Reaching the two most recent 8-goal tournament finals, Evergreen (Tom Sprung, Carlos Galindo, Nick Cifuni, Carlitos Galindo*) was strategizing for a win against Ridgway Hemp (Beau Staley, Agustin Bottaro, Memo Gracida, Alonzo Andrade) in the Pacific Coast Circuit Congressional Cup Final on Sunday, March 1 at Empire Polo Club in Indio, California. Finding their rhythm in the second half, Ridgway Hemp organized to deliver a succession of goals, earning them the well-deserved trophy 11-7.
“Listening to Memo [Gracida] is always the best strategy. He moved from position three to four in the second half so that he could drive the plays forward and it completely changed our dynamic.” – Beau Staley
New to Evergreen’s team dynamic, Cifuni opened the first with a goal but Gracida quickly evened the score. Remaining on an even playing field throughout the second chukker, both teams blocked all offensive maneuvers with strong defense, resulting in a scoreless chukker. Capitalizing on a couple Penalty 3 opportunities to establish a lead for the first time, Evergreen’s Carlitos Galindo made strategic plays to claim three goals in the third. Keeping Ridgway Hemp in the game, Gracida fired a single goal from the field, but their opponents had them doubled up by halftime 4-2.
Returning to the game after strategically switching positions, Ridgway Hemp began the gradual process of chipping away at the lead throughout the second half. Each side adding a Penalty 4 conversion to their tally maintained the two-goal deficit in the fourth, but Ridgway Hemp took control of the game in the fifth with four successful consecutive shots on goal. Responding with a Penalty 3, Cifuni’s single goal for Evergreen kept the scoreboard within one 7-6 headed into the final chukker. Almost mirroring the previous chukker, Ridgway Hemp played an equally strong chukker as they continued their drive with four unanswered goals. Facing a large disparity with limited time remaining, Carlos Galindo was able to put one final goal on the board, but the game belonged to Ridgway Hemp who took the title 11-7.
Changing their strategy in the second half, Ridgway Hemp unanimously concluded that the decision allowed them to connect better, receive passes and play more offensively. “I was not receiving any passes playing number three in the first half so in the second half I moved to back to control the game and have more possession of the ball,” Gracida revealed. This enabled us to make more passes and have more opportunities on goal. Also Alonzo [Andrade] and Agustin [Bottaro] played some of my better horses in the second half and that made a huge difference in their playing.”
Best Playing Pony, Ballet, owned and played by Memo Gracida. Pictured with Alvaro Fernandez and Diego Hernandez.
Ballet, a 7-year-old mare, owned and played by Memo Gracida in the fifth chukker, was named Best Playing Pony. “Ballet is from my breeding operation, out of Sly One (Storm Cat) by Valentina,” Gracida said. “Her best quality is how she handles at a high rate of speed. She is one of the best mares I have ever ridden.”
*Carlitos Galindo is a Team USPA alumni. The mission of Team USPA is to improve the sport of polo in the United States by developing the talent/skills of young American players through mentored training and playing opportunities, ultimately leading to a pool of higher rated American players.
Photos courtesy of ©Jim Bremner.