Feb 15, 2021 2:34 PM
As the only team to defeat powerhouse Pilot not once, but twice since the inception of the GAUNTLET OF POLO®, La Indiana emerged as a strong contender to challenge Daily Racing Form (DRF) in the 2020 USPA Gold Cup® Final. Taking place on Sunday, February 14, on the U.S. Polo Assn. Field 1, the final started off slowly, but quickly picked up pace as La Indiana’s (Jeff Hall, Nico Escobar*, Polito Pieres, Juan Cruz ‘Cacu’ Marcos, Michael Bickford) offensive strategy left Daily Racing Form (Costi Caset*, Jared Zenni*, Agustin Obregon, Tommy Collingwood) fighting to close the gap. Holding off their opponents’ second half push, La Indiana never faltered to claim the title 14-9 and $100,000 in prize money.
“The four of us played really well, but we missed Michael [Bickford] who couldn't be here. This was my big win because in 2019 Aspen lost the USPA Gold Cup® Final so this is my redemption and I’m so happy.” – Polito Pieres
Although DRF held the initial lead with a goal on handicap (due to Marcos’ raise in handicap to 3-goals after the semifinal) and a Penalty 2 conversion, La Indiana was quick to turn the tables in their favor. Intercepting a backshot and jumping on a breakaway, Escobar put the opening goal on the board for La Indiana, a precursor of plays to come. In their highest-scoring chukker of the game, La Indiana took the field with confidence and deadly accuracy, seizing five consecutive goals in a matter of minutes. Two penalty conversions and three runs later, La Indiana’s unity on the field tripled the tally 6-2 heading into the third.
Silencing Daily Racing Form for the remainder of the first half, La Indiana’s dominance was due in large part to their ability to create optimal scoring opportunities for each another. Getting on back-to-back breakaways and barreling uncontested to goal, Hall had the protection of strong defenders which left the field wide open. All four teammates contributing to the scoreboard, La Indiana went into halftime on a high note with a commanding 9-2 advantage.
Determined to make up for lost time, DRF retaliated and produced their strongest chukker of the game. Striking the first goal since the opening chukker, Caset was countered by a La Indiana goal which bounced off the post into goal. Weaving his way in and out to avoid three defenders, Caset skillfully added another to the tally with Zenni close behind. DRF diminished the sizable deficit to three early in the fifth, but La Indiana acted fast to regain the lead.
Operating with the benefit of the team in mind, each La Indiana player was given their moment to shine as all four successfully went to goal. Winning a ride off against Zenni to score, Escobar immediately transitioned to defense and enabled Marcos to run effortlessly to goal. Capping off the chukker with an explosive shot in the final seconds, Pieres doubled up the scoreboard 14-7 with one chukker remaining. Adding two more Penalty 3 conversions before the clock ran out, DRF conceded victory to their worthy opponents La Indiana 14-9. As the winners of the tournament, La Indiana received $100,000 in total prize money and Daily Racing Form took home $25,000.
La Indiana’s Jeff Hall was named Most Valuable Player. “All of us try so hard, we train and we are working at the barn every day,” Hall said. “I take it very seriously, so it’s always a great feeling to be recognized for all the hard work you put in.”
The victory was especially meaningful to Hall as the USPA Gold Cup® was the only tournament of the three GAUNTLET OF POLO® events he had yet to raise. “Last year when the tournament was canceled due to COVID-19 I didn't know if we were ever going to get here,” Hall said. “I want to thank to Michael Bickford and the whole La Indiana team!” Playing with Santiago Gomez Romero in 2020, La Indiana played with their 2021 lineup for the semifinal and final which included Nico Escobar. “I wish Santiago [Gomez Romero] was here because he helped us get to the semifinal and it’s too bad he couldn’t be here,” Hall remarked. “If you’re watching, this win is for you and Michael [Bickford], well done! We’re excited to have Michael back for the C.V. Whitney Cup®.”
Playing for La Indiana in the most important games of the 2020 USPA Gold Cup®, Escobar felt confident in his teammates and was able to easily join the lineup. “I have a really good relationship with Polito [Pieres] and Jeff [Hall] and they both help me out a lot,” Escobar said. “I'm learning so much from them like how to keep myself one hundred percent focused throughout all six chukkers of the game and not get distracted.”
When Michael Bickford was unable to play in the semifinal, La Indiana called on 22-year-old Juan Cruz ‘Cacu’ Marcos to step in. “I saw him playing at Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club [Carpinteria, California] this past summer with Dundas in the 12-goal and a little bit in the 16-goal,” Hall shared. “I called Robertito Zedda and he spoke with team owner Sarah Siegel-Magness who was gracious enough to let Cacu come play with us, so thank you Sarah [Siegel-Magness] and Roberto [Zedda].” “It was very easy to join the team because they are all very good players,” Marcos added. “Also all of La Indiana’s horses that I played are so nice and it’s a great organization.”
Best Playing Pony honors were awarded to 8-year-old bay mare Machitos Pangia (Durazno x Pandora), owned and played by Polito Pieres in the fifth chukker. “Last year the USPA did a horse feature on Machitos Pangia and this year she won her first Best Playing Pony award so I am really happy with her,” Pieres said.
La Indiana is one of the nine teams competing in the 2021 GAUNTLET OF POLO® which begins Wednesday, February 17. Watch La Indiana compete with team owner Michael Bickford on Thursday, February 18, against Park Place, livestreamed exclusively on Global Polo TV.
All photos courtesy of ©David Lominska.
*Nico Escobar is an Active Team USPA Members. Constancio ‘Costi’ Caset and Jared Zenni are Graduating Team USPA Members. 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.
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