By Alejandra Ocampo
Dedicated to the memory Dr. Julio Novillo Astrada, nicknamed “Iaio” by his grandsons; Javier Novillo Astrada; and Norberto Fernández Moreno.
Cover photo: Ignacio, Javier, Miguel y Eduardo Novillo Astrada Jr. with their grandfather don Julio Novillo Astrada, “Iaio”.
2003 was a year the Novillo Astrada family would never forget. Not only because it was La Aguada’s comeback to the Triple Crown, the club established in Open Door, by don Julio Novillo Astrada, nicknamed “Iaio” by his grandsons, but also because they manage to earn a very significant achievement, not even expected by themselves. Four brothers – Eduardo Jr., Miguel, Javier and Ignacio – were playing their first Argentine season together and they claimed the coveted Triple Crown against all odds. A Triple Crown which Ellerstina won for the last time in 1994. Moreover, in addition to put their names in the history of the sport, La Aguada became the only team composed by four brothers to claim the most important polo trophy worldwide; a very significant achievement which hasn’t been repeated again.
The path to La Aguada success in 2003 has already began in 1999, when La Cañada, with Eduardo, Miguel and Javier alongside Alejandro Diaz Alberdi, earned a surprising victory over no less than Indios Chapaleufu, the lineup composed of the four Heguy brothers – Horacito, Gonzalo, Marcos and Bautista, and qualified to the final of the Argentine Open, at Palermo, where they would meet the cousins, Indios Chapaleufu II, with Eduardo, Pepe and Nachi Heguy, and Milo Fernández Araujo. La Cañada lost 13-11, but the Novillo Astradas were already the talk of the town. Says Miguel Novillo Astrada: “We were already moving forward. We reached the Argentine Open final in 1999, with La Cañada, and also played many semifinals. In 2002, with qualified to the final of the Tortugas Open”.
It is worth nothing that La Cañada disbanded at the end of 2000, and the Novillo Astrada brothers joined Gonzalo Pieres Jr. in 2001 to form a new Ellerstina, a lineup that lasted until late 2002, when Gonzalito hired his brother Facundo. In 2003, Eduardo, Miguel and Javier bring their 7-goaler brother, Nacho, within the lineup. Until then, Nacho have been the substitute in Ellersina. That was indeed the return of the Open Door based team since the 80s; La Aguada played the Triple Crown back in those days, with Eduardo Novillo Astrada Sr., and already had a big title under their belt – they won the Hurlingham Open in 1986.
That 2003, La Aguada and the Novillo Astrada brothers, made their debut in the Jockey Club Open with Nacho (1), Eduardo (2), Javier (3) and Miguel (4); it was a failure, the positions didin’t work at all, so on the advice of grandpa Iaio and the coach, Norberto Fernández Moreno, they decided to make changes. “I remember I was very anxious to start the season back then”, remembers Nacho Novillo Astrada. “I started playing as 1, but after the Jockey Club Open, we changed the positions. Personally, I felt more comfortable as a back”.
“From then onwards, the team worked much better”, remarks Miguel. “Javo was 1, Nacho the back and I played as a 3. Only Eduardo remained in his position, as 2. Actually, it was an option we already had, but the best thing is that it was our grandfather who told us to do so; he was crucial to us, he taught us everything, he was always by our side and he knew all of us perfectly. And although the Jockey Club Open was a bad experience for us, it was a good decision to play and see what happened”. And he adds: “After the Jockey Club Open, all of us played within their natural positions and the team worked out very well”.
Their beloved grandpa, Iaio, was right; things changed completely in the Tortugas Open, although it was not that easy either. In the final, th hey clashed against La Dolfina, who back then wore a stripped red and black team jersey, the colours of a football team, named Nueva Chicago, and the lineup were Adolfo Cambiaso, Lolo Castagnola, Sebastián and Juan Ignacio “Pite” Merlos. Following a very close championship match, La Aguada won 10-9 with a single goal in the last chukka. But if La Aguada surprised everybody by winning the Tortugas Open, another surprise was about to come, when they claimed the second, the Hurlingham Open, after defeating no less than Indios Chapaleufu, with the three Heguy brothers and Mariano Aguerre. In a very tough match, La Aguada made an impressive comeback in the last chukka, when they produced four unanswered goal in only two minutes. “We always aimed at Palermo”, reflects Miguel. “Winning Tortugas gave us enough confidence to believe we could be able to win everything; we kept improving and then we won Hurlingham. We were very motivated, and best of all, we were very well mounted, we had very good horses”.
In the meantime, the younger brother, 22-years-old Alejandro, contributed to his eldest brothers’ success from outside. He was the biggest supporter and was in charge to organise the celebrations. After winning Hurlingham, the chances to win Palermo were increasing. “I think we realised what we were achieving after the Hurlingham Open”, says Alejando. “That’s when we thought we had to celebrate; I remember I organised the fans, and the celebrations!” (laughs).
By the time Argentine Open was about to commence, all eyes were set on La Aguada, on the four Novillo Astrada brothers. Perhaps it was tough for them to win every match, but they managed to do so. So the big question was – were they able to claim the Triple Crown which was vacant since 1994?
“Not at all! We never expected to win the Triple Crown, and me the least of all, because it was my first time and I had 7 goals. No, definetly, not at all”, points Nacho. “I remember I thought – are we that good? I’ve never thought we were so good to be in such a high level and so fast. Perhaps my brothers, but not me”.
“By that time, I guess we didn’t think we would be able to win the Triple Crown”, adds Alejandro. “But at the same time, and the way things were working within the team, it was possible to think we could do it; I mean, nobody said it, but we believed it. Anyway, we couldn’t be overconfident about it”.
“It was very nice. Play the four of us together, for La Aguada, for our own club, was an extra motivation to improve. That was a very important addition”, Miguel continues.
La Aguada made their debut at Palermo with a win against El Metejón. From then onwards, they were unstoppable until they reached the final, where they would play against La Dolfina once again. Alejandro remembers: “When they made it to the final at Palermo, I told them we had to celebrate the season. And the four of them agreed”. The championship match had to be delayed for a week, due to poor weather conditions, and was set to be played on Saturday December 20, 2003.
The championship match didn’t started that good for La Aguada against Cambiaso and Co. They claimed the first chukka, but from the second chukka onwards, the game belonged to La Dolfina. At least until the sixth chukka, when the Cañuelas-based foursome had a 9-6 lead. History would change in the seventh chukka; the Novillo Astrada brothers bounced back, they outscored La Dolfina 3-0 and tied 9-9 with only one chukka left. They produced three more goals in the last chukka, and the last came from Nacho’s stick, to mark the 12-9 (the final result was 12-10), that left the deal said and done. When the game ended, crazy celebrations followed. La Aguada, the team composed by four brothers who played their first ever season together, achieved what seemed impossible: win the Triple Crown, which gave them a place in the history books. Iaio, the most beloved grandpa, the founder of La Aguada, a passionate of polo and horses received the biggest gift of his life from his grandsons.
“Today, I look back and I think waht an incredible achievement was for us”, Miguel says. “At first we didn’t realise of the significance of it. I remember when I played the final at Palermo, we said to ourselves that it was our opportunity to win Palermo and the Triple Crown as well. In addition, we had a lot of people who supported and helped us, like our coach, Norberto Fernández Moreno, who passed away recently and whom we remember with much affection. We also had Nelly Giscafré (NR: a renowned sports psycholigist), personal trainers, a team of many people, something that was quite unusual in those days. And we made it thanks to all of them”.
“When we won Palermo, I simply couldn’t believe it”, remarks Nacho, and adds: “I guess it took me a couple of years until I realised what we achieved and how hard was to win it. I didn’t understand the significance of such a victory. Today, 20 years later, I say to myself it was a lot of fun. I did enjoy it a lot, because I had no pressure at all. Well, the only pressure I had is to be secure I would play the following match!”, he laughs.
Alejandro’s memories of those glorious days go to two unforgettable people: Norberto Fernández Moreno and his brother, Javo: “Norberto was always a very lovely person with all of us. When I started to play the Argentine Open, he always had time to come and see me play a practice, he gave me advice, we talked a lot. He had an enourmous heart and a passion for the sport. He loved us all as if we were his sons. With regards to Javo, well, it’s almost 10 years he is gone, but indeed we feel the absence of a brother”.
Following the unexpected success in the Triple Crown, there were other extra awards for the Novillo Astradas. Miguel, MVP of the final, became the first member of the family to be raised to 10 goals and won the Olimpia de Plata Award as the best polo player of the year. Nacho handicap was raised from 7 to 9. And Norberto Fernández Moreno made history when he became the first ever coach to win the Triple Crown. It is worth to note that coaches were not usual back in those days; the pioneers on the issue were Chapa II, when they hired Daniel González, a glory of the sport, who won the Triple Crown in 1973, with Santa Ana.
Today, 20 years later, fate saw Nacho Novillo Astrada as the winner of the 2023 Argentine Open as La Natividad’s coach. And like in 2003, the last championship match of the Argentine Open, had to be delayed :the original date was Saturday December 2, but due to heavy rains, it was postponed for Sunday December 3. Twenty years later, on Javo’s birthday.