by Darlene Ricker
EFG Bank defeated Equus & Co. 11-9 in Saturday’s 2015 Nespresso 40-Goal Challenge at the International Polo Club Palm Beach on the Engel and Völkers field. The benefit event brought in nearly $350,000 for the Polo Players Support Group, which provides financial assistance to polo players and grooms with serious illnesses or injuries. Sapo Caset was named MVP, Polito Pieres won the long shot award and Juan Martin Nero’s third-chukker mount was named Best Playing Pony.
The pre-game exhibition, Bright’s Creek Future 10’s, featured players 10 to 14 years old in a level of play that was astounding. Many players hailed from generations of polo greats, among them Adolfo Cambiaso Jr. and Mia Cambiaso (Adolfo Cambiaso’s children); Mia Novillo Astrada (Miguel Novillo Astrada’s daughter), and Lucas Criado Jr. (Lucas Criado’s son).
Nespresso 40-Goal Challenge:
EFG Bank (+38)
Hilario Ulloa (+9)
Polito Pieres (+9)
Juan Martin Nero (+10)
Sapo Caset (+10)
Equus & Co. (+38)
Facundo Pieres (+10)
Pelon Sterling (+10)
Gonzalito Pieres (+9)
Miguel Novillo Astrada (+9)
Bright’s Creek Future 10’s:
It’s a rare day in polo when all eight players score – and even more rare when everyone on the field is one of the top players in the world. The Nespresso 40-Goal Challenge featured the “Top Guns” of the sport, 9 and 10-goal players who made polo look like performance art. With smooth-as-silk play and some of the longest shots ever hit, it was a fast, wide open game that showcased the highest level of polo played anywhere in the world.
MVP Sapo Caset made the first goal of the day. Juan Martin Nero followed up with a huge hit from outside the 2-point line – with Polito Pieres running interference for him all the way – to bring the score to 3-0 for EFG Bank. On a sustained roll, Caset slapped in two more goals in the second chukker. Cousins Facundo Pieres and Polito Pieres, playing for opposing teams, each scored, ending the chukker 6-1, with EFG Bank still in the lead.
By the end of the first half, however, Equus & Co. had turned the tables. It added five points to the board in the third chukker, tying the game 6-all. Three of Equus’s points in the third came from Facundo Pieres, who made a field goal and a 2-pointer. His brother, Gonzalito Pieres, and Pelon Sterling each scored from the field.
EFG Bank, surprisingly scoreless in the third and fourth chukkers, lost its early lead. The only goals in the fourth were two slammed in by Gonzalito Pieres, bringing Equus & Co. into a two-point lead (8-6).
The fifth chukker was a reverse replay of the fourth. This time Equus & Co. was scoreless, allowing EFG Bank to rack up five points and regain the lead. Nero made a 2-pointer, with one from the field each by Caset and Hilario Ulloa (subbing for Adolfo Cambiaso).
The final chukker opened with EFG leading 11-8. EFG didn’t score again in the game, and a goal by Miguel Astrada tightened the gap to 11-9 at the final horn.
“The game was harder fought and faster paced than other exhibitions we have done,” said Dave Offen, president of the Polo Players Support Group. He added that he thought the players put in an extra effort because the game was played in honor of deceased polo greats Carlos Gracida and Javier Novillo Astrada.
Caset agreed. “It was harder this year than last year, and we ran a lot. The speed is much faster in a 40-goal game – it’s like playing the Campeonato Argentino Abierto de Polo (Argentine Polo Open Championship).”
Hilario Ulloa said he found it a real pleasure. “I’m not 10 goals yet,” he said. “And to be invited to play here is a lot of fun and a nice opportunity to play with these guys. It’s also nice to feel you’re helping someone by playing this exhibition.”
Polito Pieres said that in exhibition matches the players try to start out slowly and get more competitive as the game goes on. With humor, he added, “I was happy to win the long shot award because I wasn’t sure how long my shot was!” (Officials confirmed it was well over 100 yards.)
Hall of Famer Memo Gracida, who has been a supporter of the event every year, bowled in the ceremonial opening ball. “It was so great to see these players, who have such ability, playing for a great event,” he said. “It’s a sad moment for me because the game is in memory of my brother, Carlos, and Javier Novillo Astrada, but it’s a great tribute to the game and all the players. Everyone enjoyed it, the players and the spectators.”
Offen expressed his gratitude to the sponsors, the teams and the players (all of whom donated their time). In addition to title sponsor Nespresso, support was provided by sponsors Bright’s Creek (for the children’s game); Lucchese (best-playing pony award) and Grey Goose (long shot of the day award). The highlights of the silent auction were: an IPC membership; a Tread 1 Timepiece by Devon, and a day of fishing on the vessel “Miss Budweiser.”