Darlene Ricker | 11/27/17

“That was pretty rough, probably one of the roughest games I ever played,” said Diego Cavanagh, with colorful bruises blooming on his face and arm after Sunday’s La 11-10 overtime victory for La Dolfina Polo Ranch over Cría Yatay in the Argentine Open.

For him to say that about a game, it had to have been nothing short of Armageddon. Cavanagh is a guy who has had to slug through some of the most intense and physically combative games ever, and rarely does he comment on that aspect of the sport.

“It was rough, but it was a game played by eight friends on the field. No one meant to hurt anyone,” he said. “We just wanted the win so bad. We knew we had to give everything, and Cría Yatay gave everything, too. They’re a tough team. So it was rough, but at the same time it was fair.”

Both teams’ hunger was evident from the start, to the surprise of some who thought the game “didn’t matter,” as both teams were already out of contention for the final. Wrong. It mattered big-time to La Dolfina Polo Ranch because a win would (and did) automatically qualify them for the 2018 Argentine Triple Crown. In fact, yesterday’s victory put them a very respectable fifth place in the ranking. Had they lost they would have had to keep chasing qualification in another game.

Although Cría Yatay had already qualified for 2018, they played as though everything was still on the line. The protracted, raucous game went on for two hours and 15 minutes of carnage (for the players, not the horses). Repeated swordfights at the sideboards, with clusters of players spinning like Dervishes while trying like crazy not to foul, resulted in a series of injury time-outs. The ambulance rolled onto and off the field repeatedly during the last three chukkers. Fortunately everyone went home in one piece, but every crash was scary to watch.

Tensions amped up in the second half, which opened 5-4 for La Dolfina Polo Ranch. In the fifth chukker the players started looking like a bunch of cowboys in the “wild, wild West” and triggered several fouls. Cría Yatay started to break LD Polo Ranch’s concentration, pulling ahead with three goals and holding their opponent scoreless all chukker.

Then all-out war erupted. Ignacio Laprida was seeing stars after a huge Cavanagh swing accidentally bashed the upper part of his helmet in a sixth-chukker melee (penalty awarded to La Dolfina Polo Ranch). Minutes afterward it looked like someone had hit the eject button on Guille Terrera’s saddle. A rock-hard bump/crash flung him to the ground like a ragdoll at the boards. His horse didn’t have much room to maneuver but tried to avoid connecting as she leaped over his body.

At the sideboards in the seventh chukker it was Cavanagh’s turn to be on the receiving end. In company so tight he could hear Valerio Zubiaurre gasp as Zubiaurre’s shot accidentally headed straight at him, Cavanagh took it in the face. Luckily he was wearing goggles. He yanked his helmet off and slid from the horse, blood trickling down the side of his nose.

The eighth chukker saw more of the same. Iñaki Laprida’s helmet took a hit from a ball flying from a backhand. Minutes later Cavanagh was seen on his knees, looking down at the ground and holding his arm. He was up for the very next play, tying the score at 10 halfway through the eighth. Then the ambulance rolled onto the field for Laprida, who had been injured again. This time it was his wrist.

A slew of players got all fired up while a foul call was being assessed in the eighth. With the clock at 5:47 (the clock counts from zero upward in Argentina, the opposite of in the United States), a crowd of players shrieked at each other and the umpire. No yellow card resulted then or at any other time in the game.

At the end of regulation time the score was still tied at 10. An overtime foul sent Cavanagh to the penalty line on “C03” (the third clone of Lapa). Cavanagh’s eyes were hard as bullets, his brow furrowed, as he looked repeatedly from the ball to the goalpost 60 yards away.

“I was focusing because I had missed three 60s, and I didn’t want this to be the fourth. I was concentrating on why I missed the three and how to not do it again,” he said. “I’ve been practicing my penalties a lot, and I didn’t want to make the same mistake I did before. I kept thinking about my swing, and right before I made it, I wished that the ball would go through. Thank God it did. We were lucky.”

Photos by Katerina Morgan