dazos are two of the newest organizations in American polo. However, their preparation for this year’s Gauntlet of Polo might be as professional as any top team. Louis Devaleix got into polo only a couple of years ago, but in that period of time, he started La Fe and has won the East Coast Open twice, as well as played in the 2022 Gauntlet. This year, he returns with the same roster, but with more horses and a preparation plan that included two months in Argentina. On top of that, the organization founded a new team, Dazos, led by his business partner David Farache, who called Nicolas Pieres for their first Gauntlet.
“We had a good start of the season. We are playing the 16-goal with Fran Elizalde, Robi Bilbao, and Rufino Merlos, as Lucas Diaz Alberdi can’t play with us, but he is still in the mix as he is playing with Dazos,” Devaleix told CLICKPOLO.
“As far as preparation goes we’ve been bringing horses since the summer until last month in order to better our string and increase our chances. We’ve been playing practices every day, viewing the footage, and playing just about every day trying to come up with different strategies in order to become more efficient on the field,” Devaleix added.
La Fe’s Francisco Elizalde.
This year will probably be the last for the four members of La Fe if things go well. “The idea is that at least one of us gets raised, which means we will have a successful season. Fran is 100% healthy now and with Lucas and Robi getting better, we think we have really strong chances to compete in all three tournaments of the Gauntlet,” Devaleix said.
Last year, Elizalde got hurt, which disrupted La Fe’s preparation. With him recovered, their chances increase in what will be their second Gauntlet. For Dazos it will be their first, with Nico Pieres leading two six-goalers, Dylan Rossiter and Santiago Torres, in what appears to be a tough team to beat.
TAMERA RETURNS WITH THE SUPPORT OF LA DOLFINA
Tamera’s team owner Alejandro Poma will bring the team into contention for the Gauntlet for the second year.
Last year, Tamera was a healthy surprise for American polo. The team led by Alejandro Poma, one of the few players from El Salvador, over-performed and reached the semifinals of the U.S. Open Polo Championship. With a similar team this year, Poma will be joined once again by Diego Cavanagh and Segundo Saravi, while Pedrinho Zacharias will replace Magoo Laprida.
Poma has a strong relationship with La Dolfina. He plays in the Argentine club and his dedicated professional is Diego Cavanagh, who has been part of Adolfo Cambiaso’s organization in the different teams Cambiaso manages. This year, Brazilian player Pedrinho Zacharias joined the team, another member of La Dolfina’s organization.
Tamera’s Diego Cavanagh.
“The team is the same as last year, as I’m the only new member. I don’t have horses in the United States and that’s why we took a little time to announce the team. I would like to thank Robert Zedda, Jejo Taranco, and La Dolfina for their support,” Zacharias said.
Zacharias is one of the best players in Brazil, having played two games of the Argentine Open with La Dolfina as a substitute last year. Now, he will have the experience of the best polo in America. “I’m very happy to play the high goal this year. We have a very good team, the expectations are the best and I’m really excited to get the season started as soon as possible.”
STEWART ARMSTRONG AND FRANCISCO BENSADON REUNITE IN ASPEN
USPA’s Chairman Stewart Armstrong.
The long-time relationship between USPA Chairman Stewart Armstrong and Francisco Bensandon will materialize in this year’s Gauntlet of Polo, as they will reunite on Aspen. “My father and Stewart are very close friends and wanted to play together again, build an organization and invest in horses,” Rufino Bensadon told CLICKPOLO. The team needed a five-goal player to complete their roster and they called Nicolas Saenz, from Colombia.
“We brought several mares from Argentina, Stewart bought some too and we invited Nico, who is a very talented player and has an important breeding operation in Colombia. Stewart and my dad thought Nico was a good option and I hope the results will go our way,” Rufino added.
In terms of results, Rufino knows that there are other stronger organizations. Yet, the hopes are high for this family team. “Our idea is to fight until the end and go as far as we can. We’ll have to wait until the Gauntlet starts to see how far, but so far we feel [confident].”
*Nico Escobar is a Graduating Member of Team USPA. Cody Ellis, Jeff Hall, Matt Coppola and Jared Zenni are Team USPA Alumni. Team USPA is a USPA program designed to enhance and grow the sport of polo in the United States by identifying young, talented American players and providing mentored training and playing opportunities leading to a pool of higher rated amateur and pro players and the resultant giveback to the sport of polo.
All photos courtesy of ©David Lominska.