Aug 14, 2023 11:19 PM
The Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club in Carpinteria, California, served as host to an epic clash of polo powerhouses as the Farmers & Merchants Bank Silver Cup championship reached its crescendo on Sunday, August 13. The historic tournament finale pitted defending champions, BenSoleimani.com (Benhour “Ben” Soleimani, Kristos “Keko” Magrini*, Ignacio “Iñaki” Laprida, Rodrigo De Andrade) against Brookshire (Scott Wood, Paco “Paquito” de Narvaez Jr., Mariano “Peke” Gonzalez, Tomas Panelo), in a rematch of the opening game of the tournament.
“Obviously it’s a really, really important trophy – one of the oldest ones – so it’s amazing to win it. It’s my second time playing it, so I'm happy that we could make it today.” – Brookshire's Mariano "Peke" Gonzalez on earning his first Silver Cup title
Brookshire dominated the first half, scoring six goals to BenSoleimani.com’s one to secure a steady lead before the break. BenSoleimani.com regrouped and returned with a new strategy in tow to mount a commendable fifth chukker comeback and close the goal gap to three. In the end, it was not enough for the defending champions to take home the win – Brookshire broke BenSoleimani.com's streak and emerged victorious, with 10 total goals by the end of play.
This year’s bracket lineup included the likes of Antelope, Farmers & Merchants Bank, Bensoleimani.com, A Team, Klentner Ranch and Brookshire. After two weeks of tournament play and one unusual rain delay, semifinals took place Friday afternoon, with Brookshire taking on Antelope, and BenSoleimani.com taking on Farmers & Merchants Bank. Brookshire and BenSoleimani.com, who played one other in the first game of the tournament, won their respective semis, advancing to Sunday’s highly anticipated final to face off once more.
As it turns out, Brookshire’s journey to the podium was somewhat of a family affair. Peke Gonzalez and Paquito de Narvaez Jr. are not just teammates, but cousins. “I was really focused on trying to make Peke and Paquito play as best as possible,” recounted teammate, Tomas Panelo. "And I think they played really well together.”
Gonzalez, owner of 5 the Best Playing Pony, who was also awarded Most Valuable Player, showcased a level of synergy that resonated with the championship's enduring legacy. "We played really well today – I think today was our best game as a team,” remarked Gonzalez. “Obviously it’s a really, really important trophy – one of the oldest ones – so it’s amazing to win it. It’s my second time playing it, so I'm happy that we could make it today.”
What is perhaps more compelling about Gonzalez’s Silver Cup success on Sunday is that his grandfather, Daniel Gonzalez, won the Pacific Coast Open in 1986 – which happens to be the next stop on Brookshire’s bucket list.
From the very first throw-in, Brookshire took control of the field and set the pace of play. Brookshire team owner, Scott Wood, described his strategy going into the match: “I just knew I had to be back with Iñaki as much as I could, holding him for one or two seconds extra so my guy could get a break, and we were able to do that a couple of times today. I’ve won this twice before, but it’s been a long time. I thought ‘we have the right team if we don’t make the mistakes.’ We felt confident from the very beginning." Their confidence paid off, as Brookshire was quick to take the lead early in the first.
In the second, BenSoleimani.com made their first tactical move towards the scoreboard. A slew of knock-ins provided both teams with ample scoring opportunities, which De Andrade took advantage of, scoring BenSoleimani.com's first goal off a broken knock-in. De Narvaez Jr. and De Andrade rallied in a back-and-forth contest, but BenSoleimani.com managed to keep Brookshire off the board.
“I’ve won this twice before, but it’s been a long time. I thought ‘we have the right team if we don’t make the mistakes.’ We felt confident from the very beginning.” – Brookshire's Scott Wood
Brookshire began to pull away early in the third, dominating the period by tripling their goals. Despite a spirited effort by BenSoleimani.com's Laprida on a breakaway, Brookshire’s defense held strong and stopped the ball just short of the goal line, solidifying their dominance to lead by five at the half.
“We knew we were playing well, but we didn’t want to lose that momentum at halftime,” said Gonzalez. “We tried to keep focus and play the same way we were playing the previous three chukkers. We started strong, with attitude, and more than anything, I think we were really organized on the field. Defending probably was not our strength in the previous games, we were good attacking but not as good defending. Today, we were organized on defense.”
Panelo echoed his sentiment, saying “Scott did a great job defending, he helped us a lot during the game. We were quite organized defending and I think that was the key.”
“Tomy Panelo is like [Adolfo] Cambiaso was at his age, or maybe, in that range anyway. Watching these younger players play, all three of them, they just did a magnificent job.” – Brookshire's Scott Wood on the play of his young teammates
Following the break, BenSoleimani.com returned to the field ready for action, converting one Penalty 2 in the fourth, followed by two more goals in the fifth. Brookshire rallied and responded with three more goals of their own, bringing the score 9-4 in favor of Brookshire at moving into the final chukker. The sixth showcased a solid comeback from BenSoleimani.com, gaining three goals (two field goals and a Penalty 1 automatic goal) to close in on Brookshire’s lead. Brookshire proved unyielding, Panelo knocking in one more goal, his fifth of the day, to secure the win with a final score 10-7.
“Tomy Panelo is like [Adolfo] Cambiaso was at his age, or maybe, in that range anyway,” said Wood. “Watching these younger players play, all three of them, they just did a magnificent job.”
Brookshire now looks ahead to the Pacific Coast Open beginning next week. Gonzalez and Narvaez are hoping to capture the PCO title just as their grandfather did 37 years ago. “Going into the PCO, it’s a new tournament, so we must focus on next Sunday,” explained Gonzalez. “It’s important we recover the horses well and keep trying to play the same way we did today. That’s going to be key for us.”
When asked how Brookshire would be celebrating Sunday’s win, Wood remarked “I think we’re going to have an asado tonight. A little champagne maybe…just a little bit.”
*Kristos "Keko" Magrini is an Active Member of Team USPA. 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.
Effective Date: Saturday, May 16, 2020
The suspension of USPA Tournaments and Events will be lifted for USPA Member Clubs in locales where hosting polo matches and tournaments is permitted under applicable state and local laws, executive orders and similar decrees. The USPA Member Clubs in these locales are encouraged to follow all such requirements of their state and local authorities with respect to polo operations. In addition, we also encourage all USPA Member Clubs to take the precautions recommended by the CDC. We are preparing a detailed list of best practices for USPA Member Clubs as they return to hosting USPA Tournaments and Events and plan to circulate these guidelines within the next week. We will continue to monitor the COVID-19 situation closely and will notify you if we determine a different course of action is necessary.Read More