We all like to hear stories of sports successes. There is a supernatural aura that surrounds them. What we tend to forget is that often these sports heroes have not achieved their greatness solely on natural born talent alone. In fact, in a number of cases, these athletes have suffered setbacks and disappointments more times than the normal person could tolerate. It is exactly for these reasons that their stories are all the more intriguing.
Polo history is no exception to this. Among the current top polo players in the world, Guillermo “Sapo” Caset’s story is one of overcoming hurdles that would discourage all but the most driven of souls. His is a story of an unusually talented player who has reached the pinnacle of the polo world by attaining a 10 goal handicap rating; but, it has not been an easy road.
Sapo grew up in the countryside near Lobos, Argentina, the birthplace of national legend President Juan D. Perón. As a baby, playing one evening on the veranda, surrounded by numerous toads feasting on insects, he was told that these creatures were called “Sapo” in Spanish. He started repeating, “Sapo”, “Sapo”, “Sapo.” It was the first word out of his mouth. His father said; “He learned the word Sapo” before he could say “Papá.” The nickname stuck.
Sapo, as do many children from the country, learned to ride a pony at a precociously young age. Videos show him on his tiny pony, at the age of 5, hitting a polo ball with his mallet around a field with the uncanny ability that would make many adult players envious of his style. He was fortunate to have a father, Guillermo Sr., who held a 7 goal handicap, as did his uncle, Marcelo. Thus, he was always involved in the polo world. Later, still at a young age, he won the prestigious youth tournament in Argentina, the “Potrillos”, against tough opponents including Facundo Pieres.
As a 14 year old, he was taken to Santa Barbara, California to play with his father. He was already a 1 goal handicap player. By the end of that year his handicap was raised to 3. The following year he caught the attention of 10 goal great Memo Gracida who invited him to play with him in Florida on a 22-goal team. Sapo played later that summer with his father in two 12-goal tournaments, which they won. Then he teamed up with Memo again and reached the finals of the 20-goal Pacific Coast Championship, and he had his handicap raised to 6, shortly after his 16th birthday. His handicap had gone from a 1 to a 6 all within a short span of 14 months His father then decided to pull him out of international polo to allow the youngster some time to mature. It is one thing for a 16 year old to be able to compete against seasoned, adult professionals; it is another thing to thrust a developing teenager into the adult world of glamour and all the attention and responsibilities that come with the life of a professional athlete.