A jubilant Victor Vargas takes home, finally, a hard-fought Gold Cup, reports Herbert Spencer
When Venezuelan banker Victor Vargas’s sleek, 190ft yacht Ronin steamed into port at Sotogrande on Spain’s Costa del Sol in August, it was not just on a pleasure cruise seeking the sun, sea and sand of the famous Andalusian resort.
Instead Vargas, one of polo’s most prominent and successful amateur players and team patrons, had sailed in to prospect for gold: the high-goal Gold Cup at Sotogrande’s Santa Maria Polo Club.
In previous years the Venezuelan’s Lechuza Caracas team had won top tournaments on both sides of the Atlantic including the British Open and the US Open. Vargas had played at Sotogrande before, winning trophies including the Silver Cup, but the 20-goal Gold Cup at Santa Maria had eluded him.
This year Lechuza Caracas finally struck gold, decisively defeating Dos Lunas-Hublot 12-8 in a hard-fought final for the Nespresso Gold Cup, the top prize in Santa Maria’s 41st International BMW Tournament season.
There were seven high-goal teams competing at Santa Maria this season. Playing with 1-goaler Vargas on his Lechuza Caracas team were the 10-goal Argentine Juan Martin Nero and two talented Uruguayans, 6-goaler AlejoTaranco and 3-goaler Santiago Sterling. Facing them in the Gold Cup final were Dos Lunas-Hublot, consisting of Luis Domecq, handicap 1; Diego Cavanagh, 7; Rodrigo Rueda Jr, 6; and PascualSainz de Vicuña, 6.
Lechuza Caracas got off to a disappointing start in the first chukkas of the final. DosLunas-Hublot won the opening chukka 2-1 and held Lechuza Caracas scoreless in the second period as they increased their lead to 4-1.
But then Vargas’s squad rallied strongly in the third chukka, holding their opponents to a single goal and finding the posts four times to tie up the match 5-5 at half-time.
The second half went all Lechuza Caracas’s way. They took the lead for the first time in the fourth chukka, ending it 7-6 in front. Holding Dos Lunas-Hublot to a single goal in each of the last two periods, they increased their lead to 10-7 in the fifth chukka and finished the final with a solid 12-8 victory.
Princess Beatrice d’Orleans presented the Gold Cup to a jubilant Vargas. Lechuza Caracas’s Juan Martin Nero was named Most Valuable Player of the final and Reebock, played by Nero, was Best Playing Pony.
In the earlier high-goal Hublot Silver Cup final at Santa Maria, Vargas’s Lechuza Caracas lost by a single goal to Ayala, a home team fielded by the Philippine’s IñigoZobel, son of the late Enrique Zobel who started polo at Sotogrande.
After losing the opening chukka to Ayala, Lechuza Caracas held them scoreless for the next two periods to finish 3-1 up at half-time.
But Ayala bounced back in the fourth period to tie the match 3-3, then went on to deny Lechuza Caracas any goals in the fifth and take the lead 5-3. At the final bell Ayala claimed the Silver Cup, winning 7-6.
But never mind the silverware, because when Vargas’s yacht Ronin steamed out of Sotogrande’s beautiful port, there was Lechuza Caracas gold in the hold – and Vargas was back on top of the World Polo Tour rankings as the leading amateur player.