Competing passionately for the most prestigious title in American polo, Daily Racing Form advanced undefeated into the U.S. Open Polo Championship® Final alongside the seemingly indomitable Valiente on Sunday, April 22, at the International Polo Club Palm Beach in Wellington, Florida. Matching Valiente goal for goal, Daily Racing Form’s powerful offensive drives held a consistent one-goal lead throughout the second half, effectively derailing Valiente’s clean sweep of the Triple Crown of Polo™, to culminate the season in a 10-9 victory.
Daily Racing Form’s Jared Zenni on the ball, Valiente’s Tommy Beresford prepares for the backshot.
A battle between opposing 10-goalers in the first half, Hilario Ulloa held his own against the formidable duo of Adolfo Cambiaso and Facundo Pieres with aggressive, fast plays. At the two-minute mark Pieres devoured the field riding Corcha to claim the first goal of the game. Ulloa answered with a breakaway field goal despite Tommy Beresford’s attempt to hook. A neckshot pass from Cambiaso to Pieres for the score gave Valiente the lead 2-1 moving into chukker two. Charging from the north end to the south end, both teams struggled to increase their tallies as possession was stolen and goal shots were deflected. Finally, with just over three minutes remaining in the second, both teams picked up a penalty conversion. Immediately responding to Pieres’ Penalty 3, Ulloa made a strong break from the throw-in and propelled straight to goal to tie the game 3-all. Opening the third with back-to-back goals from Ulloa (riding flashy grey mare Future Lituania), Daily Racing Form increased their momentum with confident plays, benefitting from Valiente’s shots falling wide to end the half leading 5-4.
Anticipating a strong uprising from Valiente, Daily Racing Form played with relentless strength and well-executed team strategy in the second half. Each team adding one goal in the fourth, Daily Racing Form remained on top. The fifth began aggressively as both teams fought for possession. A backshot from Valiente mistakenly struck Ulloa in the face early in the chukker. The team captain was down for several minutes as fans and players worried he may be substituted. Ulloa persisted however, and despite a deep cut and bruise on the side of his right eye, he remounted homebred mare Lavinia Castellana to finish what his team had started. “I told them the next two minutes after Hilario had gotten hurt were the two most important minutes of the game,” said Julio Arellano, Daily Racing Form Coach. “I said, ‘you cannot let that team [Valiente] score two goals on you right now when you guys lose focus. These two minutes right now will determine whether or not you win the game.’”
Once play resumed, Valiente kept the game close, unwilling to let their opponents gain a significant advantage. Matching every goal in the fifth, after two field goals and a penalty conversion from each team the lead remained unchanged. For an unprecedented third chukker in a row Daily Racing Form maintained the advantage, the score standing at 9-8. Still anybody’s game, both teams made strategic offensive moves in the sixth, Mariano Obregon’s efforts to score narrowly missing the target twice. Completing a beautiful shot on goal from distance, Jared Zenni* sent the ball soaring through the air with only a few minutes left for Valiente to recover. A final Penalty 2 conversion by Pieres was not enough to shake DRF’s persistent lead, the 30-second horn signaling a new champion, with a final score 10-9.
Most Valuable Player: Jared Zenni, pictured with USPA Governor at Large Stephen Orthwein Jr. and USPA Global Licensing Chairman David Cummings.
Showcasing exceptional discipline and skill on defense, and securing two field goals for Daily Racing Form, Zenni was named Most Valuable Player. The first Team USPA member to garner a U.S. Open title the 22-year-old beamed, “for me it’s a dream come true, really surreal.” Best Playing Pony honors were presented to Milenaria, an 8-year-old dark bay Argentine mare trained by Javier Canton and owned and ridden by Mariano Obregon in the first and sixth chukkers. “It’s amazing, it’s the best prize you can get,” said Obregon. “I would rather have this than an MVP, because this is what you work for your whole life.”
Best Playing Pony: Milenaria, owned and ridden by Mariano Obregon, presented by USPA Governor at Large Maureen Brennan with USPA CEO Bob and Marci Puetz. Also pictured Javier Canton, Jose Torres and Marco Tulio Esquivel.
Fans are encouraged to relive the action of the 2018 U.S. Open Polo Championship® Final on Sunday, April 29 at 2:00pm ET on CBS Sports.
All photos ©David Lominska.