Mar 26, 2019 1:12 PM
Entering the USPA Gold Cup® as the only team still in contention for the inaugural GAUNTLET OF POLO®, Pilot outwitted their opponents one by one in bracket play, landing themselves once again in the final to face Aspen on Monday, March 25, at the International Polo Club Palm Beach in Wellington, Florida. With tensions high and the chance to knock off the prospective Gauntlet Champions, the game came all the way down to the wire forcing an overtime chukker. Pilot managed to seal yet another title and an additional $125,000, narrowly preserving their undefeated streak 12-11.
Undefeated themselves throughout tournament play, Aspen’s strategy to derail Pilot was to hit hard from the first chukker, consequently unleashing their 10-goaler Polito Pieres who picked up the first two goals. His cousin, Gonzalito Pieres, responded for Pilot soon after with a powerful neckshot to goal, setting the tone early for the duration of the game. Anticipating the play and in position to act, Stewart Armstrong met the ball off a reverse neckshot from Polito Pieres, scoring early in the second. Proactively seizing every opportunity, Aspen took advantage of some critical errors made by Pilot, capitalizing twice from the penalty line to continue their lead 5-2 headed into the third. Although quick to make up for the deficit, Pilot turned the tables with the help of Matias Gonzalez* who cleared the way for the Pieres brothers to score three consecutive goals. Ending the chukker on a great run, Gonzalito Pieres successfully tied the scoreboard 6-all by halftime.
Matching each other with a goal apiece in the fourth, both teams played with undeniable intensity and confidence in their teammates’ abilities. “I knew this kind of game anybody could win and I told my team that we were lucky that we did,” Facundo Pieres said. “Sometimes it just comes down to whoever is a little bit stronger, more focused to win and who wants it more.” Gaining possession of the ball from the throw-in and executing an incredible backwards tailshot to start the fifth, Facundo Pieres followed it up with an immediate field goal to pull his team ahead for the first time. A battle of the Pieres’, Polito Pieres retaliated with two field goals of his own, engaging offensively to counteract the strong attack. Down by only one goal 10-9 entering the final chukker of regulation play, Aspen fought relentlessly and was rewarded with one from the field from Polito Pieres and a Penalty 2 conversion off the mallet of Lucas James. Coming through with minutes to spare, Facundo Pieres launched one across the goal mouth to tie the game up 11-all, ultimately sending the adrenaline-charged game into overtime.
The imminent threat of losing not only the trophy, but the chance at the $1 million dollar purse, Pilot’s key objective was to maintain control of the ball, not allowing Polito Pieres to make a successful run. Receiving a favorable Penalty 4 opportunity for Pilot, Facundo Pieres went to the line and sunk the ball between the posts, securing the win 12-11 and bringing the team’s total earnings to $250,000.
Although experiencing great success this season with two 22-goal tournament wins under his belt, Curtis Pilot is playing for more than himself, competing in honor of his daughter who lost her battle to breast cancer during the C.V. Whitney Cup. “I’ve dedicated the entire Gauntlet of Polo® to my daughter, Nikki Pilot Carlisle, so it’s a special win for us,” Pilot said with a smile pointing to his black armband with her initials. “Our horses are better today than they were a month ago and I have to give that to the Pieres family. Almost every horse we have came from them or Los Machitos and they are very powerful animals."
A strong, young player for Aspen, Tomas Schwencke was named Most Valuable Player.
Best Playing Pony honors were awarded to One Magnifica, a black mare owned and played by Facundo Pieres in the seventh chukker. “I bought her when she was five years old and she’s been great since the first day,” Facundo Pieres shared. “I played her here in the United States for a couple of years and also in Europe where she won Best Playing Pony in Spain for the final of the Gold Cup. I took her back to Argentina and she did really well there, so I brought her over here again. She’s a warrior!"
Graciously, Gonzalito Pieres acknowledged the sportsmanship shown from the rival team and thanked them for a great game. “We were trailing, so we had to come from behind and put a little more pressure on Aspen, but we managed to go to overtime and win,” Gonzalito Pieres said. “I want to congratulate Aspen, they were gentlemen and showed great sportsmanship. Stewart Armstrong was really happy to compete in the final and even though he lost he had a smile. I also want to thank Curtis Pilot because he’s put a lot of effort into this tournament and he’s a great guy."
The final leg of GAUNTLET OF POLO®, the CaptiveOne U.S. Open Polo Championship®, will begin this Wednesday, March 27 at 10:00am ET with Coca-Cola taking on La Indiana. Tune into the USPA Polo Network which will livestream games on uspolo.org, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. Cheer on your favorite teams and follow Pilot as they aim to make history as the inaugural GAUNTLET champion.
*Matias Gonzalez is a member of Team USPA. Team USPA is a USPA program designed to enhance and grow the sport of polo in the United States by identifying young, talented American players and providing mentored training and playing opportunities leading to a pool of higher rated amateur and pro players and the resultant giveback to the sport of polo.
All photos ©David Lominska.
Effective Date: Saturday, May 16, 2020
The suspension of USPA Tournaments and Events will be lifted for USPA Member Clubs in locales where hosting polo matches and tournaments is permitted under applicable state and local laws, executive orders and similar decrees. The USPA Member Clubs in these locales are encouraged to follow all such requirements of their state and local authorities with respect to polo operations. In addition, we also encourage all USPA Member Clubs to take the precautions recommended by the CDC. We are preparing a detailed list of best practices for USPA Member Clubs as they return to hosting USPA Tournaments and Events and plan to circulate these guidelines within the next week. We will continue to monitor the COVID-19 situation closely and will notify you if we determine a different course of action is necessary.Read More