Returning to Great Meadow Polo Club in The Plains, Virginia, for the first time since 2006, the National Arena Chairman’s Cup Final on Saturday, October 3, came down to the final chukker between Celebrity Cruises (Tareq Salahi, Marcos Bignoli Jr., Jorge “Tolito” Fernandez Ocampo Jr.) and Twilight Polo (Doug Barnes, George Krabbe, John Gobin). A tale of two halves, a scoreless Celebrity Cruises team produced an onslaught of goals in the second half, including four from Bignoli to capture the 10-8 victory, $15,000 grand prize and the National Arena Chairman’s Cup title.
With their eyes on the prize, the first chukker highlighted the closely contested match with very few goals scored on either side. Receiving one goal on handicap, Celebrity Cruises had their advantage erased by the efforts of Gobin, who opened the scoring for Twilight Polo to equalize the score. Searching for their first goal, Celebrity Cruises struggled to get past the solid Twilight Polo defense and conceded possession with three fouls that resulted in an opportunity for Twilight Polo to extend their lead. A field goal from Barnes produced the only goal of the second chukker in a low-scoring, hard fought opening half ending in favor of Twilight Polo 2-1.
Jorge “Tolito” Fernandez Ocampo Jr. reaches for the hook on Twilight Polo’s John Gobin.
The pace of the game changed drastically at the beginning of the second half, Celebrity Cruises mounting an offense charge. Just minutes into the third chukker, Celebrity Cruises scored three consecutive goals, two from Ocampo to take back the lead. “The other team really put up a good fight against us, they are a hard team” Salahi commented. Ocampo echoed his sentiments, “John Gobin is a talented player and Doug Barnes and George Krabbe play arena all the time so they are very experienced.” Foul trouble slowed Celebrity Cruises’ momentum, resulting in two Penalty 1 conversions for Twilight Polo. Two more goals from Ocampo highlighted a five-goal chukker for Celebrity Cruises, setting the stage for a tense final period to determine the champion, Twilight Polo trailing by one. At a crucial point in the game, Krabbe unleashed an impressive performance, scoring three unanswered goals, including a two-pointer to place Twilight Polo ahead with a two-goal lead. The duo of Bignoli and Ocampo fought to bring Celebrity Cruises even, scoring one goal each to tie the score and carried their play into the final minutes. With the tournament on the line, two more goals from Bignoli secured the thrilling 10-8 victory for Celebrity Cruises and the National Arena Chairman’s Cup title. “We lucked out and came out on top because of great pros like Tolito and Marcos Bignoli ” Salahi said. “We are very grateful and we are looking forward to more wins and USPA championships ahead,” he continued.
Celebrity Cruises’ Jorge “Tolito” Fernandez Ocampo Jr. on the ball with Twilight Polo’s George Krabbe moving to defend.
“[Playing in the arena], it’s crazy, it’s fun, it’s harder, it’s different, but once you get into how to play, it is a lot of fun, it’s intense, you never stop.” – Tolito Fernandez Ocampo Jr.
Playing in his first USPA arena tournament, Tolito Fernandez Ocampo Jr. was awarded Most Valuable Player. “I met Tareq [Salahi] through Marquitos [Bignoli], they have been playing together a long time. They invited me to play about a month ago and told me they were taking this tournament very seriously and wanted to win. I think we had a good plan from the beginning and our coach gave us a lot of tactics and we played the way he told us and had good results,” Ocampo said. “[Playing in the arena], it’s crazy, it’s fun, it’s harder, it’s different, but once you get into how to play, it is a lot of fun, it’s intense, you never stop.”
Celebrity Cruises’ Marcos Bignoli Jr. winds up for a backshot.
Best Playing Pony was presented to 14-year-old bay mare Coors, played by John Gobin in the third chukker and owned by teammate George Krabbe. “Gobin is an absolute machine, he played her really well and it was great to win a best playing pony blanket for her,” Krabbe said.
In recapping the match, Ocampo’s teammate Salahi relayed that the “prize money is fantastic, and we are grateful to the USPA for everything that they do for the sport. We’re warming up for the U.S. Open Arena Polo Championship®,” Salahi said beaming.
Best Playing Pony: Coors, played by John Gobin, owned by George Krabbe and pictured with Sage Saffron.
Played at Great Meadow Polo Club for the first time since 2006, the event proved to be a success. “Despite everything that has gone on this year, this tournament was exciting and one of the best attended events,” Barnes stated. “Hopefully we will be back next year and beat them then,” Krabbe said.
All photos courtesy of ©David Murrell.