Aug 29, 2023 4:57 PM
At just 24 years old, Mariano “Peke” Gonzalez is making his mark on the world of polo. Earlier this year, Gonzalez clinched the prestigious C.V. Whitney Cup with Valiente, launching the 2023 Gauntlet of Polo series. His participation in the 16-goal competition further highlighted his skills and set the stage for the rest of his 2023 season. As part of Iconica, Gonzalez secured four major titles: the Iglehart Cup, the Ylvisaker Cup, the Joe Barry Memorial and the Florida Circuit 16-goal Super-Series Championship.
Having made significant strides in Florida, Gonzalez has since moved on to Southern California, where he and his Brookshire teammates have captured both the Farmers & Merchants Bank Silver Cup and the America Cup. The last stop on his SoCal tour will be the NetJets Pacific Coast Open, with semifinals starting Friday, September 1, and the final concluding on Sunday, September 3, at the Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club in Carpinteria, California.
“Polo in the U.S. is in a strong position. It's one of the few nations hosting polo year round, offering numerous job opportunities, which is commendable.” – Mariano "Peke" Gonzalez on the growth of American polo
Gonzalez will soon turn his attention to South America and set his sights on the Argentine Open, beginning with the Qualy tournament alongside his La Fija teammates (Manuel Elizalde, Ezequiel Martínez Ferrario, Tomas Beresford). Gonzalez discussed his successful summer season, his thoughts on U.S. polo, and what lies ahead for the American player.
What does the Silver Cup win mean to you, and where would you place it in terms of polo's significance in California and the U.S. as a whole?
"If I'm not mistaken, it's the oldest cup in U.S. tournament history. So, it's undoubtedly one of the most significant tournaments here. This is my second time competing, and we were fortunate to win this round. Winning such a prestigious tournament fills me with joy.
We also clinched the America Cup last weekend, a prominent trophy here. However, because of scheduling, it was just one game that counted as both the America Cup final and the first match of the Pacific Coast Open."
“The 2023 Wellington season was fantastic. I had the privilege of being part of two remarkable teams and playing alongside friends, which made it all the more enjoyable.” – Mariano "Peke" Gonzalez
Can you tell us about Brookshire, the team you are playing for this year?
"Scott Wood, Martin Muñoz and Paco de Narvaez set up the team. Martin and Paco provide tremendous support off the field, especially concerning the horses. They also serve as our coaches on match days, which is invaluable.
The team has been functioning well, and we genuinely enjoy our time together, both on and off the field. Tomi [Tomas Panelo] and Paquito [Paco de Narvaez Jr.] previously teamed up in Palm Beach, so they're in sync. I hadn't played with Scott before, but he brings a lot of energy and significantly contributes to our game."
The Pacific Coast Open (PCO) is up next. How are you gearing up for it?
"Indeed, the PCO is on the horizon. It's the final and most crucial tournament here in California — it’s the one everyone aims to win. Our top priority now is ensuring our horses are well-rested for this last event. Given that it's the concluding tournament, there's evident wear and tear on the horses. I believe the team with the most rejuvenated horses will fare better.
In terms of play, I think we should maintain our strategy. We coordinated brilliantly as a team during the Silver Cup final, and I'm optimistic we can sustain that momentum in the PCO."
“Our top priority now is ensuring our horses are well-rested for this last event. Given that it's the concluding tournament, there's evident wear and tear on the horses. I believe the team with the most rejuvenated horses will fare better.” – Gonzalez on the key to winning the Pacific Coast Open
How has this season in Santa Barbara been shaping up?
"I believe setting the games in California at 20-goals was an excellent move. The locale is ideal for polo, and a higher quality of play will likely draw more enthusiasts here. The higher the tournament's handicap, the better the caliber of players and horses that'll be attracted.
As a player, I always aspire to participate in the highest handicap tournaments. I hope this trend continues for many years to come."
You will join La Fija for the Qualifiers for the Argentine Open, alongside Manuel Elizalde, Gallego Martinez Ferrario, and Tommy Beresford. How did this partnership come to be, what are your expectations, and do you plan on participating in more tournaments in Argentina?
"I'm competing in the Qualifiers with La Fija this year and we hope to do well. Tommy, Loki, and I played together in Argentina in 2020 and 2021. We took a break last year but have reunited, adding Gallego to the mix. Apart from being a close friend and a skilled player, his positive attitude energizes the team. Our goal is to qualify for Palermo. If not, we're determined to excel in the challenging Cámara de Diputados tournament. We all share a strong bond, so I'm anticipating a successful season — and I'm sure we'll have a blast, especially with Gallego around!"
Switching back to the USA, what are your plans for 2024?
"In 2024, I'll compete in the 16-goal with Iconica and the 22-goal with Valiente, replicating this year's team lineup. The 2023 Wellington season was fantastic. I had the privilege of being part of two remarkable teams and playing alongside friends, which made it all the more enjoyable. The outcomes were favorable, boosting team morale. I'm eager to embrace the 2024 Florida season with the same teams, though mirroring the success of 2023 will be a challenge."
What are your thoughts on present-day American polo?
"Polo in the U.S. is in a strong position. It's one of the few nations hosting polo year-round, offering numerous job opportunities, which is commendable. There are two distinct seasons: the primary one in Florida, attracting a plethora of teams and many top-tier organizations. Then, during the off-season, polo becomes more dispersed throughout the country. This distribution makes it challenging to maintain the same competitive edge as in Florida. However, there are competitive 20-goal tournaments, like in Santa Barbara and Greenwich, at the country's extremes. So, while polo may spread out during the American summer, it remains fiercely competitive, which is commendable."
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