After six hard-fought round-robin games, Barefield (Mark Mulligan, Agustin Arellano, Hernan Tasso, Juan Martin Obregon) and Tito’s Handmade Vodka (Alan Martinez, Trevor Niznik Reeves, James P. Uihlein, Joe Wayne Barry) emerged to face off in the National Inter-Circuit Championship Final on Sunday, March 15, at Sarasota Polo Club in Sarasota, Florida. Going into overtime in their first match-up, the thrilling final came down to the wire, with Barefield narrowly capturing the title with an 8-7 victory.
“The key to our win was that everyone on the team played for each other. No one was selfish with the ball or thought they could win the game by themselves. We really worked well as a team and trusted each other.” – Mark Mulligan
Tito’s Handmade Vodka’s James P. Uihlein and Barefield’s Mark Mulligan rideoff.
A choppy pace at the start of the game resulted in penalty opportunities for both teams, but it was Tito’s Handmade Vodka who took the early lead on a Penalty 3 conversion from Martinez. Securing two consecutive goals in the second chukker, Martinez landed the first field goal of the game to end the chukker 3-1. Barefield finished the half strong due to Tasso, who quickly retaliated with back-to-back goals to open the third, bringing Barefield back within one goal at the close of the chukker. Tito’s Handmade Vodka held on to the slight lead at halftime 4-3.
The pace increased over the final three chukkers with more goals from the field as Tito’s Handmade Vodka and Barefield battled for the lead down to the final minutes of the game. Singlehandedly scoring all his team’s goals, Martinez’s fifth goal of the game extended the lead to two, but a swift response from Barefield’s Arellano restored the deficit. Riding an explosive horse, Juan Martin Obregon scored two consecutive field goals to begin the fifth chukker, securing Barefield’s first lead at a crucial moment. Martinez converted a Penalty 2 to tie the scoreboard 6-all entering the sixth chukker. Going up against Martinez, Arellano added another field goal to the tally, but was matched yet again by the high scorer. With the title on the line and time running out, Tasso broke free to score his third goal of the game, securing the win 8-7 for Barefield.
Barefield’s Juan Martin Obregon on the ball with Trevor Niznik Reeves defending.
Claiming the National Inter-Circuit Championship trophy for the second year in a row, Arellano revealed his team’s winning strategy. “We stayed close to each other and tried to finish our plays,” Arellano said. “We knew if we tried to run around and do everything we would be beaten. We did not change much after our first matchup we just tried to come back and play our game.”
Tito’s Handmade Vodka returned to face their opponents with a revised strategy in the final, after losing their first tournament matchup with Barefield. “After the first game we [Barefield] kept our strategy the same, but they changed their strategy which really made us work our same game plan harder,” Mulligan said. “They used James P. [Uihlein] more and that made my personal job a lot harder being that he’s such a good player to keep up with. Moving Joe Wayne Barry to the back is always a good move and I personally had to cover him when James was helping their team.”
Most Valuable Player Hernan Tasso, presented by James Miller.
Hernan Tasso was named Most Valuable Player. “We had to play very tight defense because our opponents were a very fast team,” Tasso said. “In the first half they had more control of the ball, but in the second half we took possession away from them to come back and end one goal ahead. It was anybody’s game, but we had the luck and scored before the end of the game.”
Best Playing Pony Mac Pie, played by Juan Martin Obregon and presented by James Miller. Pictured with Hugo and Tito Esquivel.
Mac Pie, a 12-year-old American Thoroughbred mare played by Juan Martin Obregon in the fifth chukker, was named Best Playing Pony. “I think her strong points are her mouth and agility,” Obregon commented. “She is a mare my brother Facundo bought from Diego Gross when she was four years old.”
Although the general public was unable to attend the game, it did not put a damper on the day for the finalists. “Overall it was a great day for polo,” Mulligan said. “We had a limited number of spectators since Sarasota Polo Club was closed to the public, but everyone said it was a fantastic game for both teams. We really all left it on the field.”
Photos courtesy of ©Julio Aguilar.