More than 3,000 fans filled the new National Polo Center – Wellington (NPC) in Wellington, Florida, for the final match of the XII FIP Polo World Championship. A unique venue for a historic moment in polo, Spain defeated the United States 11-10 in overtime and took the trophy to Europe for the first time since the tournament was introduced 35 years ago.
Spain, vying for their first championship after placing fourth in the past two FIP competitions, fought relentlessly and drove the game to an extra chukker after being two goals down a few minutes before the end of the game.
A youthful team of players all 25 years old or younger, the United States performed spectacularly throughout the competition despite their narrow loss to Spain, upsetting tournament favorites Uruguay and Argentina in bracket play and semifinal play, respectively. For the semifinal match against Argentina, Coach Julio Arellano brought in his daughter, Hope*, another historic moment this event provided to the world of polo, as she became the first woman to represent her country in the final stage of an FIP World Polo Championship. This adjustment resulted in the USA entering the semifinals with two pairs of siblings: Agustin and Hope Arellano and Lucas* and Nicolas “Nico” Escobar*, a unique addition to the memorable experience.
USA’s Hope Arellano alongside Spain’s Nicolas “Tuki” Ruiz Guiñazu.
It was an unforgettable tournament and the product of meticulous organization between the Federation of International Polo, the United States Polo Association, and the invaluable contribution of J5 Valiente Equestrian, who made their fields, horses and organization available for the event. A tournament five years in the making, the event ultimately delivered an extremely competitive level of play, one that certainly points towards a promising future for polo in America.
In the wake of this monumental event, CLICKPOLOUSA took time to speak with the USA team and the FIP organizational team about their experience playing in and planning the international contest.
How was your experience playing for USA in the FIP World Polo Championship?
It was such an honor to play for the USA [in] this tournament. The organization of it all was truly amazing. Even though we were sad to lose, Spain was such a great team. They were extremely kind and showed great sportsmanship. It was an honor to play alongside them!
Did you enjoy playing with your teammates?
It was such a blast being able to play with Agustin, Nico, and Lucas; and to be a part of the team with Nicolas “Nico” Diaz Alberdi*, Joaquín Avendaño, Jake Klentner* and Jesse Bray*. To have my dad coaching us was amazing [and] Jake fought hard [to get us] to the semifinals.
What did you think of the National Polo Center – Wellington?
NPC did an amazing job of hosting this tournament. I’m excited to see what the future holds for that [center]. The horses were great, and the entire organization was incredible.
Did you feel a lot of pressure throughout the experience, especially being the first woman to compete?
I felt the pressure, not because I was the first woman to play, but because they had reached the semifinals. So, I wanted to make the team proud. Everyone was so kind and supportive. It was amazing to see how many people were cheering for us.
What is next for you?
I’m now heading to Argentina to play the Women’s Argentine Open for La Irenita.
How do you feel after your first FIP World Polo Championship experience?
I feel incredible, honestly. Everyone loves to win, especially when you are so close, but truthfully, I can’t be anything except happy. The U.S. team made it to the final and I got to play with an amazing team.
What did you think of the final against Spain?
The final was tough. It was one of the best games I have ever had the pleasure of being a part of. The Spanish team were all great opponents, and I am very happy to see their success.
What did you think of the tournament as a whole?
The tournament was incredible, filled with lots of upsets and fantastic games. Being able to beat two of the favorites (Uruguay & Argentina) was a huge success for the U.S. team. Both games were very close and very fun to play.
Did you enjoy that this experience involved a lot of family for you?
It was nothing short of phenomenal. My sister is the best teammate, I am her biggest fan. My dad is my hero. So being able to be on the team with both of them was probably the best experience of my life.
What do you think this tournament meant for polo in the United States?
I think this tournament was fantastic for polo in the United States. It got so much traction and I had so many people come to me after games saying they had never been to a polo game before, and they were elated. I think that they did an amazing job marketing the tournament.
How did the horses add to the level of play in this tournament?
To be able to play horses at the caliber that J5 provided in a tournament like this is unheard of. I think it made it very special and we can all agree that it made the polo so fast and fun to watch [and] play.
What is next for you?
Now I have a bit of vacation time. I will go watch Hope play in the Argentine Women’s Open and I will bring in my string of young horses that I love to work with.
Did you feel a lot of support from your country?
The USA team had so much support from our country it was unbelievable. The fans at the games, the letters and messages we received. It was truly amazing to see so many people support us and have our backs.
What did you think of your team’s performance?
Overall, I’m very pleased with how the United States team performed and how far we got. I couldn’t be more proud of my teammates and the staff members of the team. Of course, we wanted to win the final, but we made a very good effort.
What did you think of the final against Spain?
The final was very tough. The Spanish team played very well, and they came out with the win in overtime when it was anybody’s game. My hat goes off to them for a match very well played.
How was the level of play across the tournament?
The tournament was very well structured, and all the teams were very good. I believe that Argentina and Uruguay had very strong teams. Although we didn’t see them in the final, they should be very proud of their performances because they had an excellent week.
What was your favorite part about this experience?
One of my favorite things in polo is to play with my brother. We seem to connect very well inside the field, and we are best friends off the field. To represent our country together on a world stage was a dream come true.
What did you think of the final?
It was a really tough game and we had it in our hands at the end. But we could not hold on the whole chukker. Spain is a really good team.
How was the level of competition throughout the event?
Uruguay and Argentina were very tough, every team in the tournament was extremely tough. It was probably one of the toughest tournaments I have ever played.
Did you enjoy playing alongside your brother, Lucas?
It was great to play with my brother. I have said before that we give each other a lot of confidence and we know how to read each other on the field. I think we proved ourselves playing together.
What does this experience mean for the future of polo in America?
I think it’s a good time for Americans to make a comeback in polo.
How were the horses provided by J5 Equestrian?
J5 and La Dolfina did a great job, for the circumstances of the schedule, having a game every other day, it is really hard on the horses, but they held up well and were very well taken care of.
What is next for you?
My season will now continue in Argentina, where I will keep trying to improve my game.
USA’s Lucas Escobar and Agustin Arellano embrace after the final.
ALEX TAYLOR (TOURNAMENT DIRECTOR, FEDERATION OF INTERNATIONAL POLO)
Do you think that organization paid off in the execution of this event?
The organization was simply perfect. All the hard work done by the USPA, led by [USPA Executive Director of Services] Carlucho Arellano and [USPA Director of Governance and Operations] Lindsey Ebersbach, was excellent. Also, the addition of [FIP Tournament Coordinator] Felipe Del Sel for this tournament, who worked with us in the FIP, was very important. The umpires did a great job and teams showed extraordinary camaraderie and sportsmanship.
I would also like to praise the work done by Roberto Zedda from J5 Valiente/La Dolfina and Adam Snow, the horse master of the tournament. We had a total of 176 horses for the event. Roberto and Adam made eight batches of 21 horses and every team had 11 A horses, nine B horses and one C horse. They were all very good and very well prepared. Proof of that is that one semifinal and the final went into overtime and the horses were still in very good shape.
What did you think of the final?
I think the way the final ended summarizes the whole event. An incredible crowd cheering for both teams, with the United States seconds away from winning the trophy and Spain fighting until the end. A throw-in a few meters away from the U.S. goal and Spain tying the match with just seconds to go. Pelayo’s fantastic goal made the perfect end to a perfect tournament.
In my name and the FIP’s, I thank all those who participated and made this a great Championship!
USA’s Nico Escobar discusses strategy with Team Coach Julio Arellano.
CARLUCHO ARELLANO (UNITED STATES POLO ASSOCIATION EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF SERVICES)
How do you feel about the overall experience of the event?
Just a couple of days went by since the end of the tournament, and the first thing that comes to my mind is when we spoke in Argentina at the FIP General Assembly, when we won the bid to organize the World Cup. We promised that everybody would see the best of the United States during the tournament. The venue, the fields, the horses and the service from the staff. I’m happy because I feel that we gave the best of what we have to the seven countries that came to visit us. I hope that everyone had a good time and that they felt well cared for by the service we provided.
I think we gave our all in every way. The preparations, the hotels, the parties and the events that we organized when there was no polo. The days when there was polo, we did our best to make everything work.
Did you feel connected to the USA team and this competition?
From a personal point of view, I am a big fan of Team USA. I consider myself their number 1 fan, as I’m the uncle of two of our players. I feel very close to this tournament and to the FIP in general. I believe that being part of the FIP and being able to compete in a World Cup is something very important in a player’s career.
As the sole horse provider for the XII FIP World Polo Championship, J5 Equestrian provided 180 top quality horses to the competing teams.
ROBERTO ZEDDA (J5 VALIENTE/LA DOLFINA)
How would you describe your experience with this event?
Organizing such an important event as an FIP World Cup is something that I had never done in any of the organizations I had worked with, it was a new experience. It took us a lot of work, but luckily everything went very well, and the objective was achieved. I think overall it was a fantastic tournament.
How did you begin organizing and preparing for this event?
Our work started months ago when I got together with Adolfo Cambiaso and made the list of horses in Argentina. The horses, 180 in total, arrived in Florida at the beginning of September when we began to train them. That’s when we started riding them and fine-tuned them.
First, I did a preliminary filter of what I considered were A, B and C level horses and then with Adam Snow we made slight changes in Florida. Adam is a fantastic person, someone who knows a lot about polo. I’ve known him for a long time, and it was a real pleasure to work with someone who knows so much about horses, a real 10-goaler on and off the field.
I would like to highlight the efforts of the grooms and especially of Juani Vidal Dominguez from J5 Valiente/La Dolfina, who was there from the beginning. Also, thanks to Cotterel Polo Farms, from Idaho, who helped us with grooms, trailers and horses, they were very important in the tournament’s logistics.
What is next for the horses?
I’m happy with the result and the comments we received. All of the horses will stay in the United States where they will take part in the different tournaments and events of the organization.
*Hope Arellano, Lucas Escobar and Nicolas “Nico” Díaz Alberdi are Active Team USA Members. Nicolas “Nico” Escobar is a Graduating Team USPA Member. Jake Klentner and Jesse Bray 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.