FROM ONE CAMBIASO TO THE NEXT: SCONE STEALS GAUNTLET SPOTLIGHT WITH USPA GOLD CUP VICTORY
Mar 27, 2023 4:13 PM
“I played with the father [Adolfo Cambiaso] and the son [Poroto Cambiaso] last year […] and the year before we won […] now I’m playing with the son [Poroto], a 22-year-old, a 27-year-old, and if you add all their ages together, it’s just a bit older than I am in total! It’s great to play with young blokes!” – David Paradice, Scone Team Owner
On Sunday, March 26, 2023, the second leg of the Gauntlet of Polo culminated in the USPA Gold Cup Final. The distinguished competition found defending champions Pilot (Curtis Pilot, Matias Gonzalez, Matias Torres Zavaleta, Facundo Pieres) battling 2021 USPA Gold Cup victors Scone (David Paradice, Cody Ellis*, Poroto Cambiaso, Pelon Stirling, sub. Tomas Panelo). Meeting for the second time in the Gauntlet of Polo this year, the final offered an explosive rematch of the very first game of the C.V. Whitney Cup that ultimately took Scone out of contention in the first leg of the series.
A low-scoring final, Scone’s fourth chukker momentum ultimately created enough space to ward off threats of a Pilot comeback. As the final horn sounded, the team in red held to an 8-6 lead, marking their first Gauntlet title since 2021. Along with the trophy, Scone was awarded $50,000 in prize money. The win also marked the continued Cambiaso domination across the Gauntlet of Polo, as now both Adolfo and Poroto have stood atop the podium this year.
Scone and Pilot’s paths to the final varied greatly. After winning their first game against Tamera in a narrow 9-8 victory, Scone hit the gas and didn’t look back, delivering decisive wins in the remainder of bracket play and the quarterfinals. 9-goaler Stirling sustained a groin injury prior to the quarterfinals and was replaced by 8-goaler Tomas Panelo in the quarterfinals, semifinals and final. Meshing well with the team, Panelo helped Scone defeat Dutta Corp/Show+ 14-10 to advance to the final.
Conversely, Pilot won their first game of bracket play against Dazos, but then fell to Aspen 12-11 in a surprise upset. The loss forced Pilot to earn their quarterfinal spot in playoff contention against Two Trees by Jefferies, which they accomplished in a 10-5 victory. From there, Pilot defeated C.V. Whitney Cup champions Valiente in the quarterfinals in a 13-12 nail-biter. Park Place attempted to end Pilot’s crusade, but Pilot rose again, defeating them 15-14 in the semifinals to earn a place in the final.
“The strategy obviously was high intensity, try to get Facundo when he doesn’t have the ball because when he’s got it, it’s very hard to take it away. And just trust in ourselves.” – Cody Ellis
Speaking to Scone’s strategy entering the title match, Ellis commented, “The strategy obviously was high intensity, try to get Facundo when he doesn’t have the ball because when he’s got it, it’s very hard to take it away. And just trust in ourselves. We’ve got a pretty good system that we’ve been working on since the beginning, and I think it showed a little bit today that we can do it. So, for us, just confidence and give it everything.”
Panelo added, “They have a few really fast mares—Facundo has two or three [that are] really fast. Matias is well-mounted. They play well. […] Curtis works a lot. But I think we played more focusing on our game than on them. The idea was always for us to manage the ball a bit, to have a good defense, and try to find some spaces in the field. I think we [did] it quite well, the game worked well for us.”
Characterizing Scone’s style of play, Panelo continued, “The idea of playing is open and fast, and of course Poroto managing the ball, he’s probably the best one doing it. I think it worked really well. Cody played really well, David helped us a lot marking and [on] defense- defending, attacking, everything. So, I think we played well.”
With Panelo still playing in place of Stirling, Scone was awarded one goal on handicap at the onset of play. A slow first chukker, Scone’s Ellis was the sole player able to find the goal, while Pilot suffered a complete shutout, giving Scone an early 2-0 lead. Pieres and Cambiaso traded goals in the second chukker to maintain the gap. Zavaleta and Pieres were both able to capitalize from the field in the third. A single response from Panelo placed Pilot within one, with Scone narrowly leading 4-3 at halftime.
Regrouping at the break, Ellis shared what the Scone collective used the time to focus on. “Trying to breathe! Maintaining the intensity that we came out with, and when we had the ball to be a little bit more patient and not rush. The biggest thing was to try to maintain the intensity that we came out with.”
Re-energized and refocused, Scone came out strong in the fourth chukker, with goals from Cambiaso, Panelo and a Penalty 1 outpacing a single score from Zavaleta to extend Scone’s lead 7-4. Pilot came back with vengeance in the fifth, shutting Scone out completely—only a Penalty 2 from Pieres diminishing Scone’s advantage 7-5. In the final chukker, a Penalty 2 from Cambiaso was matched by a field goal from Pieres, but Pilot’s late offensive drive was not enough to overtake Scone’s lead. As time expired, Scone clung tightly to an 8-6 lead, capturing their second USPA Gold Cup title and first Gauntlet recognition in two years.
Grateful and ecstatic to be back on the podium with his team, Scone team owner Paradice remarked, “It’s great. I played with the father [Adolfo Cambiaso] and the son [Poroto Cambiaso] last year […] and the year before we won […] now I’m playing with the son [Poroto], a 22-year-old, a 27-year-old, and if you add all their ages together, it’s just a bit older than I am in total! It’s great to play with young blokes! I love their enthusiasm, their sporting ability, but they’re respectful and grateful, all of us are respectful and grateful to be out there, and be where we are at the La Dolfina and J5 organization. It’s a nice feeling.”
Also thankful for the friendship and support of Valiente team owner Bob Jornayvaz, Paradice shared, “It’s his organization and the combination of him and Adolfo Cambiaso [that] have put all of this together. It’s been years and years in the making, it’s great to be a part of it. They do things properly. Whether it’s business, or whatever it is. Bobby’s been great for me. He gives me advice on the field, he’s a good thinker on the field. He helps me think about what I should and shouldn’t be doing. Him and Adolfo have been a big part of us being here.”
Also grateful for Jornayvaz’s help, Cambiaso shared his feelings about today’s win with Scone and the support of Valiente. “Very happy to have won today with the Scone organization. The truth is, I have to really thank Bob [Jornayvaz], Valiente really helped us. I’m very happy.”
The win was especially sweet for Ellis, who competed in the 2022 USPA Gold Cup Final with Park Place but lost to Pilot 11-10 in overtime. “It means everything, to be honest." When asked about what he thought was the key to his team’s success, Ellis commented, “Our teamwork. I think we’ve got a really good vibe on the team, especially when the going gets tough, we group together quite well and have a little chat and say, ‘Hey boys, we’ve got to fix something here.’ I think that paid off well. The changes that we made in the throw-ins and the little things we did, I think that made a big difference today.” Elaborating on some of those little changes, Ellis continued, “More just positions—who’s going where, where we want Poroto to go, where we want [Tomas] to go, who I need to try to go to give them some space, more of that.”
For his impressive work igniting both the offensive and defensive fronts for Scone along with two field goals, Tomas Panelo was named Most Valuable Player. Reflecting on the recognition, Panelo commented, “Thank you very much. For me it’s a really great opportunity to play on a team like that. It’s a young team, it’s nice [that] Pelon gave me his string, he’s really well-mounted and Adolfo also gave me some horses. [It’s] a great opportunity, I enjoyed it a lot, and I’m really happy.”
Panelo also commented on how it felt to get the call that he would be substituting for Pelon Stirling. “I knew that the first game was going to be difficult because I was playing the 16 goal, which is a little slower. The first game was hard, the second game I felt a little better and today was a really fun game to play against one of the top three best teams. Honestly, it was just a really fun game to play.” Discussing some of his favorite horses he played, Panelo continued, “I have a few: J5 Arg Marimba, I really like, J5 Arg Cheyenne, she’s really good, Dolfina Cauta—they’re horses that are good for finals!”
Happy to play with Panelo, Ellis discussed how it felt for the two to win together. “Really fun, I played with [Tomas] in Spain last summer, so I know him quite well and I’ve played with him before, and we’ve had some bad luck. So, to win with him today is really cool. Very happy for him and [he’s] a great teammate.”
Equally pleased with Panelo’s performance and addition to the team, Paradice gushed, “[Tomas] is a wonderful person primarily, a great person and a great talent. He fit in with Pelon who’s a great person and a great talent—so [he] fit in like a glove. He just fit in well, and fortunately we had Pelon to coach us along as well. I feel for Pelon, it would've been nice to have him play, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case.”
Poroto Cambiaso’s first chukker horse and last chukker spare, Cabe Bailarina, was presented Best Playing Pony honors. She is a 10-year-old Argentine chestnut mare owned by La Dolfina (Dolfina Tanguera x Loyal Force). Cambiaso noted, “Cabe Bailarina was bred by our veterinarian Juan Pablo [Quiroga] and owned by my dad and La Dolfina. And I believe she’s been my best horse all season long. She’s very strong and very complete. I think she deserved it.”
In addition to the title, Scone received $50,000 in prize money. This year's Gauntlet of Polo in partnership with USPA Global Licensing also embraced the spirit of giving with non-profit charities chosen by the finalists receiving a donation. Scone chose to support the Retired Racehorse Project with a $2,500 donation while Pilot contributed $2,500 to Polo for Life.
Confident going into the U.S. Open Polo Championship, but still prioritizing the experience over everything, Paradice discussed how he feels as the final leg of the Gauntlet approaches. “It was pretty hard on the fitness out there today. I’ve just got to make sure I’m fit, but everything was good. It was hot, it was really hard work today and I was working pretty hard and it was fun. They're so many good teams out there. We just scraped in the league games and won by one goal. So, it hasn’t been easy. Everybody will have a few more games under their belt—who knows? We don’t even know whether we’ll make the quarters, or semis, or whatever. We’re grateful for whatever we can get!”
Cautiously optimistic, Paradice revealed his team’s plans to celebrate their victory. “Well, we haven’t planned anything—you never do because you don’t want to have bad luck, but we’ve got an asado going tonight. Probably say a poem like I normally do or think of something to say. They love it before the game because I’m not saying anything, I’m too nervous—I can’t say anything, but I do talk a lot after the game.”
*Cody Ellis is Team USPA alumnus. Team USPA is a USPA program designed to enhance and grow the sport of polo in the United States by identifying young, talented American players and providing mentored training and playing opportunities leading to a pool of higher rated amateur and pro players and the resultant giveback to the sport of polo.
All photos courtesy of ©David Lominska.