Wind Swept rallied in the final two chukkers to capture its first Limited Edition 12-Goal Series title Saturday at Santa Rita Polo Farm.
By Sharon Robb
Wind Swept (Harrison Reicher, 0, Rufino Merlos, 1, Tincho Merlos, 7, Baldo Palomeque, 4) scored six unanswered goals in the second half and went on to win, 13-10, over Oriflamme (Jason Crowder, 5, Frankie Bilbao, 4, Benn Shepherd, 0, Jason Warren, 3).
Argentine former 10-goaler Tincho Merlos was named Most Valuable Player. Merlos, the team’s field general, scored a game-high seven goals. Pony Vicha, played by Rufino Merlos in the fifth chukker, was Best Playing Pony.
“I don’t get nervous with this because I trust Tincho so much, he is a great leader,” Reicher said. “He is usually screaming at me rather than calming me but he is a great teacher.”
United Kingdom-based Oriflamme dominated the first four chukkers while Wind Swept started off slowly. The teams were tied 7-7 at the half. Oriflamme shut out Wind Swept, 3-0, in the fourth chukker to lead 10-7.
After Reicher was awarded a penalty-one with 3:38 left in the fifth chukker, the momentum shifted with Wind Swept posting back-to-back 3-0 shutouts in the last two chukkers.
“I think we came out a little bit slow in the first half,” Reicher said. “During halftime we just assessed the game. Realistically, we were playing awful and realized we were lucky that we were still in it. We trusted each other, the shots and the plays. At the half, we had time just to breathe and said let’s go out and win this.”
For Reicher, 17, a sophomore at St. Edwards in Vero Beach, it was his 12-goal tournament debut and first 12-goal tournament win. Reicher has been playing polo for ten years honing his skills with the Polo Training Foundation at a young age.
Reicher has developed chemistry with Tincho Merlos and his family, living with them in Argentina last November and December and playing polo every day. The chemistry was obvious between Tincho, Rufino and Santos Merlos, who was replaced in the final with Palomeque after injuring his shoulder.
“I just learned so much from them,” Reicher said. “This was the first 12-goal of my life. It was amazing I loved the speed and the competition. It’s always more fun to play more competition and go faster and faster.
“There’s no better feeling to win with basically my family in a sport that I love doing nothing more,” Reicher said. “It’s a win just even playing with my family and friends. Winning the tournament is like icing on the cake.”
The team name Wind Swept originated from a street name in the Hamptons where the Reicher family has a vacation home. “We thought it sounded like a good name,” said Reicher, the team patron.
For Oriflamme, making its Grand Champions and Florida polo debut, Bilbao led with a team-high four goals. Crowder had three goals and Warren added two. The team was also awarded a penalty one.
Wind Swept outshot Oriflamme, 19-11, and led in throw-ins, 13-10. Oriflamme took advantage of Wind Swept’s 12 fouls, scoring off seven of them. Oriflamme led in knock-ins, 6-1.
Grand Champions, the nation’s largest polo club celebrating its 16th anniversary, and Santa Rita Polo Farm is the largest and most unique private 102-acre polo facility in Wellington with 212 stalls in nine self-contained barns, two tracks, five climate-controlled tack rooms, vet room, staff quarters, guest house and four polo fields with state-of-the-art underground irrigation and short work arena. The club has 13 well-manicured fields including nine world-class fields at GCPC and Santa Rita.
During the winter polo season, Grand Champions, the nation’s largest and most innovative USPA-sanctioned polo club, nestled in the heart of the world’s winter equestrian capital, is hosting tournaments: 6, 8, 12, 20, and 26-goal leagues, WCT Finals, women’s weekly league play and 26-goal World Polo League tournaments at both Grand Champions and Santa Rita.
Grand Champions tournaments attract a large international field of players from all corners of the world including Argentina, India, Mexico, New Zealand, Costa Rica, Canada, Ecuador, Brazil, Switzerland, France, England, Germany, Uruguay, Azerbaijan, South Africa, Venezuela, Chile, and England.
Season highlights for 2023 are the Sterling Cup, $50,000 National 12-Goal Tournament, Sieber Memorial, John T. Oxley Memorial, the inaugural Richard Riemenschneider Memorial Cup and $100,000 World Cup Tournament, a unique 0-40-goal, winner-take-all single-elimination tournament and special events including World Polo League Polo Pride and Sunset Chukkers & Cocktails.
The biggest highlight of the season is the fifth season of the World Polo League currently underway at Grand Champions. It is the only 26-goal played outside of Argentina.
The winter season is being live-streamed locally and worldwide on Wellington-based ChukkerTV (CTV).
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 Polo School, now located at the former Pony Express facility, operates in Wellington January through May and September through November. The stand-alone USPA-sanctioned polo club, is thriving. It is dedicated to teaching polo to all ages, particularly grass roots youth. Its mission is to provide individuals opportunities in polo at every economic and ability level. November. The Polo School has nurtured several junior, men and women polo players now playing in the pro and amateur ranks since its inception.
For more information on leagues or Polo School contact Directors of Operations Juan Bollini at 561-346-1099 or Cale Newman at 561-876-2930.