In the sidewalk cafes of Buenos Aires this week the hottest topic of debate—and you know how much Argentines loveto debate—has been this: Can Alegría, fresh off their overtime upset of La Dolfina in the Hurlingham Open semis, take down the tournament’s other 800-pound gorilla in the final Saturday?
Unless you can channel the spirit of legendary odds-maker Jimmy the Greek or have ridiculous amounts of expendable income, I wouldn’t bet the farm on it or against it. The only sure thing is that Alegría will, as the saying goes, either win or die trying.
That was evident yesterday as the 48-hour countdown began. During a brief break in Thursday’s training regimen, the guys fast-forwarded their thoughts to Saturday. In separate interviews, each spoke from what seemed to be a Vulcan mind meld. Their words varied, but the message was identical: Alegría is confident yet realistic about what they’re up against.
The Deep Thinker
Fred Mannix came across as the deep thinker he has been since he was probably 12 (who knows, maybe even 10) years old. Furrowing his brow and sort of grinning at the same time, he seemed to be engaging in a conversation with himself for a few seconds before he spoke.
“We have a huge opportunity in front of us, but we also have a huge task at hand,” he said in that elegant, modulated Mannix tone. (Had polo not worked out, he probably could have done killer voiceovers for airline pilot roles or been a disc jockey on a classical radio station).
“We know Ellerstina is an amazing team and an extremely well mounted family, so they know what they’re doing,” he added. “They’re going to be well prepared with Mariano Aguerre coaching them, and Facundo [Pieres] is from another planet! He’s playing just amazing.” (In an interesting twist, Aguerre played for Alegría when they won the 2014 U.S. Open.)
Facundo Sola was his gleeful, effervescent self. “I’m happy, very happy! We’re playing in a Triple Crown final, and I just feel so good!” he said in rapid-fire Spanish. “This week we’ve been very focused on Saturday; we have to be if we want to win. It takes a lot of concentration to get ready to play against Ellerstina, but I’m really enjoying it.”
Sapo Caset, the tournament’s leading scorer with 30 goals, seemed as jazzed as he was the day he won his first game. “We are really excited to play Saturday. For us it’s been an amazing week,” he said, almost reverently. “We really want to win this final, so we’re preparing ourselves and the horses the best we can.
“We know it’s going to be a really tough match because Ellerstina is amazing. We played them in Tortugas, and it was a really tight game.” (Ellerstina defeated Alegría by a single goal in the virtual semis.) “But we trust in our team and in ourselves that if we play a good game and concentrate like our last game, we have a chance to win. So we’re really focused on that.”
Hilario Ulloa’s face softened as he glanced skyward. “It’s been an amazing five years with Alegría,” he said. “We’ve done really well in Wellington. A few years ago we won the C.V. Whitney, and two years later we won the U.S. Open. And now it’s another great achievement for Alegría to be in the Hurlingham Open final. We hope we can play another great game and have a great final.”
Mannix, an optimistic realist, rolled out the bottom line. “Right now Alegría is in a good rhythm, so it’s going to be an exciting final,” he said. “Ellerstina has beaten us quite a few times in a row, so we’re hoping to change that result. It will really become apparent if we’re ready to play or not. We have to be concentrated like we were last weekend. If we can do that and play without mistakes, we’ll have a real chance. But we have to bring our A-game.”
Photo by Katerina Morgan