You couldn’t call it a long-shot, but most people didn’t go out and bet the farm on Daily Racing Form-DRF Bets winning the 2017 U.S. Open Polo Championship®. Yet DRF did exactly that Sunday, shattering Valiente’s 17-game winning streak 10-9 on Engel & Volkers Field at International Polo Club Palm Beach.
It was a tense 42 minutes, every chukker ending with the score tied or just one goal apart. There were no yellow cards, but things did get a little wild in the last two chukkers. DRF captain Hilario Ulloa played to the final bell despite a gaping gash around his eye (thank goodness for goggles) that he got in the fifth. With Ulloa lying on the ground, Adolfo Cambiaso jumped off his horse—which was still in motion—and ran to him. After medical treatment Ulloa (who had already scored five field goals) played through the pain.
Ulloa’s teammates stepped up, each of them scoring in the fifth or sixth chukker. Patron Jared Zenni came through with two field goals, the second of which on a stunningly precise shot from 40 yards. With Valiente determined to push the game into overtime, Facundo Pieres capitalized on a DRF foul. That narrowed the gap to one, but then time ran out.
Even the silky skills of Cambiaso and Pieres, who collectively made all but one of Valiente’s nine goals, couldn’t overcome the swarm strategy of Daily Racing Form. DRF always had players marking Cambiaso and Pieres, even while making their own attacks, clearly cognizant that the 20-goal pair can quickly counter-attack. Zenni and Agustín Obregon were primarily tasked with containing “Cambieres,” allowing Ulloa and Mariano Obregon to jump in when needed.
Not only did Daily Racing Form mark the ball, but they were also consummate at marking the second player who would either come in for a lay-off or was blocking in front and would release. That left Cambiaso and Pieres to attempt solo efforts under pressure. Often Ulloa or Mariano Obregon slipped in as a second defender to attempt a steal or further pressure the ball. This neutralized Valiente’s usual potent counter-attack. That was key because Pieres and Cambiaso are so skilled at hitting backhands to begin attacks and find each other to start a run, which DRF thwarted. Even on the set plays a player would rush forward to pressure, laser-focused on limiting the time and space of both 10-goalers.
Aggressive in pressuring the ball and making life as difficult as possible for Pieres and Cambiaso, 22-year-old Zenni was like a pesky little brother as he put forth a stone-strong defensive game. Zenni played with a confidence above that of a 5-goaler. He carried on like a seasoned player on and kept his mistakes to a minimum, hitting strong and consistent back shots to turn the play around. When he did have possession, he was composed and hit excellent passes into space that Ulloa or the Obregons could run onto and begin the DRF attack. Some of those passes directly led to goals, which was key to the outcome of the game. Zenni’s final goal sealed the win for DRF and contributed to his selection as MVP.
KEY STATS: JARED ZENNI (MVP)
US OPEN - TOURNAMENT TOTALS
- 83% shooting from the field (tied for 1st with Adolfo Cambiaso)
- 1.3 goals per game
- 2.0 throw-ins per game
US OPEN - FINAL
- 2/3 shooting from the field
- 3 throw-in wins
- 20 games (13 wins)
- 1.9 goals per game
- 69% shooting from the field
- 2.1 throw-in wins per game
Article by Darlene Ricker
Photography: Liz Lamont Images