Monday, November 24, 2008

Palermo Polo Open

The Palermo Polo Open is underway in Buenos Aires right now. It's the most important polo tournament in the world, and the Palermo field is considered the sport's "cathedral."

It truly is an impressive gathering.

I took these photos on Saturday during the La Dolfina vs. Indios Chapaleufu II match.

Polo players are rugged. They get after it on the field: elbows, mallets and insults fly like the wind.

Three-time defending champs La Dolfina won the match 17-12, led by captain Adolfo Cambiaso, the world's #1 polo player. (He's in the photo below from Saturday, far left, hoisting the Fasano Cup, not to be confused with the Palermo Open tournament, which continues in its elimination format until the final on Dec. 6th.)

It's fascinating to watch Cambiaso play; he is truly on another level. The best ranking you can achieve in polo is a 10 Handicap, and all the players on La Dolfina are 10s, making them one of the few teams with a combined 40 Handicap. But they really should consider changing the handicap system because as good as Cambiaso's teammates are, they are nowhere nearly as talented as he is. One pro player told me he thought Cambiaso should have a 15 Handicap. He's that good.

I interviewed Cambiaso in 2006 for a documentary I produced about polo in Argentina (you can watch a clip of it here, although this doesn't include the Cambiaso interview.) He was a very cool guy. Shy, but well-spoken, and with an obvious determination to change the sport that he loves.

Cambiaso is widely credited with bringing polo to the masses in Argentina. One way he's done so is by encouraging fans from his favorite soccer team, Nueva Chicago, to come to the matches. Nowadays you can see and hear them chanting shirtless in the stands. Needless to say, not everyone in Argentina was pleased with this development. ("They hated me for it. But I don't care," he told me.) Moreover, his buddy Diego Maradona -- not the posterchild for properness --can often be seen cheering him on, and one of the sponsors of his team is Marcelo Tinelli, the king of low-brow nighttime television in Argentina.

The Palermo fields are about 10 blocks from my home, and I pass by them often. Thankfully, the promenade got a much-needed makeover last year, and now it's in even better shape to host the eclectic international mix of jet-setters, socialites, polo junkies, gauchos, corporate executives, models and horse lovers who populate it each November and December.

It's quite a scene.

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