Competing for the most prestigious trophy in North American history, four elite teams qualified to advance to Wednesday’s U.S. Open Polo Championship® Semifinal doubleheader on April 18, at the International Polo Club Palm Beach in Wellington, Florida. Shutting out U.S. Polo Assn. almost entirely in the first half, Daily Racing Form (DRF) played strong offensively to win 11-8.
Similarly in the second game, Valiente was able to capitalize on every Flexjet mistake to pick up yet another impressive victory 17-9. U.S. Open rookies Daily Racing Form will oppose defending champions Valiente in the final this Sunday, April 22, at 3:00pm ET in an attempt to usurp the coveted title.
Daily Racing Form’s Offensive Power Lands First Semifinal Spot
Rising undefeated to the top of Bracket I, Daily Racing Form bypassed the mini quarterfinals to challenge U.S. Polo Assn. in the first U.S. Open Semifinal of the day. Controlling the game from the onset, Daily Racing Form’s rapid fire allowed them to maintain a commanding lead, securing both the win and a place in the final 11-8.
Accumulating goals at a blistering rate throughout the first half, Daily Racing Form’s strong offensive drives and accurate shots on goal created a substantial disparity for U.S. Polo Assn. to overcome. Striking first from the field, Hilario Ulloa immediately gained possession and galloped straight to goal, setting the tone early. “We had a nice week, we played some good practices, watched lots of videos, we wanted to be really focused and I think that’s what we did in the first three chukkers,” said Ulloa.
“We had an amazing attitude, we were really good with the man and defense. The guy who had the ball had plenty of time and we used all our teammates really well to pass the ball. That’s what we did amazing in the beginning…the first half gave us a good advantage.”
Playing clean, fast polo, Daily Racing Form picked up two consecutive goals off the mallet of Mariano Obregon, one a powerful neckshot to end the first chukker. Still scoreless and down by three, U.S. Polo Assn. were unable to capitalize on any favorable opportunities.
Daily Racing Form dominating headed into the third 6-0, U.S. Polo Assn. were finally able to add a tally to the board in the form of a Penalty 1. As both teams fought passionately, play in the third became choppy with recurring penalties, but DRF managed two last field goals to end the half with a comfortable 8-1 lead.
“Our idea in the first half was to try and move the ball as fast as possible,” said Jared Zenni*. “As soon as we pass the ball one shuts down and moves it, they then get set and hit, it so we did that really well the first half.”
Outscoring DRF each chukker in the second half, U.S. Polo Assn. utilized Juan Martin Nero’s accuracy from the penalty line to shrink the gap in the fourth. Nailing a Penalty 3, Penalty 4 and Penalty 6 (Safety), Nero was answered by a single goal from Mariano Obregon, who also scored from the penalty line. As competition intensified in the fifth, Jared Zenni exhibited tremendous skill and agility, stealing the ball from Nero to gain his third field goal of the day.
Trading goals twice, U.S. Polo Assn. zeroed in on their opponents and played their strongest chukker yet, adding three field goals to their tally. Entering the sixth 11-7 still in favor of DRF, U.S. Polo Assn. had to make some calculated plays to recover from the early offensive onslaught they sustained.
Shutting out DRF in the final chukker, U.S. Polo Assn. picked up one last goal, but the initial lead proved too sizable to overcome. Claiming their third victory of the tournament in their inaugural Open appearance, Daily Racing Form earned the win 11-8 and a chance to upset defending champions Valiente in the final.
Following the game Ulloa shared, “I have to thank our coach Julio Arellano, he’s been a great help for us finding the best way to play. The idea is that we are a four-man team, we can pass the ball we can score and that was the game plan today. Augustin did an amazing job with Juan Martin, Mariano with Negro and that gave me plenty of time with the ball. That’s what we try to do give our teammates the confidence that they are able to do anything on the field.”
Valiente Barrels Ahead in Pursuit of the Triple Crown of Polo™
Indomitable in bracket play, Valiente was the first to qualify for the semifinals, their swift victories fueled by an ultimate goal of winning the third leg of the Triple Crown of Polo™. Seizing goal after goal, eleven from Facundo Pieres, Valiente breezed by their competitors to secure the second position in the final 17-9.
Exhibiting consummate precision and expertise, Valiente immediately took control of the field, completing passes and finishing broken plays. Playing their characteristic open style polo, within minutes, Valiente accumulated four field goals to Flexjet’s one.
Responding early in the second, Nico Pieres created space and hammered the ball between Valiente’s goal posts. Making one costly mistake after another, Flexjet surrendered six penalty shot opportunities to Valiente, four of which Facundo Pieres converted. Valiente’s powerful defense in the third shut Flexjet out completely to end the half 10-2, Valiente running away with the lead.
“As many games as well play together we are going to make better plays,” said Cambiaso “I think the first two chukkers we played amazing and we were better with the ball, Facundo didn’t miss a penalty, we made long and short plays and that’s the way we should play the final.”
Although ahead by eight goals starting off the fourth, Valiente was relentless, Bob Jornayvaz aggressively blocking Rodrigo De Andrade so Facundo Pieres could move the ball to goal. Bookended by two Facundo Pieres field goals, retaliating with renewed strength against his older brother, Nico Pieres demonstrated his skills from the penalty line, crushing three consecutive penalty conversions for Flexjet.
Flexjet’s advances began to dissipate in the fifth chukker when a single field goal from Gonzalito Pieres was matched by five additional goals for Valiente, ending the chukker with a seemingly insurmountable differential of 17-6. Giving their best effort in the sixth, Flexjet played their strongest offensive chukker with De Andrade leading the charge. Following a rolling shot towards goal by teammate Gonzalito Pieres, De Andrade finished it off and picked up two additional from the field to boost Flexjet’s tally by the 30-second horn. Although scoreless in the final chukker, Valiente rode away with a decisive win 17-9, one step closer reclaiming their title.
Tommy Beresford was pleased with the day’s outcome, “I’m extremely happy to be in this position. I think it’s definitely easier once we got to know each other, Adolfo and Facundo have been playing unbelievably. I think today was Bob’s best game, he was extremely focused on going to the man and I waited in the back to pick up any loose pieces. Those guys are amazing in the front luckily I didn’t have to do too much.”
Daily Racing Form will rival Valiente on Sunday, April 22, at 3:00pm ET to decide the winner of the 2018 U.S. Open Polo Championship®. The USPA Polo Network will livestream the Final beginning at 2:30pm ET with an exclusive pre-game show. The final will also be broadcast on CBS Sunday, April 29, at 2:00pm ET. For those interested in attending the game at the International Polo Club Palm Beach in person, please visit ipc.coth.com.
*Jared Zenni is a member of Team USPA. Team USPA is a USPA program designed to enhance and grow the sport of polo in the United States by identifying young, talented American players and providing mentored training and playing opportunities leading to a pool of higher rated amateur and pro players and the resultant giveback to the sport of polo
About the United States Polo Association®
The U.S. Polo Association (USPA) was organized and exists for the purposes of promoting the game of polo, coordinating the activities of its Member Clubs and Registered Players, arranging and supervising polo tournaments, competitions, and games, and providing rules, handicaps, and conditions for those tournaments, competitions, and games including the safety and welfare of participants and mounts.
Founded in 1890, the United States Polo Association (USPA) is the national governing body for the sport of polo. USPA is currently comprised of almost 300 member clubs with thousands of individual members, and oversees 40 national tournaments. For more information, please visit uspolo.org.
About the International Polo Club Palm Beach
The International Polo Club Palm Beach (IPC) is the premier polo destination in the world, hosting the largest field of high-goal teams and the most prestigious polo tournaments in the United States. Polo enthusiasts descend upon Wellington, FL each winter season to enjoy their love of the sport at the most prominent polo facility in the country. The 2018 Palm Beach Polo Season opens Sunday, December 31, and concludes 17 weeks later with the USPA 114th U.S. Open Polo Championship® Final on Sunday, April 22. Polo matches are open to the public, with a wide range of hospitality and guest seating that includes elegant grandstand viewing, field tailgating, stadium seating, field-side champagne brunch at The Pavilion, and exclusive sponsor boxes. See more at www.internationalpoloclub.com.