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Porfirio Rubirosa

Cibao La Pampa & the bon vivant of polo

September 4, 2017
September 4, 2017
by Alejandra Ocampo

Polo at Deauvillle has just come to an end, but there is one name we can’t get out of our heads: Cibao La Pampa. The team composed of four Argentines (Juan Pepa 2, Patricio Cieza 5, Francisco Elizalde 8 and Jorge Pepa 1) had an incredible season, winning the two most prestigious tournaments in Normandy: the Coupe d’Argent and the Coupe d’Or. They will now try their luck in the Open de France to become a type of French Triple Crown winners.

Cibao La Pampa is not a new name in Deauville or French polo as a whole. In the 1950s, Cibao La Pampa was the team of the legendary Porfirio Rubirosa. Diplomat, polo player, occasional boxer and racer, Rubirosa was considered an international playboy. The seductive, dashing Dominican was part of the jet set crowd, known for enchanting some of the most famous and beautiful women in the world. Rubi, as he was known in the papers, had a moderate polo career; his fit physique, charming manner and 4-goals made him an acceptable player, but he was generally known for hanging out with the famous crowd.
 
FROM DIPLOMAT TO PLAYER: ARGENTINA & HIS PASSION FOR POLO
 
Rubirosa was born in 1909 in San Francisco de Macorís, Cibao, in the North east of the Dominican Republic, to upper-middle class parents. His father, an army official, was sent to Paris as Chief of Business to the Dominican Embassy, and so Rubirosa grew up in the city. He went back to his native country in 1920 to enlist in the army, even though he had not finished his studies. Once back in Santo Domingo, he tried to begin a career as a professional boxer, with no luck. In need of money, he contacted the Dominican dictator, Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina, whom he had met during a polo match. He had also met the dictator’s nineteen year old daughter, Flor de Oro Trujillo, who in 1932 would become Rubirosa’s first wife.  

After the marriage, Rubirosa’s father-in-law sent him to be Ambassador in Germany; it was here that Rubi began to meet the European jet set crowd. It also marked the end of his marriage; tired of all the infidelity rumours, his wife filed for divorce. Rubi was then given the opportunity to go to any Embassy in the world by his ex father-in-law. He picked Argentina, due to his love of polo. Once there, Rubirosa spent his time playing polo and flying planes, another one of his passions. His daily life and reputation as an irresistible playboy made him legendary. He befriended almost every celebrity of the time and enamoured the most beautiful women in the world. His great love is thought to have been Zsa Zsa Gabor, the Hungarian actress, who rejected every single marriage proposal Rubi threw at her.

Quite the romantic, Rubi married four times. His last marriage was in 1957, to the French actress Odile Rodin. But his marriages to wealthy heiresses, Doris Duke and Barbara Hutton, made him a rich man. After his marriage to Doris, Rubi was left the stables and polo ponies. 
 
POLO UNTIL THE END
 
Polo was never going to be far from the life of a bon vivant like Porfirio Rubirosa. As Ambassador in Argentina, his favourite pastime was undoubtably polo. His passion for the sport lead him to meet one of the best players of all time, Carlos "Charlie” Menditeguy, a 10-goal superstar, who excelled at every sport. Charlie played in the legendary El Trebol team, alongside his brother Julio and the Duggans, Heriberto and Luis. The foursome dominated the polo scene towards the end of the 1930s and beginning of the 1940s, playing against their longtime rivals Venado Tuerto; they would make the stands shake during their memorable finals at Palermo.

Outside of Argentina, Rubi set up his polo base in France; he used to spend the month of August in Deauville, where many international stars would flock to during the summer. In 1951, Cibao La Pampa made Deauville polo history winning the second edition of the Coupe D’Or with Charlie Menditeguy, Jesús Solórzano and Alejandro "Cano" Gracida. Before that, Cibao La Pampa had won the Open de Paris in 1953, 1954 and 1955.

Apart from playing with his great friend Charlie, Rubi’s Cibao La Pampa also welcomed an El Trebol rival, Venado Tuerto’s Enrique Alberdi; together they won the Open de Paris in Bagatelle in 1953 and 1955 (the latter with Miguel Cárcano and Gastón Dorignac Snr), and the Open de Paris in 1954, with Gracida and Giorgio del Bono.

Players who remember Rubi from the time, such as José Luis "El Ruso" Merlos (brother of Cacho Merlos  and uncle to Pite, Sebastián and Agustín) remember him as a friendly, charming guy and an acceptable polo player. Luis Sosa Basualdo, another Argentine polo player, met a young Rubi in 1964; he shares that Rubi was a determined player with an outgoing personality.

Rubirosa also took part, without much success, in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and in Formula 1; in 1955 he was set to race in the Bordeaux Grand Prix, but was forced to pull out due to illness. In 1957, Rubi and Odile settled in a house on the outskirts of Paris. Shortly after, he was appointed Ambassador in La Habana, a position which he held until 1962.

On July 4, 1965, a couple of months after spending time on the yacht of Greek shipping tycoon, Stavros Niarchos, Cibao La Pampa won the Coupe de France, and Rubi was out celebrating at Jimmy’s, a night club in Paris. The party went on all night, and Rubirosa, who generally had a chauffeur on hand for late nights, decided to drive home himself. At around 8am, on July 5, 1965, he crashed his Ferrari against a tree in the Bois de Boulogne.
 
Porfirio Rubirosa died at 56 years old, but a legend was then born. On hearing the news of his death, Danielle Daireaux, his second wife, said: "He died the way he lived, and the way he would have wanted to: in a violent and fast way”. 
One could also add, "celebrating the victory of his favourite sport: polo.”