By Sharon Robb
After finishing runner-up to GSA last season, Patagones was determined to win the Sieber Memorial 12-Goal Tournament Sunday at Grand Champions Polo Club.
In the battle of unbeaten teams, Patagones (Joaquin Avendano, 1, Robi Bilbao, 4, Benjamin Avendano, 2, Santi Wulff, 5) held off Beverly Equestrian (Bill Ballhaus, 0, Hilario Figueras, 2, Tolito Ocampo, 4, Carlucho Arellano, 5) for a thrilling 11-10 victory.
Joaquin Avendano, Benjamin Avendano and Santi Wulff were members of last year’s runner-up team. Patagones finished this year’s tournament 5-0 and Beverly Equestrian dropped to 3-1.
Wulff scored a game-high seven goals and was named Most Valuable Player.
“It was the most competitive tournament, there were so many teams,” Wulff said. “We played five games to get here so it was a long tournament. We wanted to win it after last year.”
Also scoring for Patagones, Bilbao had three goals and Joaquin Avendano added one goal.
Benjamin Avendano had the daunting task of marking Arellano in the game.
“I was very happy with how I played,” Avendano said. “I had to be careful. They told me he plays a very classic style of polo. My goal was to make him hit it in front of us and it worked. At the beginning of the game I was a little nervous but as the time went on I got more confident.”
Added Wulff, “Benjamin did an amazing job marking a 5-goaler with a lot of experience, which is not easy. He did really good and that allowed us to have more time on the field.”
Arellano led Beverly Equestrian with four second-half goals, including three on penalty conversions. Ocampo had three goals and Figueras added one. Beverly Equestrian was awarded a penalty one and one goal on handicap.
Patagones led for the entire game but Beverly Equestrian made it interesting by mounting a rally in the fifth and sixth chukker.
“They were a good team to come back like that,” Benjamin Avendano said. “This was a competitive tournament. We beat Valiente by one goal and Newport by one goal.
Patagones led 3-2, 6-3 and 8-4 in the first half, winning the throw-ins and taking advantage of missed scoring opportunities and forced errors by Beverly Equestrian.
“I thought we started very good,” Wulff said. “I think we were winning by two or three goals the whole game and in the last chukker sometimes the other team plays everything or nothing. Sometimes it happens. They started to move forward more and we lost a little bit of concentration. We were able to keep them from the ball in the final minute.”
Beverly Equestrian found its momentum and started forcing Patagones into errors, and outscoring them 6-3 in the second half including shutting them out, 2-0, in the final chukker.
Arellano scored back-to-back goals in the sixth chukker to bring his team to within one, 11-10. Beverly Equestrian was unable to take advantage of two scoring opportunities late in the game as Patagones held on for the win.
Echarpe, a 10-year-old grey gelding owned and played by Bill Ballhaus, was named American Polo Horse Association Best Registered horse for the game.
Adele, a 6-year-old mare bred and owned by Matt Coppola, was named American Polo Horse Association Best Registered horse for the tournament.
The APHA was created in 2006 by the legendary Polo Hall of Famer Sunny Hale to recognize polo ponies in America and encourages events that showcase them and hard-working dedication of grooms. The APHA horse’s grooms receive $250.
The Grand Champions Polo Club Best Playing Pony was Chukker, an American thoroughbred owned and played by Carlucho Arellano. The bay mare was bred by Bart Evans, purchased and trained by Marathon Farms and sold to Arellano as a 5-year-old.
Patagones players were awarded original prints designed by Brazilian-born renowned artist Romero Britto of Miami Beach. The signed prints featured a polo player in full swing on a polo pony surrounded by a palm tree, heart and whimsical designs of color.
The tournament is named in honor of polo player Rob Sieber, who died in a polo-related accident 32 years ago at Oak Brook, Ill. John Sieber presented the awards during the post-game ceremony. Sieber was also presented with a Britto print from Grand Champions.
Grand Champions Polo Club and Santa Rita Polo Farm is the largest and most unique private 100-acre polo facility in Wellington with 120 stalls in five self-contained barns, exercise track, five climate-controlled tack rooms, vet room, staff quarters, guest house and polo fields with state-of-the-art underground irrigation and stick-and-ball fields.
During fall, winter and spring seasons, Grand Champions Polo Club, the nation’s largest club with 11 well-manicured fields, hosts polo tournaments ranging from six to 26-goal in addition to special events.
The club features monthly 6, 8 and 12-goal tournaments and women’s weekly league play during the winter season in addition to two 16-20 tournaments, $50,000 National 12-Goal, $100,000 World Cup winner-take-all 0-40-goal tournament, WCT Tournament and USPA National President’s Cup.
During the 2017 winter season Grand Champions attracted a record 72 teams and another 18 teams during the spring season.
Grand Champions caters to men, women and youth polo players at all levels. Its expert staff can customize a complete playing experience including horses, pros and certified umpires in addition to lessons and practice sessions as part of its’ Polo On Demand program, the only polo club in the U.S. to offer the unique program.
The Club Hotline is 561-644-5050. It will be updated every day at 8 a.m. for both players and fans.