Defeating their opponents once in bracket play, Farmers & Merchants Bank (FMB) confidently challenged Bensoleimani.com once again for the Lucchese Pacific Coast Circuit Intra-Circuit Cup Final on Sunday, June 23, at the Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club in Carpinteria, California. Competing not only for the 12-goal trophy, but an unprecedented potential $50,000 in prize money ($10,000 awarded to subsidiary winner), both teams battled to secure as many skins chukkers as possible at $5,000 each. Playing a strong first half, FMB’s early lead withstood Bensoleimani.com’s second half drive, earning $20,000 and the title 11-10.
Taking advantage of an initial goal awarded on handicap, FMB immediately seized the opportunity to widen the gap, Felipe Marquez striking first from the field. Retaliating with two consecutive shots of his own, Felipe Vercellino’s field goal and Penalty 2 conversion earned his team the first $5,000 of the game*. Skilled from the penalty line, Farmers & Merchants Bank’s team owner Danny Walker demonstrated his accuracy throughout the first half, capitalizing to propel the team forward. Picking up two Penalty 2 conversions in the second, Danny Walker was met by a single goal from Jimmy Wright**. Heading into the third chukker in the lead 5-3 FMB’s momentum continued to build as they added four powerful goals to their tally, tripling Bensoleimani.com on the scoreboard. Determined to narrow the gap, Vercellino converted a Penalty 4 followed by a field goal from Ben Soleimani to end the half 9-5.
“In this life we have the chance to create a moment and make it a lifetime memory. For me winning this 12-goal tournament with Farmers & Merchants Bank with my son Matthew is a great moment and now a lifetime memory.” – Danny Walker
Bensoleimani.com’s Jimmy Wright attempts to hook FMB’s Danny Walker.
Regrouping after halftime, the second half of play would follow the gradual rise of Bensoleimani.com as they won all three of the remaining chukkers, accumulating $20,000 in total. Each side adding a goal a piece in the fourth, FMB went scoreless in the fifth as Vercellino contributed his fourth penalty conversion of the game. Entering the sixth chukker 10-7 with FMB still retaining a comfortable lead, Bensoleimani.com would make their final push with strategic, offensive tactics in hopes of upsetting the game. Opening the chukker, Soleimani’s field goal was quickly matched by one from Danny Walker to maintain the gap. Adding his second goal, Wright’s advance was followed by one last penalty conversion from Vercellino, but the effort was not enough to overcome FMB who claimed the title, the $10,000 winning purse and $10,000 in skins.
Also competing for $10,000, Lucchese narrowly defeated Novis Insurance in the Western Badge and Trophy Subsidiary 14-13 to round out the total $50,000 in tournament prize money.
After working for the past three years with the Criado family, Danny Walker was excited to have his son rejoin him in polo for the 2019 season. “In this life we have the chance to create a moment and make it a lifetime memory. For me winning this 12-goal tournament with Farmers & Merchants Bank with my son Matthew is a great moment and now a lifetime memory.”
Polo Manager, Melanja Jones, also expressed her excitement regarding all the activity going on around the club. “It was so much fun this season to watch the incredible level of competition and horses, the variety of teams and family connections, new sponsors stepping up to play 12-goal and new players coming into the pro pool and coaching league,” Jones said. “And of course the cherry on top, the first ever money game for the Lucchese Pacific Coast Circuit Intra-Circuit Cup!”
Most Valuable Player, Felipe Marquez, presented by John Muse, Chairman of Lucchese.
Responsible for five of the winning team’s 11 total goals, Felipe Marquez was named Most Valuable Player. “I was at Chip Campbell’s farm in Alabama when Lucas Criado called me to substitute for him. I didn’t hesitate because I have always admired his horses so I knew it was going to be fun,” Marquez said. “I really enjoyed playing for the Walkers and had a lot of fun playing with Lucitas Criado who is a terrific young player with a bright future ahead.”
Best Playing Pony, Barbarita, played by Felipe Vercellino and presented by John Muse. Pictured with Carlos Flores, Luis Chavez, Uriel Sanchez and Franco Vercellino.
Best Playing Pony honors were awarded to Felipe Vercellino’s Barbarita, a 13-year-old Chilean mare played in the first and sixth chukkers. “She was bred by Julio Buchon and I’ve been playing her since she was five years old,” Vercellino revealed. “She has played in Chile, Argentina and now in California and she has won Best Playing Pony four times at Santa Barbara. I like riding her because she is very easy and quick to turn and stop.”
*Handicap goals do not apply to the skins chukker total.
**Jim Wright is a member of Team USPA. Team USPA is a USPA program designed to enhance and grow the sport of polo in the United States by identifying young, talented American players and providing mentored training and playing opportunities leading to a pool of higher rated amateur and pro players and the resultant giveback to the sport of polo.
All photos ©David LominskaSANTA BARBARA POLO CLUB