On Saturday, Alegría confirmed their participation in the 2018 qualifying tournament for Hurlingham and Palermo. After the shock that struck the polo world when Hilario Ulloa, Sapo Caset and Facu Sola announced that they would be leaving the team, and the later confirmation that Fred Mannix would be representing La Irenita, Julian Mannix, Fred’s younger brother, has announced that he will be competing for a place in the Argentine Open for the first time. The Canadian will be accompanied by Tito Ruiz Guiñazú, Jaime García Huidobro and Tincho Merlos; the latter two, we must recall, were substitutes for Alegría in 2017.

Tincho Merlos, who will shortly be travelling to England to partake in the season with Emlor, spoke to PoloLine about what it would mean to him to play Palermo again after his 2017 absence from the competition: “This will be the first time I play the qualification tournament, so it is a new challenge for me. As a team, we aim to play Palermo, and it is what I always aim for personally, too. Palermo generates a lot of movement and it is the most exciting tournament of the year. I decided not to play last year, but the truth is that I missed it. I want to play the Open again, and this is a good opportunity to do so.”

Tincho Merlos and Julian Mannix have played together in the Dominican Republic, but the La Mariana man also knows his other two teammates very well. “Jaime plays very well in his position, he is a solid back and he knows exactly what this team needs. We have played a couple of practices together already. I am at 3, and having Jaime at Back is comforting. Tito is a very talented player. He is fast and is very good with the ball, so he is perfect in attack. I played with him abroad and he is a very friendly guy. And Julian also has great talent, he is strong, and he will have a very good string of horses. He is going to be playing polo at the highest level, which will be a great challenge for him. He has to enjoy every moment and show his skills. We are working together, the team is great, and it is important that we are all on the same page.”

“Julian has to grow as a player, as a number 1; we are going to do everything we can to help him,” continues Merlos. “For the number one to play well, the whole team needs to play well. It is important that he is in a good position to add to the team. It’s going to be tough because it’s going to be a personal challenge for him.”

Merlos played the 2016 Argentine Open with El Paraíso, and in 2017 he supported Alegría as acting substitute, especially since his brother-in-law Sapo Caset formed part of the main line-up and rode some of his horses. “I have always had a good relationship with Alegría,” tells Tincho, younger brother to Pite and Sebastian Merlos. “The idea to put this team together came up, and I think it will be a lot of fun. We are neighbours, we always play practices there, and they come over to ours. It is great because we all know each other, and I was substitute last year, something which came about mainly because of Sapo and the horses I lent him. He suggested I be substitute and everyone agreed. It was a wonderful experience seeing my mares play with Sapo and being near them.”

How does this challenge fit into your career right now?

“This is going to be a different type of challenge, as it is the first time I am going to play the qualification tournament. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. The team is good and we all get on. Playing Palermo, or the Triple Crown, or in this case, Hurlingham and Palermo if we qualify, is always amazing. I am in a good place in my career at the moment. Every tournament is meant to be enjoyed, and this will be a lot of fun.”

However, before thinking about the Argentine season, Merlos is focusing on the upcoming English season. He has had two very successful years in the UK, reaching the final of the Queen’s Cup and the Gold Cup alongside La Indiana. This year he is going to be playing alongside one of his great friends in polo: Nacho González. “I am excited about England,” shares Merlos. “It’s going to be a lot of fun because I am going to play with Nacho González, who is a lifelong friend of mine. We actually played the Potrillos together way back when we were kids. I also have a good relationship with Spencer McCarthy and with Diego Cavanagh, so the team is great. We had two spectacular years with La Indiana, and I have learnt a lot in England. I am going to give Emlor everything I have, just as I did with La Indiana. This is going to be a fun challenge with friends. I love English polo and I think it’s amazing for a patron like Spencer to put a team in the high goal. He hasn’t played for a while, and last year he only played the Prince of Wales. So I am very happy.”