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A ROOKIE YEAR IN PALERMO, PART 2: THE INVISIBLE TEAM BEHIND ROLDAN’S MACHINE

PoloChannel Staff | 12/13/18

Nic Roldan started his rookie year in Palermo on a high (winning his first game) and ended it with a heartbreaker (losing Sunday’s game against Cria Yatay by just one goal). While the ESPN cameras were flashing his stoic expression as he rode off the field, 15 other guys in Roldan’s camp were feeling the disappointment along with him. But you didn’t see them on the live stream. 

Roldan sees his support team as unsung heroes. Win or lose, their job is always the same, but never is it more complex than in Palermo. The Argentine Open is the only tournament in the world with eight chukkers, which means more of everything: more gear, more horses, more horse changes and more hands to hold it all together. 

Roldan knew he would have to bring a crack support team to the field. That’s why before he decided to accept Fran Elizalde’s invitation to join the team he secured Los Machitos’ commitment to providing him with the organization’s resources (horses and human). All had to be “Palermo-quality.”

He reached out to his longtime friends Mariano Aguerre, Nick Manifold and Naco Taverna, partners in the Los Machitos organization. They helped him assemble his team of grooms, pilots and others, with some help from Luis Guzman. 

While each team member was trusted to handle his own sphere of responsibility as he saw fit, the operation merged into one smooth, well-oiled machine. When there was an important decision to be made, says Roldan, “The grooms consulted the vets, the vets consulted the grooms . . . Everyone talked to everyone.”

That synergy was crucial. “Palermo is unlike any other tournament in the world,” says Roldan, who has played just about everywhere. “There are a lot more moving parts, and they all have to be perfect. No one can do this without an amazing organization behind him.”

Even if the organization provides the components, you still have to put them together yourself. As there are no patrons, a player isn’t part of a sponsored team. He is one of four pros, and that can be a lonely place. As one Palermo veteran put it, “Palermo is what you make of it. Here you are responsible for yourself. You have to put your all into it, 100%, or don’t even bother to come.”

Here’s how the members of Team NR helped La Albertina secure a place in the 2019 Hurlingham and Argentine Opens.

 

THE CONDUCTOR: NACO TAVERNA

Naco Taverna is the conductor of Roldan’s orchestra. Months before Roldan arrived, Taverna was already getting the horses ready, staying on the lookout for additions and lining up all the people who would be specifically focused on Roldan. Based on his lengthy experience as part of Mariano Aguerre’s team, Taverna helped Roldan make his pony lists and suggested the order in which to play them.

“Naco is amazingly passionate and dedicated,” says Roldan. “He brings everyone together and lets each person do their job, as well as personally preparing, riding and training all the horses in my string. During a match he is the one with a finger on the pulse. He is the cornerstone of the team.”

 

THE BARN MASTER: ENRIQUE “MaCOY” PERAITA

Roldan’s head groom for this season, Enrique “MaCoy” Peraita, was in charge in the barn. His main responsibilities were to look after the horses, work them, oversee their day-to-day needs, and arrange practices. He made sure all was in place in the pony line and in the barn. He helped come up with the idea of having a magnetic white board with all the ponies’ names to simplify making the pony lists and rearranging them as needed. At games he was rode the horses in and handed them over to Roldan.

 

THE STAGE DIRECTOR: MAURO DELPARDO

Mauro Delpardo brings Formula 1 to polo. He was the main man in the pony line during the games; that was his “stage.” Before arriving at the field, Delpardo prepared Roldan’s gear bag, had his boots polished so you can use them as a mirror, and made sure the right gloves, glasses and mallets were in place. At the field he was the main person tacking up all the horses. “With more than 24 pony changes in a game, he’s like the manager in an F1 pit stop!” says Roldan. Delpardo also kept track of how many minutes each horse played so he could anticipate which one may be required next. After the games he gathered all of Roldan’s personal gear and packed it up.

 

THE PILOTS: JUAN PEDRO PARMIO AND MIGUEL PAJON

Juan Pedro Paramio and Miguel Pajon are “pilotos” of the Los Machitos organization, and at the games they each had a spare horse ready at either side of the field for Roldan. “These guys will stop at nothing to make sure I have the right horse, spurs, stick, whatever I need in the heat of the moment or as a result of something that happened at the field,” he says. The “Cathedral” at Palermo is so expansive that Roldan’s crew came up with the idea of giving them a distinctive T-shirt so they could be seen from afar when horses were changed.

 

HEALING HANDS: DOCTORS SANTI BUIGUES AND PAULA GIMENEZ

Doctors Santi Buigues and Paula Gimenez were the vets. Dr. Buigures is also a vet for Ellerstina. “Those two are amazing,” says Roldan. “Santi is a twice-daily feature at the barn, and his ability to have the horses in good stead is second to none; his passion for that is infectious.” He also takes on a motivational role. He wants to win as much as Roldan does, and he distinctive voice can be heard from afar. “Both Santi and Paula transmit an aura of calm,” says Roldan. “A key to their success is the good mutual relationship they have with all the grooms, so they know exactly the state of each horse.” They stayed field-side watching and checking how each horse performed and giving feedback when each one could play again.

 

NIC’S RIGHT-HAND (WO)MAN: NATASCHA BAECHER

Natascha Baecher is a full-time (more like overtime!) fixture on Team NR. She is always on the scene with Roldan. Her presence during his rookie year in Palermo has been invaluable. “We have a great chemistry and make a great team,” says Roldan, describing Baecher’s work as everything from organizing horse transport to dealing with the media to keeping track of how many minutes each horse has played to whatever else comes up. “Tash is a machine. She gets things done. She doesn’t procrastinate. She’s super passionate and never stops,” says Roldan. “She loves to find solutions for everything. She makes my life a lot easier and lets me focus on the things I need to focus on because I know she has all the behind-the-scenes under control.”

 

BOOTS ON THE GROUND: FELIPE SORAIRE, VICTOR BARRIOS AND ALEJANDRO OJEDA 

Felipe Soraire, Victor Barrios and Alejandro Ojeda are additional grooms who worked under MaCoy and handle the husbandry, taking sets and helping field-side. Andres Caraballo and Diego Lazaga came from Mariano Aguerre’s personal barn to oversee the horses from Aguerre’s operation that Roldan played; Manuel Espinosa came from the Guzman organization.

 

THE VIBE: ALL HANDS ON DECK!

Everyone shared the responsibility for keeping a good vibe in the barn, and that started at the top. Roldan arrived early to each game to have a mate with the guys in pony line and had weekly dinners with them. Dinner conversation was more likely to be about the latest cake was that was brought to the stables than anything else. This week Roldan hosted a special spoof awards dinner to thank the support team. “It was an honor to work with every one of these guys, and I can’t thank everyone enough,” says Roldan.

 

Photography: Helen Cruden & Pablo Ramirez