Oct 28, 2019 7:49 PM

Winner Skaneateles - Cesar Jimenez, Costi Caset, Joaquin Panelo and Marty Cregg.
2019 National Copper Cup® champions Skaneateles (L to R) Cesar Jimenez, Costi Caset, Joaquin Panelo, Marty Cregg.

Headed full-force into the National Copper Cup® Final undefeated, defending champions Skaneateles were poised to claim their third consecutive title on Sunday, October 27, at New Bridge Polo & Country Club in Aiken, South Carolina. Gaining the advantage early in the second half, Skaneateles held fast to their one goal lead to solidify the win over Crestview Farm 10-9.

“It’s unbelievable to win the trophy for the third time because it seems like it wasn’t long ago when our goal was to win our first National Copper Cup®. Now having won it three times in a row is a big satisfaction for us. Everybody’s hard work on the Skaneateles team, both players and grooms, has paid off.”  – Costi Caset*

Neither team able to land the ball between the posts after a tight first chukker, it was Joaquin Panelo who made the opening goal to start the scoring off in the second. Answering back for Crestview Farm, Aiden Meeker struck from the field while teammate Santiago Torres* followed closely with a Penalty 2 conversion to end the chukker in their team’s favor 2-1. The lone scorer for Skaneateles in the first half, Panelo added two consecutive goals to the tally, but Torres leveled the playing field 3-all with one of his own at halftime.

Hugo Lloret Joaquin Panelo
Crestview Farm's Hugo Lloret on the ball with Joaquin Panelo in pursuit.

Entering the second half of play, the fast game intensified as both teams fought to establish a significant lead, but each chukker remained within one. Securing two back-to-back goals to open the fourth, Skaneateles was met by two opposing goals from Crestview Farm. Striking his fifth goal of the day, Panelo broke the tie and moved Skaneateles into the lead for the first time. Trading goals in the fifth, both teams mirrored each other with a field goal and a Penalty 2 conversion, Skaneateles holding onto the narrow lead 8-7. Consistently scoring throughout the second half, Costi Caset opened the sixth with his third field goal of the day. Deadly from the Penalty 2 line, Hugo Lloret capitalized on two pivotal opportunities to equalize the scoreboard 9-all. Determined to secure the trophy in regulation time, Caset acted quickly in the final minutes to claim the game-winning goal 10-9, simultaneously sealing a perfect 4-0 tournament record.

Having played and won with Marty Cregg and Cesar Jimenez in 2017 and 2018, Caset and the Skaneateles team know their strengths as a unit. “Our idea was to play the same system we’ve been playing the entire season,” Caset revealed. “We knew that the final was going to be a really tough game against a very strong team, so we had to be very tight on marking them and stay focused at all times.”

Costi Caset
Skaneateles' Costi Caset on a run.

Joining Skaneateles to fill to spot of Mariano Obregon, Panelo fit well into the existing team dynamic. “I think having a 3-0 record coming into the final puts a little bit more pressure on the team, but we always managed to keep the goal difference small so that really helped,” Panelo said. “For us the key was to stay calm even when the other team was having a good moment.”

Crestview Farm’s Aiden Meeker was named Most Valuable Player. “Even though our team lost, I was able to learn so much from both my teammates and my Skaneateles opponents,” Aiden Meeker said. “Santi [Torres] and Hugo [Lloret] both taught me so much over this season and I would not have been able to win MVP without their help.”

Most Valuable Player, Aiden Meeker.
Most Valuable Player, Aiden Meeker, pictured with Katie Escapite.

Best Playing Pony was awarded to 8-year-old Thoroughbred stallion, Dharkan (Lord Lizard x Lily), owned by Georgie Rinehart and played by Santi Torres in the fourth chukker. “Dharkan is bred from Isinya HDC and he is powerful on the field,” Torres said. “He wins plays, but is also very calm after every play.”

Dharken, played by Santi Torres and owned by Georgie Rinehart.
Best Playing Pony, Dharken, played by Santi Torres. Pictured with owner Georgie Rinehart and Campbell Davis.

Managing Skaneateles' polo operation, coaching and selecting horses and players for the team, Jimenez has been an integral member of the team for over two decades. "I have been playing with Marty [Cregg] for 25 years and with Costi [Caset] for four years," Jimenez said. "I believe my familiarity with both of them has helped us achieve results thus far. We have gotten to the point where we just look at each other and already know what is going to happen next."

Playing in the National Copper Cup® since it came to Aiken in 2010, Cregg has dedicated himself to improving his level of polo with the goal of winning the prestigious tournament at least once. “I am thrilled for the team. Costi [Caset], Cesar [Jimenez], Joaquin [Panelo] and I played as a team and worked hard individually to be as good as we could be. They expected me to do my job in every game and their expectations have made me a better player. The sport of polo provides for personal goals and rewards hard work with joyful success and I thank my team for opening the door and playing so well.”

*Costi Caset and Santi Torres are members 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 ©Katie Roth.