WELLINGTON â€” No player in the history of polo has won more U.S. Opens than Memo Gracida.
And while this year’s Open was supposed to be a final hurrah for the 50-year-old Hall of Famer, the International Polo Club Palm Beach made a bold statement on Thursday, banning Gracida and two of his teammates from La Herradura from playing at the club for the rest of the year after the team threw Wednesday’s match against Lechuza Caracas.
The club is hosting the U.S. Open, meaning Gracida can’t participate in polo’s most prestigious event.
La Herradura lost to Lechuza Caracas 18-7 in the USPA Piaget Gold Cup semifinals, the sport’s second largest tournament behind the Open.
Jimmy Newman, the director of polo operations, said it was clear that La Herradura was purposely giving up goals.
By losing Wednesday’s match by at least 10 goals, La Herradura would have been placed in a bracket that it considered more favorable for the U.S. Open.
“They were positioning themselves in the next tournament,” Newman said.
The Polo Club banned Gracida, his son, Julio, 19, and Kris Kampsen, 26, Newman said. The team’s fourth player, Fred Mannix Jr., left the field less than a minute into the match, deciding he didn’t want to be part of it. The team replaced Mannix with J.J. Celis. Mannix will not be penalized by the Polo Club.
“It was pretty obvious that one team was not trying to win,” Newman said. “The club is making a statement that we’re just not going to have it.”
Newman said that La Herradura did not break any official rule, but the club still felt action was necessary.
“Those two teams were pretty evenly matched,” Newman said. “If they both played hard, it would have been hard to pick a winner. It certainly was not a 10-goal spread.”
After Crab Orchard defeated Bend About 14-5 Wednesday, La Herradura had to lose by 10 or more goals to enter the U.S. Open as the fourth-place team. Bend About and La Herradura were going to finish as the third and fourth teams heading into the Open, and whichever team lost by more goals in the Gold Cup would be the Open’s fourth-place team.
“We weren’t going to tolerate something like this,” Newman said.
If players or a team have an incentive to lose, they’re going to do just that. These players’ actions were wrong, but the Club shouldn’t be surprised by their happenning.