Beverly Polo rallied in the final chukker to win the Top Pony 12-Goal Tournament Saturday at Grand Champions Polo Club.
By Sharon Robb
Beverly Polo (Wil Ballhaus, -1, Hilario Figueras, 5, Keko Magrini, 3, Lucio Ocampo, 5) knocked off Quite on Z (Alecia Seidler, -1, Leon Schwencke, 3, Felipe Vercellino, 7, Jose Meirelles, 3), 10-8.
Beverly Polo has made several appearances in 12-goal tournament finals since playing at Grand Champions, but the only other 12-goal tournament the team has won was the Top Pony 12-Goal in 2019 with Bill Ballhaus and Tolito Ocampo.
Lucio Ocampo, 24, competing in only his second season in Wellington and Tolito’s younger brother, was named Most Valuable Player after scoring five goals, including two in the sixth chukker, and playing well defensively. It was Ocampo’s first 12-goal title of the season.
“I am very happy for my team,” Ocampo said. “We never gave up and supported each other.”
Mele, played by Figueras in the sixth chukker and bred at his father Nacho Figueras’ Cria Yatay breeding farm in Argentina, was Best Playing Pony.
Because of injuries and scheduling conflicts, it was the first time Beverly Polo’s players competed together in the tournament.
“That was really a fun game and great comeback,” said Beverly Polo patron Bill Ballhaus. “I’m really excited for the guys, for the team and for my son. What I was really proud of is the way they stuck together, the positive energy and team chemistry. That’s really what enabled them to stay in the game and find a way to come back.”
The Beverly Polo teammates were aware of each other’s ability competing in various tournaments in Florida and Virginia.
“Lucio, Wil, Hilario, Tolito and myself have been playing together for years,” Ballhaus said. “We’ve also played with Keko for a couple of years. So when we had some scheduling conflicts and some injuries it was just really natural to pull those players together. We knew they had good chemistry even though they hadn’t played yet together in this tournament. It made it easy to pick that combination.
“We’re fortunate it worked out well,” Ballhaus said. “It seemed like they gained momentum as the game went on and got a little more comfortable playing with each other to be able to come back from 8-5 and score five straight goals.”
Trailing 8-5 after the fourth and 8-6 after the fifth chukkers, Beverly Polo outscored Quite on Z, 4-0, in the final chukker to clinch the win. When the team was behind, there was no sense of panic, Ocampo said.
“I think it’s really important to keep focused always, support each other on the bad ones and on the good ones, but mostly on the bad ones,” Ocampo said. “When everything goes good and everyone is scoring and making good plays, everything is perfect. But the most important time to support each other is on the bad ones and to encourage each other.”
In the first half, Beverly Polo took a 2-1 lead with an early penalty conversion from Ocampo and 80-yard goal from Magrini. Vercellino scored late in the chukker for Quite on Z. The teams played evenly, 3-3, in the second chukker with Beverly Polo still leading by one goal, 5-4.
Quite on Z shut out Beverly Polo 2-0 in the third chukker to lead 6-5 at the half and 2-0 in the fourth to lead 8-5. The last two chukkers it was all Beverly Polo with back-to-back shutouts while scoring five consecutive goals.
Ballhaus and Ocampo gave credit to former 10-goaler Pike Diaz Alberdi, who has coached Beverly Polo during its 12, 16 and 18 goal league play.
“Over time we continue to build the organization and our horses,” Ballhaus said. “Now the last few years [15-year-old son] Wil has started playing. So we’ve got a lot more horses in Florida this season and that’s really how we’re able to play in so many different tournaments.”
Added Ocampo, “Pike is the key to all of this. He was the one at halftime who said we should change this and you can see he was right. To have a guy like Pike, he has a different eye from everybody on the outside and that’s really helpful.”
In addition to Ocampo’s five goals, Magrini also had five goals. Vercellino led Quite on Z with six goals. Meirelles added two goals.
The 12-goal league games have been the most competitive at Grand Champions this season.
“Polo has grown a lot,” Ocampo said. “This year the tournaments have increased a lot. There are much more sponsors, better horses and better jobs. I think eighty percent of what you play and your level it’s because of the horses. That’s been shown all over the season.”
Six teams including defending champion Newport, competed in the tournament. Last year Newport won the title with Gene Goldstein, Milo Dorignac, Michael Dorignac and Nick Manifold defeating Ellipse (Jack Whitman, Toly Ulloa, Robi Balbao, Louis Devaleix), 17-13. Michel Dorignac was MVP.
In the 2022 season-opening 12-goal tournament, Dundas (Cable Magness, 0, Juan Cruz Merlos, 3, Geronimo Obregon, 5, Roberto Zedda, 4) defended its title to win the Limited Edition 12-Goal Series with a 12-9 win over Mayer Ranch (Ken Mayer, 0, Matt Coppola, 5, Juan Monteverde, 5, Brendon Stenzel, 2). Zedda was MVP.
In the second 12-goal tournament of the season, defending champion Dundas won the 32nd annual Sieber Memorial Tournament. Dundas (Sarah Siegel Magness, 0, Juan Cruz Marcos, 3, Geronimo Obregon, 5, Roberto Zedda) were awarded a forfeit victory from Excalibor (Robert Mashaal, 0, Matias MacDonough, Santi Llavallo, Martin Jauregui, 5). Zedda was also MVP.
Grand Champions, the nation’s largest polo club, celebrating its 15th anniversary, is coming off its most successful fall season. The club is hosting 23 tournaments through April.
Grand Champions is host to the World Polo League, now in its fourth year and only 26-goal polo played outside of Argentina. It has attracted a large international field from around the world. The world-class league will run through April 16.
After the successful All-Star Challenge and Tommy Hitchcock Legacy Memorial, the remaining WPL tournaments are Sunday’s Palm Beach Open; Triple Crown of Polo, which is currently under way and Beach Polo World Cup Miami Beach.
Grand Champions is also hosting various levels of polo. The high goal club tournaments feature the Sterling Cup, $100,000 World Cup and Santa Rita Abierto. There are 16, 8 and 6-goal tournaments scheduled for April.
There is also the Polo School Grand Champions Women’s League, co-founded by Melissa Ganzi and Alina Carta, for all ages and playing ability held Wednesdays at 10 a.m. at Santa Rita Polo Farm that will culminate with the April 2 Sunny Hale Legacy Final.
Grand Champions Polo Club and Santa Rita Polo Farm is the largest and most unique private 100-acre polo facility in Wellington with 120 stalls in several self-contained barns, exercise track, five climate-controlled tack rooms, vet room, staff quarters, guest house and polo fields with state-of-the-art underground irrigation and stick-and-ball fields.
During fall, winter and spring seasons, Grand Champions Polo Club, the nation’s largest club and ultimate polo destination with 18 well-manicured polo fields including 13 world-class tournament grade, hosts polo tournaments ranging from six to 26-goal including the 26-goal World Polo League in addition to special events.
The Polo School, now located at the former Pony Express facility, operates in Wellington January through May and September through November. For more information on the Fall Leagues or Polo School contact Juan Bollini at 561-346-1099 or Cale Newman at 561-876-2930.
Grand Champions Polo Club caters to men, women and youth polo players at all levels. Its’ expert staff can customize a complete playing experience including horses, pros and certified umpires in addition to lessons and practice sessions as part of its’ Polo On Demand program, the only polo club in the U.S. to offer the unique program.