By Alex Webbe
Coca-Cola (Gillian Johnston, Julian de Lusarreta, Julio Arellano and Miguel Astrada) made a go of it in the final of the 2017 USPA Gold Cup Sunday afternoon at the International Polo Club, leading Valiente (Bob Jornayvaz, Matias Torres Zavaleta, Diego Cavanagh and Adolfo Cambiaso) for the first four chukkers of play before losing by three goals, 9-6.
Coca-Cola put up two quick goals in the opening chukker with Negro de Lusarreta scoring the first goal from the field and teammate Julio Arellano converting a 60-yard safety to make it 2-0. Adolfo Cambiaso scored Valiente’s only goal of the chukker, but trailed by the score of 2-1.
The Coca-Cola defense continued to hold in the second period as Gillian Johnston and de Lusarreta added single goals. Valiente was held scoreless and fell behind by three goals, 4-1.
Both defenses tightened in the third, and the only goals scored in the chukker came from the penalty line. Diego Cavanagh converted penalty shots from the 40 and 30-yard marks while Coca-Cola managed just s singe penalty goal from Miguel Astrada from 30-yards out. At the end of the first half, Coca-Cola continued to lead, 5-3.
Cambiaso cut the Coca-Cola lead to a single goal with the opening goal of the second half, 5-4. Astrada responded with his second goal of the game that gave Coca Cola a 6-4 edge. A penalty by Coca-Cola proved costly as Cavanagh converted a shot from 30-yards out, but the lead remained with Coca-Cola, 6-5.
The Valiente defense solidified in the fifth. Shutout defense was complimented by three goals from Cavanagh (two on penalty shots). With one period remaining to be played, Valiente held a two-goal lead, 8-6.
Coca-Cola attempted to rally in the sixth with the legendary Memo Gracida coaching them from the end of the field. The Valiente defense held, and for the second consecutive chukker, Coca-Cola was unable to score. Marias Torres Zavaleta scored the final goal of the game in a 9-6 Valiente victory.
Cavanagh scored five of his game-high six goals on penalty conversions. Cambiaso added two goals and Zavaleta scored once for the win. Astrada and de Lusarreta scored two goals apiece for Coca-Cola. Johnston and Arellano were each credited with a goal in the loss.
Argentine 10-goaler Adolfo Cambiaso was named MVP while the 13-year-old California-bred Bay gelding, Chocolate, earned Best Playing Pony honors. Chocolate is owned by J5 Equestrian and was played by Cambiaso.
As any veteran polo player will tell you, the horse is 80% of the game, and in the final chukkers of Sunday’s final, the Valiente stables proved them right. No newcomer to the game, in 2003 Chocolate was awarded the Susan Townley Cup and recognized as the best playing pony of the Argentine Open. In 2015 he became the first American -bred horse to be honored by the Argentine Polo Breeders Association was honored as the Best Playing American-bred pony of the Argentine Open.
The victory keeps Valiente on track for a Triple Crown sweep with only the United States Open Championship standing in their way. The first and only time a team won the American Triple Crown of polo was on 2010, when an Adolfo Cambiaso Crab Orchard team accomplished the feat.
Photos by Alex Pacheco