Mar 09, 2021 9:36 PM
On Sunday, March 7, on another perfect afternoon at Southern California’s Eldorado Polo Club (Indio, California), Cavallo Ranch (John Bickford, Max Menini, Tomas Obregon, Alejandro Gonzalez) proved that timing is everything. Trailing throughout much of the final, Cavallo Ranch scored four unanswered goals in the final period to defeat Bensoleimani.com (Ben Soleimani, Juan Curbelo, Tomas Alberdi*, Remy Du Celliee Muller*) 10-8 and win the 2021 USPA-sanctioned 12-goal Spreckels Cup.
In a running and open game, the match was bookended by two impressive goal scoring chukkers in the first and sixth. Defending champions Bensoleimani.com started out quickly; Alberdi, Curbelo and Du Celliee Muller each securing a field goal to gain an early three-goal lead. Cavallo Ranch landed on the board for the first time after a Penalty 3 from Obregon soared through the posts, but Curbelo countered with a 40-yard conversion of his own to maintain the gap 4-1. Gonzalez scored the first Cavallo Ranch field goal followed by a second successful Obregon Penalty 3 effort to end the high-scoring first chukker 4-3 in favor of Bensoleimani.com. Wide-open polo with great defensive play continued for the remainder of the first half. Goals were hard to come by and only two were posted each chukker, one from each team, resulting in a 6-5 score, Cavallo Ranch trailing by one at halftime.
Impressive offensive and defensive polo continued into a scoreless fourth period carrying over the 6-5 Bensoleimani.com lead. Early in the fifth, an Obregon open goal Penalty 2 equalized the score, but Alberdi’s third field goal took back the lead for Bensoleimani.com 7-6 with one chukker remaining in regulation time.
Bensoleimani.com were awarded a Penalty 3 opportunity early in the sixth extending their lead 8-6. Given the course of the game up to this point, it appeared that the Bensoleimani.com might very well win. However, Cavallo Ranch regrouped with a huge team effort for an ultimate comeback. The first payoff was another Obregon Penalty 3. Then Bickford, starting from 70 yards near the right boards and under pressure the entire way, carried the ball to score and tie the game 8-all.
Momentum was most definitely riding with Cavallo Ranch as Menini secured the team’s first lead of the day—with 90 seconds left on the clock—on a spectacular 125-yard Penalty 5 strike from the left side of the field. Bensoleimani.com on the ropes, Gonzalez completed the unanswered scoring spree to seize the 2021 Spreckels Cup victory.
Coming back to win in both the semifinal and final, Cavallo Ranch remained focused and determined when it counted. “The win was a confidence booster for our team,” John Bickford said. “All of us are talented individually, but putting all the ingredients together for solid team play is often a challenge. We made a few adjustments over the past few games related to roles and positioning which seems to have worked. In the final, our backs were up against the wall again, and none of us gave up, always believing in ourselves and each other.”
As is tradition, the winners received not only the Spreckels Cup, but the two dozen red roses that go along with it. Gonzalez, with continued strong and unselfish play, was chosen as the Most Valuable Player and eight-year-old Dobel, played and owned by Gonzalez, was awarded Best Playing Pony. "Dobel is a Mexican Thorougbred," said Gonzalez. "I brought her from Mexico when she had just barely turned four. She's been my favorite ever since. She's a natural well balanced mare." Taking home both the trophy and the two final awards, Gonzalez was beaming. "Winning all three is incredible. At the beginning of the game you just focus on trying to win, being awarded anything else is icing on the cake."
The 6-Goal Spreckels Cup Final, played at the Eldorado Polo Club, on Sunday, March 7 ended with a shot that, if you had not seen, you may not believe. The aforementioned shot that came off the mallet of Marcos Llambias rolled over the goal line in the final moments of play to give Lasalle Properties the title.
“We were about midfield towards their goal when the first horn sounded. Jared Sheldon got ahold of the ball and took a big hit towards our goal. With 15 seconds left, a little past midfield towards our goal, I shouted to Luis [Saracco] to hurry. He rushed to hit a perfect backshot. I turned on the line and tapped the ball once to get closer then shoot. The ball went in as the clock showed two, one, then the final horn. We had luck on our side!” – Marcos Llambias
In a previous tournament matchup, Lasalle Properties (Bob Gray, Luis Saracco, Marcos Llambias, Micaela Saracco) defeated Dungar/Element 101 (Peter Milner, Greg Hanson, Jared Sheldon*, Rodrigo Salinas) with a final score 8-7. As a result, the final promised a closely contested showdown that did not disappoint. "Our strategy for the game was to try and play close to our opponents and use all four players," Llambias recounted. "We had played them before and they were very hard the first time. We knew we needed to use everyone and stretch the team with Micaela [Saracco] in front," he continued.
Due to handicap, Dungar/Element 101 recieved a half-goal at the onset of the game. The teams traded goals in the first, Dungar/Element 101 maintaining their early advantage 3.5-2. Lasalle Properties chipped away at their defecit in the second, securing two goals to Dungar/Element 101’s solitary Penalty 1 to trail by a half goal.
Moving into the second half, Llambias struck from the field (the only goal of the third chukker) to give Lasalle Properties the lead for the first time 5-4.5. The low-scoring second half continued into the final frame until, with just two minutes left, the always aggressive Sheldon sent an outstanding 90-degree neckshot from 120 yards through the goal to propel Dungar/Element 101 once again into the lead at 5.5-5. Less than 10 seconds left on the clock, Llambias ran to the ball and launched a perfect 130-yard strike that went between the posts with two seconds remaining in regulation time. The Hail Mary play secured the 6-Goal Spreckels Cup victory for Lasalle Properties with a final score 6-5.5.
Llambias was awarded Most Valuable Player for his steady play and never quit attitude. Tangerine, owned by Danny Juarez and Rodrigo Salinas and played by Salinas was won the honor of Best Playing Pony.
Although it seemed as if Boss Polo would win their second matchup against Breva Farms (Lesa Slaughter, Audry Persano*, Catlin Dix, Sophia Lorenzo), the final two minutes of the 2-goal Spreckels Cup Final were anything but expected. The all-woman team scored four goals in a matter of minutes to swipe the victory from Boss Polo (Piers Bossom, Felipe Vicente, Cory Williams, Aaram Safai) by a final tally of 8–7.5.
“Most importantly, our camaraderie carried us through. We were always supportive of one another and understood the significance of our presence in this tournament.” – Catlin Dix
Starting off with a half goal on handicap, Boss Polo quickly increased their lead as Vicente converted a Penalty 4. Breva Farms came right back however as Lorenzo converted a Penalty 2 and scored a field goal to give Breva the first chukker lead 2–1.5. “Our strategy was simply to keep Sofia [Lorenzo], Audrey [Persano] and I rotating constantly, one always coming behind and one always going up for a pass,” Dix said. “Lesa [Slaughter] did a great job on defense and opened the field on set plays.” Boss Polo controlled the second with Williams and Bossom each scoring from the field to take the halftime lead 3.5–2.
The control that Boss Polo exhibited in the second chukker carried through to the early third as Bossom made his second goal of the game with a Penalty 3 conversion. Breva Farms retaliated again as Persano added a field goal and a Penalty 3 to trail 4.5–4. “We did a great job following each other up and making sure one of us was back,” Persano said. “Naturally we fell into field position with Lesa [Slaughter] and myself playing forward while Catlin [Dix] and Sofia [Lorenzo] played back. After that it came down to giving ourselves time to play the ball and taking the man so we could finish the goals.” The first three quarters of the fourth chukker belonged to Boss Polo and it seemed as though the victory was theirs as Safai, Bossom, and Vicente each scored from the field to now lead 7.5–4 with just over two minutes remaining. Having to score four quick goals to win, Breva Farms didn’t appear phased as they won the throw-in after Vicente’s counter and Dix capped off a run to score. The ensuing bowl-in again went to Breva Farms who immediately pressured Boss Polo’s goal and were awarded a Penalty 1 to trail one and a half. Lorenzo then nailed the following free hit from center giving Breva Farms a strong chance from 60 yards resulting in a free hit from 30 yards which Lorenzo converted to narrow the gap to just a half goal.
However, a second yellow card against Vicente stopped the clock at 19 seconds and gave Breva Farms another free hit from center. Lorenzo, with a superb effort, launched the ball to 40 yards directly in front of Boss Polo’s goal but was taken over the ball which eventually ended up just to the right and about five yards off the line. Knowing to get back on the field quickly, Lorenzo did just that and was able to score the winning goal. Never giving up, Breva Farms won the title by a narrow 8-7.5 margin.
Playing with one of her closest friends, Audrey Persano, Dix was extremely grateful for her teammates. “This win meant more to me than a win with a mixed team or even a win in a women's tournament because of the relationships with the other women on the team,” Dix shared. “Lesa [Slaughter] took a chance on an all-female team and had faith in us from the beginning. It’s been incredibly fun to experience the progression of this team throughout the tournament.” Having to reconfigure their team after the 4-goal tournament, Persano came in to replace Rodrigo Salinas. “Audrey [Persano] was the obvious choice as I had won the Pacific Coast Women's Challenge with her and we were passionate about having a strong all-female team.”
Coming from behind to claim the title in the final minutes, Breva Farms was incredibly proud of their accomplishment. “Being an all-woman team we knew we had to be diligent and work hard for each other to accomplish the win,” Persano said. “I am so proud to be playing with such talented, humble women and I am honored to call them my friends and teammates. It really shows that with trust, hard work, patience and discipline you can achieve the goals set.”
Sofia Lorenzo earned the title of Most Valuable Player with her strong and knowledgeable play along with her accurate free-shot abilities.
Best Playing Pony honors were awarded to Sally, owned by Lesa Slaughter and played by Lorenzo in the fourth chukker.
One of three all-female teams in the tournament, Breva Farms felt the support from the other women as they faced the mixed team in the final. “The support given to us by the other female teams was incredible and I'm looking forward to playing them in the next tournament!” Dix said.
*Remy Du Celliee Muller, Tomas Alberdi, Jared Sheldon and Audry Persano are Alumni Team USPA Alumni. 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 ©Kerri Kerley.
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