The America Cup was played prior to the Farmers & Merchants Bank Silver Cup final and served as the first match of the NetJets Pacific Coast Open at Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club in Carpinteria, California. The battle between Klentner Ranch (Patrick Uretz*, Santiago Toccalino, Jesse Bray*, Justin Klentner) and Antelope (Grant Palmer, Joaquin Avendaño, Felipe Vercellino, Matias Torres Zavaleta) came down to the wire to determine the victor. Early contributions from Klentner Ranch’s Uretz and Bray set the offensive tone for a five-goal performance from Toccalino to power past Antelope 11-10, raising the America Cup and the bar for the remainder of the high-goal season.
Facing each other earlier in the Silver Cup bracket play on Sunday, July 31, with Antelope taking the match 14-11, both teams approached the America Cup with a fresh mindset. Jesse Bray reflected on Klentner Ranch’s strategy, “We played Antelope once before, but they had Poroto Cambiaso instead of Matias Torres Zavaleta and we had Segundo Saravi instead of Patrick, so it was two very different teams. We play similar in almost every game, hit the ball hard and try to put pressure on the front. Antelope is a very good team and they’ve been playing well all season.”
Conceding a goal on handicap to Antelope at the onset of the game, Klentner Ranch’s Bray initiated the scoring from the field. A response from Zavaleta gave Antelope a brief 2-1 lead. Accounting for all the offense in the second chukker, three goals from Klentner Ranch, including a Penalty 2 from Bray and two field goals from Uretz, doubled up the score for the team in blue, 4-2.
Klentner Ranch’s Jesse Bray aims for a powerful backshot alongside Antelope’s Joaquin Avendaño.
Playing with a rotating roster throughout the Silver Cup, Klentner Ranch featured various line-ups, including combinations of brothers Jake* and Luke Klentner, as well as substitutes Saravi and Uretz. Attempting to find the right combination for his team in the aftermath of an injury, Justin Klentner noted, “Luke wanted to get more involved, and with me getting hurt, it worked out as a really good opportunity. At least there was a Klentner on the field!” He continued, “I didn’t get to play with Segundo, but Luke did. He played really well for us, and he was really good for the horses. I got on the horses he played for me, and they were better than when I gave them to him!”
Despite the revolving roster, Justin Klentner was confident in the chemistry of his team for the America Cup. “We’ve been playing with Patrick for four of five years and I’ve been playing with Jesse for 10, and this is the second year with Santi, so we have our system down.” Uretz, a California native, relied on his experience as a Santa Barbara staple with Klentner Ranch in the 12-goal. “We got to play two practices before [the America Cup], they were really fun, and we got organized.” He added, “I’ve played with Justin and Jesse for a couple of years now and playing with Santi is super easy. The team chemistry helps a lot. Jesse and Santi play really well together. And with Justin, Jesse and me knowing each other, and where we’re going to be when the games get tough in the end, we have faith in our teammates that they’re going to make the right play.”
Antelope’s Matias Torres Zavaleta on a breakaway.
Outscoring Klentner Ranch for the first time in the third chukker, two conversions from Vercellino combined with a drive from Zavaleta that left the back-and-forth affair tied 5-all at the break. Confident in Klentner Ranch’s second half abilities, Toccalino expressed, “We have a way of playing where everybody’s working, so we need everybody to be competitive [until] the last second. We like playing together and we keep it simple. We hit the ball, we run, we try to do our best and every time we give 100 percent. Any team can win and it’s tough, but we enjoy being together and we are on the same page that we like to be competitive.”
Opening the second half with a goal from Toccalino, back-to-back goals from Vercellino and Zavaleta once again boosted Antelope on top, 7-6. Not to be deterred, Toccalino took advantage of Antelope’s foul troubles in the fifth to convert twice from the penalty line while Bray found space on the field to re-take a two-goal lead.
Klenter Ranch’s Jesse Bray attempts the hook on Antelope’s Felipe Vercellino.
Leading by just one in the sixth, Toccalino shared the mentality needed to prevail in close contests, “When it’s so close, you have to try and not lose your mindset. The best things to do are play hard and don’t lose the man, and when you have it, hit it and run!”
Finding the goal for his fourth time of the match, Zavaleta came through once more for Antelope to equalize the score 10-all. But with overtime looming, a final Penalty 4 from Bray lifted Klentner Ranch to an 11-10 victory and the America Cup title. “This was a super important game for us”, Bray shared, “Not just the America Cup, it’s nice to win the tournament but it’s also the first game of the Pacific Coast Open. Now we’re 1-0.”
Collecting five goals in Klentner Ranch’s victory, Santiago Toccalino was named Most Valuable Player. “It’s always nice to win these trophies”, expressed Toccalino, “the important ones are the team trophies, those are the ones you work for. When you receive MVP, you are really happy for all the hard work, for the horses and the grooms.”
Most Valuable Player Santiago Toccalino led Klentner Ranch with five goals.
Open Easy Victory, a 12-yard-old bay mare (Yatay Anhelo x Easy Go) owned by Matias Torres Zavaleta earned Best Playing Pony. “I have a lot of confidence in her,” said Zavaleta. “I played her as a spare in the third and a chukker in the sixth. She was bred by Ellerstina. She has a lot of power and is very comfortable when you run with the ball. She has good sides and is a very good mare.”
For Uretz, filling in for Jake Klentner was also a welcome reunion with Mufasa, a 10-year-old bay gelding he had previously sold to Klentner. “It was really cool that one of my horses was in the string I got to play in the first chukker,” said Uretz. “I bought him when he was three from Zacara and ever since then he’s been going great. A lot of the ones I’ve been playing in the 12-goal were also in the string, so I was familiar with most of the horses today.”
Currently playing at La Herradura in Santa Ynez, California, Uretz is making the best of the summer polo season. “I might play in the Pacific Coast Open if I substitute for someone else. I’ve been playing at Memo’s and having a lot of fun where I can. California is one of the best places to play polo in the world, especially in the summer.”
Best Playing Pony Open Easy Victory, played and owned by Matias Torres Zavaleta, pictured with Hernan Gadea.
Hoping to continue his team’s winning streak in the Pacific Coast Open, Bray is looking forward to the culmination of the high-goal season noting, “The Pacific Coast Open gets tight at the end, it’s almost like a different season. The teams that don’t start out well finish well, or the other way around.” Set to face BenSoleimani.com on Friday, August 12, following their Silver Cup victory, Bray added, “It’s going to be a tough week for sure. They’ve beaten us twice and they’re a really good team and they’re playing well.”
Noting the increased competition at Santa Barbara, Toccalino added, “It’s competitive until the last second. Everybody brought more horses and better players and the fields are really good.” Hedging his bets on Klentner Ranch’s track record in the Pacific Coast Open, Justin continued, “We’re feeling good. We’ve won this three out of the last four years [2018, 2020, 2021], so we’re feeling like we know the process.” When asked what Klentner is looking forward to in the tournament, Justin simply replied, “Getting to the finals and winning it!”
*Patrick Uretz, Jesse Bray and Jake Klentner 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 ©David Lominska.