Held over two days due to a rain postponement, the finale of the U.S. Open Polo Championship featured a clash between Park Place (Andrey Borodin, Juan Britos, Hilario Ulloa and Jason Wates) and Valiente (Bob Jornayvaz, Mariano “Peke” Gonzalez, Adolfo Cambiaso, Agustin Nero and Rufino Merlos) battling for American polo’s most coveted title.
Gathering under stormy skies on Sunday, April 23 at the National Polo Center-Wellington, a sold-out stadium at U.S. Polo Assn. Field One celebrated the apex of the high-goal season. Unfortunately, what started as a light drizzle quickly turned to a deluge, forcing the suspension of play at the end the first half.
Resuming action on Monday, April 24 on the Isla Carroll East field, a riveting and high-scoring contest ultimately came down to the power and athleticism of the two 10-goalers, with Ulloa placing a meticulous hook on Cambiaso at the goal line in the final seconds of play to protect Park Place’s lead and deliver the team’s first U.S. Open Polo Championship title 12-11, along with $100,000 in prize money.
Undefeated in bracket play, Park Place and Valiente faced two different paths leading up to the final match. Falling to Pilot in the semifinals of the previous tournament, the USPA Gold Cup, Park Place advanced to the U.S. Open final after an 11-8 semifinal victory over MAG. Park Place has consistently maintained contender status.
“We lost in the final of the U.S. Open two years ago, and we lost in the final of the USPA Gold Cup last year,” Britos said. “We’re always there fighting in the semifinals and finals and close to winning, but we were killing to win one of the big ones.”
Led offensively by 10-goaler Ulloa with three U.S. Open titles to his name (2010, 2014 and 2018), Park Place’s sharpshooting captain took to the field ranked third in scoring with 84 goals in the Gauntlet series, trailing only Facundo Pieres and Francisco Elizalde.
Valiente made a triumphant return to the high-goal season for the first time since capturing their second U.S. Open title in 2017. Making their Gauntlet debut, Valiente kicked off the 22-goal season securing the C.V. Whitney Cup 10-9 over Pilot. Blazing their way into the U.S. Open semifinals rematch versus Pilot, an unfortunate injury sustained by Lucas Criado Jr. at the end of the second chukker sidelined him for the remainder of the season, with Nero and Merlos entering as substitutes. Despite a commanding five-goal performance from Facundo Pieres, Valiente ultimately stood tall in the face of adversity to claim the 11-9 victory.
Feeding the ball to Ulloa early and often resulted in back-to-back goals for Park Place to open the final match. Largely reliant on Criado Jr. throughout the season to make the majority of Valiente’s penalty goals, Cambiaso took the lead and struck from distance on a successful Penalty 4. Dampening Park Place’s offense on the field, Valiente managed to hold Ulloa to just two conversions, as a three-goal effort from the field tied the match 4-4. Outscoring Park Place for a second consecutive chukker, a drive from Cambiaso followed by Gonzalez’s first penalty conversion lifted Valiente to a 6-5 lead at the half.
Faced with a storm growing in ferocity drenching the field, the game was officially postponed due to weather conditions, halting both teams in their tracks overnight.
Utilizing the time to their advantage, Park Place began to strategize and adjust to Valiente’s new roster.
“Today, thankfully, we knew who we were playing against, so last night we were having a team meeting and really put a strong plan together. The biggest takeaway from the meeting was attitude,” Wates said. “No matter what we do, we do with attitude and confidence. I think that got us the win today.”
With the sidelines packed with eager fans, the green light was finally given for a 1:15 p.m. start.
Determined to declare a victor despite the weather, both Ulloa and Cambiaso drove to the goal in the fifth, as Cambiaso racked up his third to give Valiente a 10-8 lead.
Finding openings on the field, Park Place evened the score once more in the sixth, but a determined Cambiaso took command in the final minutes of play to boost Valiente back on top. Answering for Park Place, Ulloa hit back-to-back goals to slingshot Park Place ahead with a narrow 12-11 advantage.
Left with just seconds on the clock, Cambiaso broke free from multiple defenders, sprinting to the goal, but the horsepower and precision of Ulloa allowed him to make the game-saving hook, as Britos finished the play on a brilliant backshot. Working in tandem to shut down one of the great polo talents of the era, Park Place survived Cambiaso’s final push in the remaining seconds to claim the U.S. Open Polo Championship, 12-11.
Leading Park Place with a spectacular 10-goal performance, the only Park Place player to get on the final scoreboard, Ulloa was named Most Valuable Player.
Receiving a $1,500 travel credit courtesy of Fly Polo, Ulloa playfully joked that he would use his MVP award to change his airline ticket due to the postponement. Reflecting on the good luck bad weather had given him in previous victories, Ulloa said, “I won three U.S Opens in the rain. With Crab Orchard it rained, with Daily Racing Form it rained and this one.”
Britos credited the Park Place organization for its tireless dedication. “It has been a lot of years with Andrey leading this whole operation with horses, the team, grooms, vets and trainers,” he said. “It’s a lot of people who have been fighting for this title, and after all these years it finally came. We’re very happy for Andrey and the whole team.”
The Willis Hartman U.S. Open Polo Championship Best Playing Pony and Best Argentine Bred were presented to Ulloa’s Latia Kavaska. A standout in the competition, Latia Kavaska was also the recipient of two other U.S. Open Polo Championship Best Playing Pony awards, the first in Game 12 against Aspen and the other in Park Place’s quarterfinal victory against La Elina.
A U.S. citizen, having spent more than half of his career in the states, Jamaican-born Wates honed his passion from a young age at the Kingston Polo Club. He had support from a large contingent of supporters, many of whom made the journey from the island and also Colorado to watch in person.
“The energy on the sidelines both days here in the rain, everyone still showed up,” he said. “People were supposed to leave this morning and changed flights to be here an extra day.”
Earning his U.S. Open title in his Gauntlet debut, Wates reflected on the process of becoming a champion.
“A lifetime of work has gone into getting me here, and winning the U.S. Open is the biggest thing you can win,” he said. “It makes all that work and time worth it. This season, the entirety of it, has meant so much, being a part of a great organization. Andrey has put together a great group of people, so being a part of that group for this whole season has been a pleasure.”
Borodin capped off the season riding the ultimate high. “It was a tough journey for several years to achieve this, and it means a lot,” he said. “Everyone gave everything they could, and the result is this.”