La Dolfina Ends Valiente Gauntlet Bid With USPA Gold Cup Victory

Gold Cup Champions Tomas Panelo, Poroto Cambiaso, Rufino Merlos and Jeff Hildebrand of La Dolfina with USPA Chairman Stewart Armstrong. Photo by David Lominska

Celebrating 50 years of competition in the USPA Gold Cup, a rematch between Valiente (Bob Jornayvaz, Mariano “Peke” Gonzalez Jr., Paco de Narvaez Jr. and Adolfo Cambiaso) and La Dolfina (Jeff Hildebrand, Rufino Merlos, Poroto Cambiaso and Tomas Panelo) featured the two Gauntlet of Polo heavyweights meeting for a second consecutive finale Sunday, March 24 at the National Polo Center-Wellington.

Defending USPA Gold Cup champions Poroto Cambiaso and Panelo led La Dolfina alongside team sponsor Hildebrand and 16-year-old Merlos. Confident and assertive from the first throw-in, La Dolfina established a lead and did not relinquish it. Their impressive display of determination clinched the renowned organization’s first title on American soil and $50,000 in prize money.

Each entered the semifinals carrying a 3-1 record. Valiente and La Dolfina swapped C.V. Whitney Cup semifinal opponents, with Valiente defeating Coca-Cola and La Dolfina earning the victory over Park Place.

“We lost the first game of the Gold Cup against Tamera, and that made us wake up and put pressure on ourselves,” Panelo said.

Aware of the deep rosters vying for a spot in the finale, Panelo added, “The truth is, we had five finals before this one because we needed to win every game. I think that was a good thing for us. We knew we didn’t have another chance of winning.”

Following a stinging loss to Valiente in the C.V. Whitney Cup final, Panelo and his teammates were hungry for redemption. “Today we had much more pressure than the final before because they already beat us once,” Panelo said. “We couldn’t lose twice in a row — it would’ve been terrible.”

Setting the tone for a close match with plenty of end-to-end plays, both teams had ample opportunities in the early stages of the contest. Establishing Valiente on the scoreboard first, a Penalty 2 from de Narvaez was answered by Panelo from the field, followed by a Penalty 4 off the mallet of Poroto Cambiaso to give La Dolfina a 2-1 edge. Panelo scored the lone goal from either side in the second chukker.

Following Poroto Cambiaso’s first field goal of the day, Valiente responded and settled into an offensive rhythm. Finding the posts and working through traffic, Adolfo Cambiaso struck twice, with Valiente tying the match 4-4. Breaking the brief stalemate, Merlos took advantage of a broken play in the final moments of the half to lift La Dolfina back on top 5-4 at the horn.

Entering the second half under darkening skies, rain began to shower the competitors as play resumed. Undeterred by the sudden change in weather, La Dolfina utilized the fourth chukker to separate from their opponents. Leading the charge, Panelo contributed three goals, including two conversions, as Poroto Cambiaso found success from the field. Holding Valiente to just two goals, La Dolfina catapulted to a 10-6 lead.

The rain subsiding, Valiente faced another collective challenge — a series of yellow cards sending Adolfo Cambiaso to the penalty box. Short-handed without their 10-goal leader for a crucial four minutes, Valiente dug their heels in defensively to successfully keep La Dolfina off the scoreboard. Cambiaso re-entered the match with a charge, as back-to-back goals from Valiente kept them in contention, trailing by just two.

Utilizing the combination of skill and grit displayed by La Dolfina throughout the match, Poroto Cambiaso and Panelo dug in to combine for an imperative two-goal run. Trailing by four in the final moments of the game, Adolfo Cambiaso attempted to ignite a final Valiente comeback, but La Dolfina ultimately went the distance to earn the 12-9 triumph.

Leading La Dolfina with six goals in the final, Tomas Panelo was named Most Valuable Player, presented by BTG Pactual. “I think today we played better, we defended really well,” Panelo said. “It was, of course, always a difficult game against Valiente.”

Elated and appreciative, Panelo added, “Let me thank all the grooms from the organizations, from their team, ours, we all work together at Valiente — it’s an amazing place. The horses, the veterinarian, the farrier, the managers, the trainers — they do an amazing job.”

Best Playing Pony presented by Palm Beach Equine was awarded to Antu Walung Rumba, a 10-year-old mare played by Paco de Narvaez Jr. in the fifth chukker.

In partnership with U.S. Polo Assn. Global Licensing, both finalists selected a charity of their choice to receive a $2,500 donation. La Dolfina contributed to Polo for Life, while Valiente selected the Work to Ride program.

Expressing his thoughts on besting his father, Poroto Cambiaso said, “I think he’ll be happy that I won. He won the first one, so we’re happy that we both competed in the final. That’s the best part… The truth is that we had a very good match, and that’s why we are happy to have won the tournament.”

Prior to the main event, tournament newcomers Clearwater (Lucas Criado Jr., Raul “Gringo” Colombres, Jared Zenni and Chip Campbell) went head-to-head against Tamera (Alejandro Poma, Segundo Saravi, Matias Torres Zavaleta and Diego Cavanagh) to determine the victor of the inaugural USPA Gold Cup subsidiary, the Retama Cup. It was a back-and-forth affair with Criado Jr. and Colombres leading the offense for Clearwater, as Cavanagh countered for Tamera. Following a buzzer beater at the end of the fifth from Saravi, the two teams entered the final chukker deadlocked 9-9. Working off the momentum Saravi provided, Tamara added five goals to the scoreboard to claim a decisive 14-10 victory.

All nine teams competing in the USPA Gold Cup have now shifted their focus toward capturing the most coveted title in American polo, the U.S. Open Polo Championship. With $100,000 on the line, the tournament got underway March 27 at NPC and continues until the final on Sunday, April 21. For tickets, or to learn more, visit