Polo for dummies

Whether it’s to watch high-goal matches, the finest Argentine pesos can buy, or simply an attempt to live out the fantasy of pulling a player as you meander around the Champagne tent (that’s the “single” reason I came to Argentina back in October 1998, after all*), polo season is officially open and we need to make the most of it.

The Abierto, the most exciting polo tournament in the world for the outstanding level of play, its phenomenally good-looking players, fine brave ponies and wonderful stadium slap-bang in the middle of Buenos Aires (the only capital city in the universe, folks, to have one), began on Saturday.

Following on from the 118th Hurlingham Open two weeks ago, whose final saw the world’s best player Adolfo Cambiaso (10) and his team La Dolfina pip those handsome Pieres darlings from Ellerstina to the goal post 19-18, the 118th Open’s proceedings in Palermo began with a match between La Aguada, a team comprising various members of the Novillo Astrada family, and Pilará, led by nine-goal player Hilario Ulloa and England captain Luke Tomlinson (8).

Eight chukkas and a pending thunderstorm later, La Aguada, even though short of an injured Miguel Novillo Astrada (9), led Pilará by a few goals throughout. However, ahead of the rain chukka-ing it down, a small yet sadly not effective comeback from Pilará meant their loss wasn’t so great at 11-10.

I ended up sitting in the very cheapest of cheap seats (so cheap, they didn’t even have a cushion) that sticky Saturday afternoon, but next to a British lady whose daughter has a 6 handicap so she knows her stuff – and don’t let it be said that the extremely wealthy are so spoilt they can’t rough it with the likes of me and my freebie.

Eight teams are divided into the A and B groups in the Abierto and two matches were played over the weekend. Coming up next Saturday 26 November is a mixture of winners and losers and you can see more, not very clear, info here.

One little thing I already knew is that “(h)” after a player’s name indicates he is the hijo or son – think Gonzalo Pieres or Alberto Heguy – while my new friend explained that the bell at the end of each round or chukka gives the teams up to 30 additional seconds to score, unless the ball hits or leaves the boundary.

I was also pleased to see buckets of water being thrown over those weary ponies who were then walked in front of gigantic whirring fans. It was such a broodingly hot day, I kind of wished I was a pony too. (Note to readers. Sorrel is used to describe the colour of horses.)

And if I craned my neck left from the cheap seats I could see the pony board too, indicating which animal was coming on or off the pitch, which was pleasing to know they had the same recognition as their riders.

I’ll be missing the action this weekend but aim to be back meandering my way around the Champagne tent the first weekend of December, trying to put my original 1998 plan* into practice.

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