By Liz Leamy
Work to Ride/Los Machitos Polo, the formidable and much-buzzed-about high-goal team, edged out Phoenix, 8-7, two weeks ago to win the coveted Silver Cup, the oldest playing tournament trophy of the U.S. Polo Association.
Playing in front of a sold-out crowd at the Greenwich Polo Club that totaled nearly 4,000 spectators, Work to Ride/Los Machitos Polo flew around the massive Conyers Farm field (said to be the size of nine football fields) on ponies at speeds of up to 35 miles an hour, putting up sufficient numbers to take the Silver Cup. The cup was presented to them by Peter Brant, the White Birch patron and GPC founder.
“We were up against a really good team, and it was an even game all the way through,” said Joseph Manheim, the high-energy patron of Work to Ride/Los Machitos Polo. “It felt really good to be out there as a team and I think we played well.”
Manheim and his cohorts, Mariano Aguerre, the decorated Argentinian U.S. Polo Museum Hall of Fame member and veteran White Birch nine-goaler who has been wowing crowds at the GPC since the late 1980s, Mariano Gonzalez, the rock-solid Argentinian seven-goaler, and Nick Manifold, the dependable Australian four-goaler, maneuvered around the field with great skill, keeping their eyes focused on the celebrated 20-goal Silver Cup prize.
Throughout the match, the four-member team performed with the precision of a finely tuned machine as Aguerre, in customary style, led the brigade, scoring five of his team’s eight goals, including the winning point during the final (sixth) chukker. (Aguerre’s stealth charge, Machitos Melody, was named the Best Playing Pony at the conclusion of the match.)
Work to Ride/Los Machitos Polo’s results were especially impressive considering the fact that Phoenix had kicked off the game with a two-point handicap advantage.
From the outset, it was clear that this brigade, whose players included Matias Magrini, the esteemed Argentinian eight-goaler and Toro Ruiz, the rising-star five-goaler, who was named the Most Valuable Player, were on a mission as they put up a serious fight against Work to Ride/Los Machitos Polo until the very end.
For athletes on both teams, however, it was all about playing at their optimal level.
“It was great to play out there today and it was a good match. In the second half, especially, I think we capitalized on every chance we had,” said Mariano Gonzalez of Work to Ride/Los Machitos. “The field was excellent, as was everything else here.”
According to Gonzalez, the Greenwich Polo Club has earned its status as a summer high-goal capital of the sport due because it is first-rate on so many levels.
“Playing here is great. The organization, club, players and venue are the best around,” said Gonzalez. “I think being here is similar to a [professional] tennis player competing at Wimbledon or at the U.S. Open.”
Over the years, the GPC has earned worldwide and national acclaim for the superior standard of its players, ponies, venue, officials and management, much largely the result of Brant’s care and effort since he founded the club in 1981.
“As a player, it is important to compete at a top level and that is how it is here,” said Gonzalez after the awards ceremony, as he stood alongside his lovely wife, Bridget, and their three children. “This club and organization is outstanding in every way.”
Meanwhile, the GPC field is said to be one of the best around, which has also been another key component in the club’s monumental success.
The GPC grounds are always well manicured, cut short, and extremely solid and level, which makes it an ideal game and training site for players and ponies. (The stability of the grounds is especially important for the ponies, whose role is said to affect 80 percent of the match, say polo experts.)
GPC has become known as such a main high-goal hotspot, not only with the U.S. and international polo community, but also with its fans, most of who travel from all over the New York metropolitan region to attend matches.
On any given Sunday during the summer months, the GPC is teeming with spectators sitting along the sidelines on blankets or in the grandstand, attending a luncheon or benefit underneath one of two gigantic white tents at either end of the field, or just enjoying themselves walking around the gorgeous grounds. (This season, there are additional tents that have been set up on the opposite side of the venue to provide more seating options.)
At the same time, the lineup of gourmet food trucks situated behind the grandstand is always be busy, as is the outdoor bar and wide variety of retail vendors located between the grandstand and tents.
“This is a fantastic sport to watch and this is a wonderful way for everyone to come together,” said Elizabeth Keatinge of New York City, who has been attending matches at the GPC since last summer. “Here, you get to see [world-class] polo and are also able to enjoy the beauty of the town of Greenwich.”
This seemed to be the case for practically everyone on hand at this match, especially those who had not visited the GPC for quite some time.
“This is my first time back here in 10 years and it’s been incredible,” said Jen Young of Greenwich, who was there with her friends and family. “It’s exciting, it’s fun and everyone is happy to be here, especially the kids, who love running around and watching the horses and players.”
“We’re so glad we made it here,” said Fanny and Sarah Campeau of Montreal, Canada. “The weather has been amazing and the quality of the game here is incredible.”