The 2017 Argentine Triple Crown starts Tuesday with the 77th Tortugas Open Polo Championship presented by Ford. The tournament runs September 19 to October 7 at Tortugas Country Club. Here’s an advance look at what the six teams bring to the field.
LA DOLFINA SANCOR SEGUROS (40 goals)
La Dolfina returns to Argentina as the highest-rated team, using the same 40-goal line-up that features four 10-goalers in Adolfo Cambiaso, David Stirling, Juan Martin Nero and Pablo Mac Donough. A complete team from top to bottom, La Dolfina is looking to repeat their performance as champions of the Tortugas Open and build on their success that ultimately led them to winning last year’s Argentine Open.
All four players have had successful seasons so far in 2017, with Cambiaso winning all three 26-goal events in the United States with Valiente, and adding a Queen’s Cup victory in England with RH Polo. After becoming the third-highest scorer in the Queen’s Cup with 36 goals, Cambiaso was forced out of the Jaeger-LeCoultre Gold Cup due to injury—but he has returned to his elite form early on in Argentina. Meanwhile, the recent high-goal season in Spain saw Stirling and Nero lead their Lechuza team to a Copa de Plata title using a potent offense that will without doubt be on full display with La Dolfina. Mac Donough, Stirling and Nero all finished in the top six in scoring in Spain, and when you add Cambiaso to the picture, that makes La Dolfina the team to beat once again.
Utilizing the same line-up that led to a Hurlingham Open title in 2016, Ellerstina returns with Facundo, Gonzalito, Nico and Polito Pieres, forming a formidable team, capable of winning any game. The chemistry among the Pieres clan cannot be denied as they have teamed up worldwide year after year. The lead-up to the Argentina season started in England, where Facundo and Gonzalito led King Power Foxes to a Jaeger-LeCoultre Gold Cup victory, with Nico leading Habtoor to a spot in the semi-finals. Facundo and Nico were first and second in scoring, with Gonzalito seventh, giving Ellerstina the offensive firepower to outscore any opponent. Facundo continued that trend in Spain as the second-highest scorer with 5.8 goals per game.
Although he didn’t play in England, Polito Pieres was an integral part of Orchard Hill’s run to the 2016 U.S. Open final title in the USA. Despite being moved from 10 goals to 9, Polito is an offensively gifted player, adding more offense to an already impressive Ellerstina team. Combined with Nico, who used an impressive performance last year to raise his handicap from 9 to 10 goals, Nico displayed an effective style of play that provided defensive stability for Ellerstina while constantly producing offensive opportunities for the rest of the team. The balance throughout the line-up for Ellerstina will be crucial as they strive to dethrone La Dolfina in the 2017 Tortugas Open.
With an injury keeping Lucas Monteverde out of the Argentine season, Alegría found a superb replacement in Facundo Sola, the leading scorer in Spain with 58 goals. Sola will be joined by his Murus Sanctus teammate in the UK 10-goaler Hilario Ulloa, along with Sapo Caset and Fred Mannix. All four players displayed elite performances during the UK high-goal season with Caset and Ulloa finishing second and third in scoring, with 63 and 61 goals respectively. A strong player defensively, Mannix took a step forward offensively in the UK, leading his Sommelier team with 48 goals, a stat that bodes well for Alegría to improve upon their semi-final finish in last year’s Argentine Open.
Mannix’s defensive presence will be crucial for an Alegría team that has more than enough offense with Ulloa, Caset and Sola. As a 35-goal team, Alegria has the offensive ability to match any team in Argentina, but they must provide consistently strong defensive performances to move up from last year’s result and enter the conversation with La Dolfina and Ellerstina.
LA AGUADA LAS MONJITAS (32)
The quartet of 8-goalers in Alejandro, Eduardo, Ignacio and Miguel Novillo Astrada return to Argentina looking to pressure and overcome the higher-rated teams. Displaying a cohesive style of play that results in consistent team defense and an effective passing attack, La AguadaLas Monjitas needs to produce offensively at a high rate throughout the tournament to math their higher-rated opponents.
Alejandro and Miguel were critical players during the 2017 Florida season, in the back position for Audi and Coca-Cola, while also adding 2.8 and 2.0 goals per game during the 26-goal tournaments. All four players must continue the strong defensive play to contain the 9- and 10-goalers they will ultimately come up against, but scoring will be at a premium as La AguadaLas Monjitas looks to improve upon their performance from last year in Argentina.
CRÍA YATAY (31)
The surprise team of the 2016 season in Argentina, Cría Yatay used a 30-goal line-up to make the semi-finals of the Argentine Open, securing their spot in this year’s Tortugas Open. Returning players Ignacio Laprida and Joaquín Pittaluga both receive a handicap increase to join Cristian Laprida at 8 goals. This year’s edition features a new player for Cría Yatay in 7-goaler Valerio Zubiaurre Jr., who replaces Guillermo Terrera to round out Cría Yatay’s 31-goal roster.
Arguably more so than any other team, Cría Yatay utilized their balanced four-man team to upset higher-rated opponents, and they will need to do so again. Cristian Laprida enters Argentina after a strong UK season for La Bamba de Areco that saw him finish with 3.6 goals per game, while Ignacio Laprida was strong defensively in the No. 4 position for Grand Champions Polo Club in the U.S. Newcomer Zubiaurre will need to replace the scoring last year from Terrera and continue the upward trend as Cría Yatay continues to build on their momentum from the 2016 season.
LA IRENITA (31)
La Irenita comes into Argentina with the same 29-goal team from 2016 featuring Juan Ruiz Guiñazú, Juan Martin Zavaleta, Clemente Zavaleta and Matias MacDonough. However, handicap increases for Juan Martin Zavaleta and Juan Ruiz Guiñazú from 7 to 8 goals results in a 31-goal handicap for La Irenita this year. In similar fashion to Cría Yatay, La Irenita displayed consistent performances in last year’s Argentine Open, narrowly losing to Alegria by two, despite having a team handicap that was eight goals lower.
Coming off a strong showing in the Copa de Oro in Spain, Juan Martin Zavaleta helped La Indiana reach the final, scoring 12 goals and being very active defensively on higher-rated players, an experience that will serve him well in Argentina. Responsible for taking penalties last year, Guinazu was effective for La Irenita and will need to continue to pace the team offensively with Matias MacDonough and Clemente Zaveleta protecting the back door.
Graphics courtesy Asociacion Argentina de Polo
As reported by the Morning Line, traditionally, six teams entered in two brackets of 3, the top two teams bye in the first round. Bracket winners advance to the final. Matches are 7 chukkers. One advantage about having 10 teams entered in the Hurlingham and Argentine Open as opposed to 8 is that teams ranked 2nd and 3rd in each bracket will have their match together as their second match. In the 8-team scenario, those two always met on the first day of games and the loser almost invariably lost any chance past the bracket round.
Photo by Helen Cruden/AAP