The pinnacle of the 12-goal season at Eldorado Polo Club (Indio, California) featured the highly touted Rossmore Cup on the final day of the season. Played in a skins format with $5,000 up for grabs in each chukker, Bensoleimani.com (Ben Soleimani, Agustin Bottaro, Jimmy Wright*, Tavi Usandizaga) and Highwood (Ron Mathison, Jared Sheldon*, Martin Tassara, Marcelo Abbiati) competed in the unique format in front of a full crowd on Sunday, March 27.
Bensoleimani.com’s Tavi Usandizaga taps the ball downfield.
“This tournament is the one that everyone wants to win in the season and we are very happy and proud of our team.” – Tavi Usandizaga
Competing for the coveted Roenisch bronze trophies along with the prize money, the familiarity between the two teams set up a competitive final. “We knew that it was going to be a tough game, because they beat us the last time [we played] and we knew they are a good team,” shared Usandizaga. Reorganizing after a slow start, Bensoleimani.com produced a dynamic attack with at least two goals from all four players to claim the Rossmore Cup with the 14-7 victory and take home $25,000 of the possible $30,000 skins.
Bensoleimani.com’s Jimmy Wright hits a backshot.
In the opening few minutes of the game, Highwood asserted their offense with a quick run to goal that was finished on a neckshot from Abbiati. With each goal in the game, attention quickly turned to the available skins in the chukker. Sheldon increased Highwood’s lead to two and despite a late goal from Bottaro, Highwood grabbed the first $5,000 and held the 2-1 lead. Bensoleimani.com returned to their tent and quickly strategized with Bottaro providing insight to his team that changed the momentum from the opening chukker.
“We started a little bit disconnected from the game, especially me. I wasn’t feeling comfortable with how I was playing my position, so I asked my teammates to let me change and play more offensive.” The result was almost instantaneous as Bensoleimani.com charged out of the break and pressured the Highwood defense into four fouls, leading to two penalty conversions for Wright.
“Bottaro and Tavi [Usandizaga] are so talented with the ball,” Wright mentioned. “We have a lot of goal scoring ability on this team and when we release down field we created so much pressure pushing forward,” he continued. Inside the final minute of the chukker, Ben Soleimani snuck the ball just inside the post, giving Bensoleimani.com their first taste of the money and tying the Rossmore Cup at 4-all.
With a renewed focus on offense, Bottaro was instrumental in a dominant third chukker for Bensoleimani.com, providing two goals while working effectively with his teammates. “The team was clicking really well and playing classic hit and run polo,” shared Soleimani. The well-balanced attack provided difficulties for the Highwood defense, as all four Bensoleimani.com players found the scoresheet in the first half. The Most Valuable Player of the recent Spreckels Cup, Tavi Usandizaga fought his way through traffic for his first goal of the match and it was Ben Soleimani who tapped the ball in to win a second consecutive skin and enter halftime with $10,000 secured.
Scoring on the opening throw-in of the second half, Usandizaga gave Bensoleimani.com the early advantage in the fourth chukker as the game tightened defensively. “At the end of every play if you’re with your man and well-positioned on defense, it gave us the opportunity to create a good offense,” said Usandizaga, as Bensoleimani.com shot at goal five more times in the chukker. Despite not finding the mark on any of those attempts, Bensoleimani.com kept Highwood off the scoreboard for their third consecutive skin and a 9-5 lead.
Ben Soleimani scored four goals in Bensoleimani.com’s Rossmore Cup victory.
Despite trailing by four goals, every chukker proved crucial for Highwood with the skins format as they refocused and tried to gain their second skin of the match. Wright and Sheldon exchanged goals, but a foul in front of the Highwood goal resulted in a Penalty 2 for Wright with Bensoleimani.com continuing to rake in the skins, increasing their total to $20,000.
Agustin Bottaro contributed two goals in a dominant third chukker for Bensoleimani.com.
Completing an impressive showing, Bensoleimani.com exploded for three consecutive goals, including two for Soleimani as he celebrated the 14-7 Rossmore Cup victory to go along with $25,000 in prize money.
Joining together as a team at the beginning of March for the final two 12-goal tournaments, Bensoleimani.com emerged victorious in both, with the welcome addition of Jimmy Wright. A staple on the Antelope team, Wright often doesn’t play in the Rossmore Cup but relished the opportunity to compete for skins. “It’s been a while since I’ve played the skins tournament because Antelope rests in March to get ready for Santa Barbara. To have played and won the way we did felt great.” Wright continued by saying, “This team clicked from the first game until the finals. I wish we had another month together; it was such a great team.”
Bensoleimani.com congratulate each other on their hard fought Rossmore Cup title.
The highlight of the season at Eldorado Polo Club, the Rossmore Cup and its skins format provides an incentive for each player to find themselves on Field 1 during the last Sunday of the season. “This tournament is the one that everyone wants to win in the season, and we are very happy and proud of our team” explained Usandizaga. Ben Soleimani continued by saying, “This win means a lot to me because I love playing in the desert. I have played in the skins for many many years and it’s a great tournament.” A livestreamed final, Soleimani was grateful to have his friends and family watching in different parts of the world on Global Polo TV. Along with the skins for each team, $1,500 was awarded to the Most Valuable Player, with Agustin Bottaro taking home the honor. “It is super special for me to be here in this position. I’ve been working super hard lately. Not only me, but everyone including the grooms and vets. Everyone is a part of it,” exclaimed Bottaro.
Most Valuable Player Agustin Bottaro, presented by Eldorado Club President Mike Ward.
His accolades did not end there as the 13-year-old chestnut mare Valencia (Gallega x Open Fosforo), owned by BensSoleimani and played by Bottaro won Best Playing Pony, and an additional $1,500 in prize money. “Funny story is that when I came here and started to know the horses, they were all talking about Valencia and she always gets Best Playing Pony and trophies and I was very nervous that she had to do well with me so I don’t break that routine. I was very happy she got BPP and happy I was able to make her look good and get the prize!” exclaimed Bottaro. “When I get on top of that horse, it’s different. I see the ball super big. All of my opponents go in slow motion, and I feel like I go in super speed.”
Best Playing Pony was presented to Valencia played by Agustin Bottaro and owned by Ben Soleimani. Pictured with Ben Soleimani Jr., Ella Soleimani, Hector Jesus Lara and Edwin Leobardo Vega Garcia.
With the conclusion of the successful three months of competition, Bensoleimani.com celebrates their victory with the players transitioning to the Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club (Carpinteria, California) for the upcoming summer season. Usandizaga finished by saying, “We are going to do a BBQ with all of the team at the barn and then going to be playing in Santa Barbara in the summer. We are very happy about winning this tournament!”
Bensoleimani.com’s Jimmy Wright, Tavi Usandizaga, Agustin Bottaro, Ben Soleimani celebrate with their $25,000 in prize money. Pictured with Kristen Hiller (Anamarie Wright), Malena Newberry, Jimena Loza Soleimani (Ben and Ella Soleimani) and Eldorado Club President Mike Ward.
*Jimmy Wright and Jared Sheldon are Team USPA alumni. 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 courtesy of ©Kaile Roos.