By Liz Leamy
Last Sunday’s rainy weather did anything but deter the magic and excitement of the East Coast Open at the Greenwich Polo Club, as more than 5,000 spectators convened at this famous outdoor sports venue to cheer on high-goal polo’s most decorated and renowned athletes, all of who have been facing off against one another there over the past few weeks in hopes of clinching top honors at this illustrious annual 20-goal tournament.
In signature fashion, this four-chukker exhibition match was all about the signature golden standard of the Greenwich Polo Club as Audi, based here in town, edged out La Fe of Wellington, Florida to wind up at the top of the leaderboard, 4-3.
On this drizzly but exciting afternoon, these two premier polo teams turned on the heat, facing off against one another in fierce and dramatic fashion, much to the delight of spectators and everyone else there.
Team Audi, whose roster featured Mariano Aguerre, the famous Argentinian Museum of Polo and Hall of Fame member and seven goaler; Pablo Llorente, the lightning-quick Argentinian six goaler; Peke Gonzalez, the stealth Argentinian six goaler and Chris Brant, its resolute A number-one player, worked in effective concert together to win the game.
At the same time, La Fe, the 2021 East Coast Open titlists, was also exceptional.
This contingent, whose roster consisted of Louis Devaleix, its powerhouse A-ranked patron; Francisco Elizalde, the turbo-charged Argentinian nine goaler; Lucas Diaz Alberdi, the firecracker Argentinian six goaler and Robi Bilbao, the Teflon-tough Argentinian five goaler, played right on point, flying around the field at high speeds and knocking in goals with aptitude, strength and command.
Devaleix, at the conclusion of the match, was named Most Valuable Player due to his terrific work out on the field.
“It was an honor to be named MVP,” said Devaleix. “It was a good day and we had fun.”
Collectively, these athletes, along with all of the other entrants competing in this historic tournament, comprise an extraordinary contingent who, along with their powerful equine counterparts, have reached the pinnacle of the sport based upon their remarkable talent, drive and skill.
It is also clear their primary goal in playing polo is to work hard and be their best, regardless of the challenges or circumstances, as evidenced on this rainy summer afternoon.
“This has been a great tournament so far,” said Mariano Aguerre, who, due to all his extraordinary accomplishments over the years, is listed as one of the top-10 most famous polo players in the world. “This tournament is the jewel of the season and it’s always incredible to play here.”
His talented teammate, Pablo Llorente, echoed similar sentiments.
“This is one of our most important tournaments and it’s amazing to be here,” said Llorente. “The club is great, the people are so nice and it’s awesome to play here.”
Later in the week, the winner of the Audi-La Fe semi final will compete against CK Shack, who qualified for the East Coast Open final after edging out Level Select CBD last Sunday in a semi-final showdown to decide the champion of the tournament.
“This has been a great tournament and it’s been incredible to be here. You see so many of the sport’s best players and horses,” said Marcelo Bianchi, the celebrated international Argentinian polo photographer whose work is world-renowned. “Everything here is so well organized and the fields are excellent.”
Certainly, the day seemed to be memorable for everyone on hand at the match, including the spectators, vendors, Greenwich Polo Club business partners, staff as well as so many others, especially considering the day marked the 21st year of the tragic 9/11 attacks and also the passing of Queen Elizabeth II just days prior.
“Today, despite the rain, it was such a well-played match and it means a great deal to be here honoring and remembering those [of] 9/11,” said Stephanie Dunn Ashley, a Greenwich resident who is the Chief Executive Officer of the American Red Cross New York North Chapter and the former 13-year Director of Special Events at Greenwich Hospital. “It is also a day to honor Queen Elizabeth II.”
By all accounts, it was certainly uplifting and invigorating to be at the Greenwich Polo Club with all of the excitement there abounding.
The energy of the match and the crowd who filled up the stands, stood and sat at the tents and were walking around the sidelines added another exciting made it another dynamic day, for certain.
“We’ve been very busy with customers all day,” said Michael Steinberg, owner and proprietor of the Greenwich Polo Club store, located on the ‘barn’ floor of the grandstand that has been a main crowd hotspot all summer. “Everyone is so nice and this is a spectacular venue.”
Throughout the afternoon, the grounds were teeming with people who were perusing and purchasing merchandise from the various vendors, including the Greenwich Polo Club store.
All the while, spectators could be seen enjoying cocktails and other refreshments, noshing on snacks, dining on the delicious fare of the popular asado and dancing to music provided by the dj after the match, among other things.
“The environment here is incredible. There’s always something fun and exciting happening,” said Steinberg, whose company, Trail Network, is based out of Port Chester, New York. “This is such a unique and interesting place and you always leave feeling energized and inspired.”
Pablo Calandroni, the esteemed Argentinian Asado grillmaster at the Greenwich Polo Club, concurred.
“Today was an amazing day,” said Calandroni, whose fare has become so popular with the Sunday Greenwich Polo Club crowd that the line for the asado has now reached more than 400 to 500 customers each week. “The goal is to do as best a job as possible so that everybody is happy.”
Certainly this goal seemed to be accomplished as everyone could be seen enjoying themselves and at the same time coming together as a community that boldly echoes the extraordinary spirit of the town.
“Everything here reflects the passion of the Greenwich community and this is a community that comes together,” said Stephanie Dunn Ashley, who lives in Greenwich with her husband, Gary, and their teenage twin daughters, Anneliese and Charlotte, and is also President of the Board of Directors for the Cos Cob Fire Police Patrol that provides support to the Town of Greenwich’s Fire Department. “This is such a wonderful place.”
Two more Sunday matches are scheduled at the Greenwich Polo Club this season on September 18th and September 25th.
For more information, please visit www.greenwichpoloclub.com