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La Dolfina hoists the U.S. Open Trophy

In the GAUNTLET OF POLO's best of three, La Dolfina conquered their first American season with a U.S. Open victory.

Concluding the most prestigious polo tournament in the United States, the U.S. Open Polo Championship, fans and polo enthusiasts filled a sold-out stadium at the National Polo Center (NPC) on U.S. Polo Assn. Field One on Sunday, April 21. Reaching the apex of the Florida high-goal season, La Dolfina (Alejandro Aznar, Rufino Merlos, Poroto Cambiaso, Tomas Panelo) and Valiente (Adolfo Cambiaso, Mariano “Peke” Gonzalez Jr., Paco de Narvaez Jr., Joaquin “Pelo” Vilgre La Madrid) met in an anticipated third consecutive final to determine season supremacy.

Splitting the first two legs in the Gauntlet of Polo, Valiente’s veteran leadership led to the storied organization’s sixth C.V. Whitney Cup title, while the second clash of the Cambiasos saw La Dolfina power their way to USPA Gold Cup victory. In a fitting finale to an impressive first season, the dynamic duo of Poroto Cambiaso and Panelo contributed nine goals, dominating the pivotal sixth chukker to secure La Dolfina’s historic U.S. Open Polo Championship triumph 10-7 and $100,000 in prize money.

In a rematch of the C.V. Whitney Cup semifinals, La Dolfina eliminated Coca-Cola (Gillian Johnston, Kristos “Keko” Magrini*, Pablo “Polito” Pieres, Victorino “Torito” Ruiz Jorba) to carry a dominant 5-0 record into the coveted final. The second semifinal featured veteran 10-goalers Adolfo Cambiaso and Facundo Pieres meeting for their first contest of the season. Valiente managed to edge Pilot (Curtis Pilot, Antonio Heguy, Santiago Torres*, Facundo Pieres) and continue their bid for a third U.S. Open title.

Entering the finale with a tournament leading 30 goals, Panelo wasted no time getting La Dolfina on the scoreboard. Wearing the Number 1 jersey in a heartfelt tribute to injured team owner Bob Jornayvaz, Cambiaso sent a soaring Penalty 4 through the posts to seize Valiente’s first lead of the match early in the second chukker. Masterfully navigating traffic, Panelo would briefly tie the tight contest once more. Following back-to-back goals from Valiente, Poroto Cambiaso hit his first of the match to bring La Dolfina back within one.

Gaining momentum in the third chukker, La Dolfina held Valiente to just one off the mallet of Gonzalez Jr., as a Poroto Cambiaso cutshot ended the high-flying first half deadlocked 5-all.

Displaying standout defense from both sides, a Penalty 2 from de Narvaez Jr. stood as the lone goal of the fourth chukker. La Dolfina’s formidable pair of Panelo and Poroto Cambiaso took control, ending the fifth chukker on a breakaway from Cambiaso to take a 7-6 lead into the final chukker. Reflecting on the power and synergy of his two teammates throughout the Gauntlet, Merlos expressed, “We worked really well together. Poroto and Tomy, they’re a 10-goal and a 9-goal pair, so definitely, the best players in the world for me. To be able to play with them is incredible [and] to win with them as well.”

Tied in the early stages of the sixth, the remainder of the chukker belonged to La Dolfina. Working in tandem to put Valiente on their heels, Poroto Cambiaso found an unmarked Panelo driving to goal. Flashing his own display of horsepower, Merlos added his name to the scoreboard on a brilliant pass from Poroto Cambiaso. “In the semifinals and today she really impressed me—Pony Cuñada, the one I scored the goal on,” said Merlos. Holding a two-goal lead with less than two minutes remaining, a breakaway allowed Panelo to escort the ball across the line, capping-off a phenomenal three-goal run to seal La Dolfina’s 10-7 triumph.

Earning his first U.S. Open title at just 17-years-old, an elated Merlos shared, “It’s something [I’ve] been dreaming about with my father [Agustin “Tincho” Merlos] for a really long time, putting the horses together and getting the opportunity to play and it happened! Getting to play with Tomy, Poroto and Alejandro is definitely a dream come true.”

Leading Valiente with four conversions in the final, Paco de Narvaez Jr. showcased remarkable composure under pressure, earning the Seymour H. Knox Most Valuable Player award. In recognition of his stellar performance, he was presented with a vintage 1990 Rolex Datejust Reference 16234, graciously presented by Eric and Christine Wind of Wind Vintage.

Antu Walung Chavetita (Chavetita x Open Sensacion), a 9-year-old mare played and owned by Paco de Narvaez Jr. in the second and sixth chukkers was awarded the Willis Hartman Trophy Best Playing Pony, presented by Palm Beach Equine. “I played her mother and her grandmother, so it’s pretty special—she’s the third generation,” said Paco de Narvaez Sr. A staple in a string spanning two generations of polo players, de Narvaez Sr. continued, “She’s been in the U.S. the last three years. Paquito played her last year and this year, I played her the year she arrived in the U.S.” Additionally, de Narvaez Jr. took home Best Playing String in the National Polo Center’s End of Season Horse Excellence Awards five days prior. The award recognizes an outstanding performance of an entire string throughout the Gauntlet.

Awarding a Best Playing Pony for each game of the U.S. Open for the third year in a row, the two organizations combined to earn seven ribbons prior to the final. Collecting three awards, La Dolfina’s selections included Baysur Lapita (Lapa x Millionario) played by Poroto Cambiaso and Dolfina Cucumelo (Dolfina Cuartetera Clone B06 x Aiken Cura Clone 01) and Dolfina Texas (Tejana x Dolfina Obelisco), played by Tomas Panelo. Collecting four recognitions, Valiente’s honors went to Carpacho (Machitos Alcaparra x Dolfina Cuarteto) and Tan Primadonna (Opereta x Livingston), played by Mariano “Peke” Gonzalez Jr., alongside Dolfina Maria (Duranzo x Celina) and J5 Arg Auna (Fax Cherokee x Dolfina Guitarrero), played by Adolfo Cambiaso.

In partnership with USPA Global Licensing, both finalists selected a charity of their choice to receive a $3,500 donation—La Dolfina contributing to Polo Players Support Group (PPSG) and Valiente selecting St. Mary’s Medical Center in West Palm Beach, Florida.

Raising the U.S. Open Polo Championship trophy for the first time in his career, Panelo expressed, “[I’m] very happy for all the people who help make this possible. Grooms, farriers, all the people who [are] working behind the scenes—my family, my dad, my mom, my brothers, my girlfriend. I have a lot of people behind [me] that make my play comfortable.”

Keeping Jornayvaz and the bond shared between La Dolfina and Valiente at the forefront of his thoughts, Panelo continued, “This trophy is for him—he put his team in the final, and he has a lot of horses that our team has. They did something amazing with Adolfito and I’m happy to be a part of it.”


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