Heading into Sunday’s 2017 Cartier Queen’s Cup final, La Indiana find themselves in a classic Hobbit “there and back again” situation. For the second year in a row they’ve made it to the final, but this year with some new twists. Luke Tomlinson is in their lineup in place of Julian de Lusarreta; the opposition includes only one of the same players from last year (Adolfo Cambiaso, who won with Dubai in 2016); and after proving themselves for two years straight, they can no longer be sloughed off as the underdog.
The latter, says Nic Roldan, means a lot. “Last season in England we developed a style of playing fast, open polo that worked against some of the top teams in the world. We created something that gave hope to a lot of other teams.”
While being viewed as a serious contender—even a threat—from day 1 of the Queen’s Cup feels good to them, it’s not top on their minds. If you ask any La Indiana player what three things are the most important to him, you get the same answer: the horses, the horses and the horses.
Friday morning the horses were munching hay, occasionally whinnying an “opinion” as the team drank mate in the aisle and conferred with the grooms (who Nic Roldan refers to as “trainers” because he relies on them for so much more than grooming). Then it was out to the practice field, followed by a communal lunch. In the afternoon everyone was chillin’ on his own—for Roldan that meant watching golf on TV; for Tincho Merlos, hanging out with his family.
The break between Wednesday’s semifinals and the final goes by “like this,” says Merlos, snapping his fingers. “Three days at this stage is nothing. All we can do is stick together as a team and make sure everyone is happy—the players, the grooms, our team manager (Ruki Bailleau), our coach (Pite Merlos), and the horses.”
For him personally, says Merlos, “It’s important to rest, eat well and enjoy this time because it’s a great three days. Obviously this is an important part of the season for us, and we really, really, really, really, reallyenjoy it.” (Yes, he said “really” five times.)
Roldan nods and says, “We’re counting down the days to go win the Queen’s Cup. We’ve been in this position before, and we’re enjoying the moment. We’ve been having fun—it’s been a good ride.”
The Roldan-Merlos ride hasn’t always been on the same team. “I’ve been playing against Nic my whole career,” says Merlos. Last year was the first time they ever played together (for Flexjet in the 2016 USPA Gold Cup and U.S. Open). You’d never know it now to watch their slick tag-team style, a major factor that got La Indiana to the finals of both the Queen’s Cup and the Gold Cup/British Open in 2016, and to this Sunday’s final.
“We clicked right away. We get along well on and off the field, which is a huge asset,” says Merlos. Nic is the kind of player I like to have on my side because he sacrifices for the team a lot. And you know what? You don’t get teammates like that. Nic is a super-strong player—one of the strongest players I have ever played with in my life—and I use his strength to play better. Obviously we have a good combination. Who knows why? I just love it, and I hope to have it for many, many years.”