One interesting question in this year's matches was whether the American horses belonged on the same field with the quick and shifty ponies bred on the pampas specifically for playing this stop-and-turn-and-go-game. The U.S. players brought with them 36 ponies, most of them loaned by well-wishing poloists at home. Only one of the 36 was an Argentine-bred, and it never saw action because of an injury. "Naturally," said Captain Knox, "the Argentines think they breed the best. They breed a specific type, usually by a Thoroughbred stallion out of a three-quarter or seven-eighths mare, and then this pony is trained by the players who will eventually use him. Like our own ponies, which are also mostly by Thoroughbreds and often come to us from the racetracks, they don't reach their peak until the age of 7 or 8. I don't believe the Argentines produce a better polo pony, but they produce more of them. Our best are the equal of their best, but ours drop in quality if we get too many injuries."
Knox's theory stood up during the first game, which the Americans lost 10-6 after playing their younger opponents to a standstill for three of the seven chukkers. "The Argentine horses are trained to turn on their front legs," said Knox. "Ours stop on their hocks and turn. They have an edge in speed; we think our edge is in maneuverability. Their game is speed; ours is strategy."
American strategy in the first game was simple enough: press and harass the enemy from the opening whistle. For most of the game it worked so well that Juan Carlos Harriott, despite his five goals, never looked like the great player that he is. Nearly every time he thought he was going to break loose his escape was thwarted by Billy Linfoot.
Linfoot's own two goals, a pair on penalty shots by Roy Barry and Knox's opening chukker score kept the Americans right in the match for three periods, after which they trailed by only 6-5. But the Argentine overall class and experience as a team won it for them in the last four chukkers.
In the second game the Americans were seldom outplayed, though they lost 14-10. With his team trailing 7-11 going into the sixth chukker, Knox scored three consecutive goals—the first on a perfect pass from Roy Barry, the second alone and the last after picking up a loose ball. An amazing upset seemed possible, but the Argentines rallied, cut off further U.S. scoring and made three more goals of their own. It was a brilliant contest, and speed won out.
The big lesson to be learned by the U.S. from these matches is that you cannot expect victory against the Argentines if you play your men in unfamiliar positions. And the reason they played that way at Palermo is because in our low-goal polo system most of the best Americans play on different teams. They never get a chance to team up and practice together until somebody decides it's time to play another international match. With its plethora of talent Argentina has unlimited open teams. Until the U.S. Polo Association lifts the limit of 25 goals imposed on all teams competing for the U.S. open championship, no American team will be able to muster both the firepower and experience that is required for a serious challenge at the world title.