White Birch and Black Hound DE charge ahead to final round of 2020 East Coast Open
By: Liz Leamy
This past month has certainly been a golden time at the Greenwich Polo Club as many of high-goal polo’s most decorated players and ponies have convened at this storied town-based venue to battle it out against one another in hopes of clinching the coveted 2020 East Coast Open Championship title, regarded to be one of the most prestigious and celebrated marks of distinction of the sport.
Over the past several weeks, the GPC has provided an ideal stage for this famous and historic sports tournament, as five formidable 20-goal teams hailing from all over the Eastern United States, have gone head to head against one another in a dramatic series of playoff matches in their quest to clinch the famous Perry Cup, a classic trophy designed by Oscar L. Lenz with the silversmith being the Rhode Island-based Gorham Manufacturing Company.
As this tournament begins to wrap up, the two top teams left standing who victoriously made it to the final round include White Birch, the powerhouse Greenwich-based troupe that triumphantly clinched the East Coast Open title in 2016 and Black Hound DE, the fierce New York City area-based contingent that has made an indelible mark in this tournament.
These two Teflon-tough teams are slated to go up against one another at the GPC on Tuesday, September 15th and ought to stage a final that should be one for the books, considering the astonishing experience, talent and skill of the players and ponies as a whole.
Collectively, White Birch and Black Hound DE feature some of the most famous masters of the sport, as well as polo’s rising stars, renowned rock-solid players and most beautiful and powerful horses around.
This, coupled with the fact that this much-anticipated showdown will be held at the GPC, one of the most beatific and renowned polo venues in the sport, makes this a win-win for all parties involved, including the town of Greenwich, a place known to be a crown jewel of the New England and the New York metropolitan areas due to its staggering beauty, history and energy.
“Some of the best players in the country and also the world, along with their exquisite equine athletes are here playing at this tournament and it’s incredible,” said Ellie Briana Molyneux, a proprietor of Vakiano, renowned Argentine craft providers and cultivators who is an accomplished polo player from the New York area. “I’m so grateful this opportunity has been made possible by the [Greenwich Polo Club], which is the perfect home base for this event. This is one of very few places that can host a tournament of this level and it’s very exciting.”
The first semi final, played on the expansive main field situated in the center of the classic wooden GPC grandstand with its tents and tables on the sidelines, featured White Birch and Altaris, another formidable Greenwich-based team, in a high-octane faceoff with the former prevailing over the latter, 12-10.
This scorcher of a showdown was all about speed, skill and lightning-quick ball maneuvering as White Birch, whose roster included Christopher Brant, its patron and number one player, Peke Gonzalez and Pablo Llorente, the powerful Argentinian six goalers and Mariano Aguerre, the famous Argentinian eight goaler regarded to be one of the greatest players ever of the sport and star WB player who has wowed the crowd for many years, turned on the heat.
Certainly, the presence and star power of Aguerre was palpable as he flew around the field in his usual high-octane fashion, demonstrating why he has achieved so much success throughout his career, which includes having been inducted into the Museum of Polo Hall of Fame in 2017.
“I’m excited to watch Mariano (Aguerre). He’s a fantastic athlete and embodies everything a true athlete is all about,” said Frank Boccanfuso, whose reputable high goal team, Phoenix, was part of the GPC high-goal roster for several years. “He is at a level above even being a great polo player and does a lot more than hit the ball. He does all the things many might not know or necessarily see. He is an incredible strategist who sets up the game for others so they have an opportunity to win, scores when he needs to and delivers when it’s real high-pressure go time.”
For Aguerre, it is always a privilege to have the opportunity to play polo, something he has said he loves doing more than anything. “It was great to be out there today and it was good game,” said Aguerre. “I think we’re all very fortunate to do what we love and I’m looking forward to the final.” Aguerre, along with his colleagues, Gonzalez (whose father, Mario, is a decorated six-goaler and has been a marquis GPC player for years and whose stunning charge, Ramona, was named Best Playing Pony of this match), along with Llorente and Brant, seemed to work gracefully and powerfully with one another, with props for this dynamic being given to their dedicated team patron.
“I like watching Chris Brant out there,” said Boccanfuso, who lives in the Greenwich area. “He’s a quiet gentleman who is focused and driven and he leads the team well.” Altaris, meanwhile, played at full throttle and put up an incredible fight against its opponent through to the end of the final (sixth) chukker.
The Altaris roster featured Kris Kampsen, the mighty six goaler from Wellington who has been a popular player at the GPC for several seasons now; Joaquin Panelo, the solid Argentinian six goaler, Lerin Zubiaurre, the dynamic Argentinian eight goaler named Most Valuable Player of the match and Jamal Nusseibeh, the troupe’s mercurial patron.“We knew going in that White Birch was a very tough team and this was an intense match,” said Kampsen. “They had some great plays today.”
The second semi-final, held at the Peter J. Orthwein field next to the main GPC polo playing ground, was as thrilling at the first one, with Black Hound DE thundering past Gardenvale 13-11.
Black Hound DE, whose roster featured Will Tomita, its ever-steady number one player; Toro Ruiz, the up and coming Argentinian seven-goal polo star; Matias Magrini, the renowned Argentinian seven goaler who, like Aguerre, has been a star attraction at the GPC for many years; and Lucas Diaz Alberdi, the steadfast and quick Argentinian six goaler, played with a high-adrenaline style that put them at the top of the leaderboard, something they seemed delighted about.
“I’m very excited,” said Alberdi, who has been a marquis player at the GPC for several seasons. “It was a good match and I’m really looking forward to playing in the final. I love playing here. The fields are amazing and the people are great.” His teammates agreed. “It was a good game,” said Magrini, who has been a big draw for the GPC over the years. “I can’t wait to play in the final.”
Ruiz, Magrini’s talented 22 year-old nephew known for his astonishing athletic excellence, shared similar sentiments. “It’s always great to play here and it’s very nice to come back,” said Ruiz, who is a big GPC crowd favorite. “It was fun being out there today with the whole team and I can’t wait to get out there again to play in the final.”
Without a doubt, the powerful bond among this close-knit crew was both infectious and heartwarming as they could be seen hugging and giving one another words of congratulations after the match.
Gardenvale, a formidable force throughout this tournament, put up a fierce fight against Black Hound DE throughout this match, leading in points against them through the majority of the first half.
Gardenvale’s roster featured Shane Finemore, its ever-steady patron, Felipe Viana and Pedro Falabella, the two exceptional Argentinian six goalers and Christian (Magoo) Laprida, the esteemed Argentinian eight goaler.
*There will be one more public match to be held at the GPC on September 20th.
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