The 125th Argentine Open Championship is set to conclude this Saturday at Palermo. This edition, perhaps more than others in recent memory, has come with its fair share of surprises. And now, a historic final awaits. Las Monjitas broke the mould and qualified for the final after defeating a strong Ellerstina team. They will now fight for their first Open title. Hilario Ulloa is the only player on Camilo Bautista’s side that has prior experience in a final at Palermo—he played with Alegria in 2013. La Dolfina, on the other hand, have trodden this path many a time, and on Saturday play for their sixth consecutive Argentine Open title.
There is much to analyse when one begins to consider the upcoming final. To be sure, the combined experience of all four La Dolfina players will be invaluable in the most important moments of the match, and in the first few chukkas as well. While it may be hard to tell how Facundo Sola, Guillermo Caset and Santiago Toccalino will react in their first Open final, their level of play against Ellerstina last Sunday gives them reason to believe they can go all the way. While La Dolfina does have the experience necessary to win, this factor has not been as influential as it has in previous seasons.
It can be said that La Dolfina have struggled to find their rhythm; they have not been as domineering and infallible as in other years, even if in their matches against La Ensenada and La Aguada they seemed to find their flow. They know each other extremely well, they are comfortable in their positions, and they seem to come through when it matters most. This is their eight season playing together and they have the advantage. Against them will be a team that, while performing incredibly well, has not solidified a consistent playing style of yet.
When it comes to horses, La Dolfina isn’t the clear favourite, either. They haven’t got the power they have had in previous seasons, but they have been able to reinvent themselves, especially considering the number of top horses brought in by Adolfo Cambiaso, who has shared his string with his three teammates to help them deal with the loss of important horses, especially over the last two years. Horse-wise, Las Monjitas has shown to be up to par. It will be interesting to see whether the intense match against Ellerstina will affect their performance in the final. However, if their string can perform as well as they did in the semi, they can look La Dolfina straight in the eye and seriously challenge them.
If we judge Las Monjitas solely based on their level of play, it can be said that they have had a strong season. Currently, Sapo Caset, who may be considered the best player in this year’s Triple Crown, is also the top goal scorer of the Argentine Open, and the season, with 75 goals. Hilario Ulloa, the other 10-goaler playing for Las Monjitas, really upped his game in the last match, proving that he is worth the 10-goals he was awarded in 2015. Facundo Sola also seems to have found his stride, scoring important goals, namely the two converted against Ellerstina at crucial points in the match. Lastly, Santi Toccalino has shown to be the perfect addition to the team, proving that the controversial decision taken before the start of the Hurlingham Open was in fact the right one. It can be said with confidence that this will be his last match on 8-goals in Argentina.
When it comes to La Dolfina, not much can be said that has not already been shared. Adolfo Cambiaso has played a fundamental role in the team on the field; in recent years he has become more of a play-maker, but he is still the top scorer of his team so far, not only in Palermo, but in the whole Triple Crown. Pablo Mac Donough has also been crucial when it comes to scoring goals, and when he comes through his team has always established an advantage. His strike is one of the most sensitive and accurate of the championship, and when he is in the zone he is able to put the ball exactly where he wants it. For Juan Martín Nero, 2018 has been a transitional year in terms of his string; he lost a couple of his best mares, but thanks to a few loans and the development of a few new horses, he has been able to find his feet. Lastly, while it has not been Pelon Stirling’s best season, the Uruguayan has always been there when his team needed him most, as was the case in the Tourtugas Open final, when he scored many key goals. He must never be underestimated.
A battle is guaranteed on the field, but there will also be action off the pitch, as the team coaches go head to head to prove that their organisation is the strongest. Milo Fernández Araujo, referred to as La Dolfina’s fifth player, has redefined the role and importance of the coach in polo. He has played a fundamental role in the organisation since his arrival in 2013. Opposite him stands Ruso Heguy, his teammate in so many other battles. The former Chapaleufú player led El Remanso to British Gold Cup victory this year (notably against Juan Martín Nero) and he plays an important role in influencing the mentality of his players. He stepped into his role once the season had already begun, by request of the players of La Monjitas, and their request has not been in vain. Both coaches are familiar with each other, and their teams have faced each other in the Hurlingham Open. But this time is sure to be different. Milo’s experience and the force of the La Dolfina players could be decisive.
If the field is in optimum conditions, this will be a great match. Both teams play open polo, and unless the weather dictates, this should be a fast paced match. There will be two umpires debuting in the Open final (Guillermo Villanueva and Pepe Araya), and hopefully they will go unseen. La Dolfina has to be the favourite, but Las Monjitas has a strong chance of taking them down.