California Dream...
Snow builds, then leads team to victory in Santa Barbara.
By Gwen Rizzo

Luis Escobar, Miguelito Torres, Geoff Palmer and Adam Snow celebrate victory with the historic Pacific Coast Open trophy.
The halftime show included a woman jumping while standing on a horse without a bridle or saddle.

Ten-goaler Adam Snow scored six goals to lead Geoff Palmer’s Antelope team to victory in their first Pacific Coast Open win. Played since 1929, the 20-goal tournament was hosted by the beautiful Santa Barbara Polo and Racquet Club in Santa Barbara, California, on August 29. The Pacific Coast Open is the grand finale in Santa Barbara’s high-goal season, which kicks off in early July with the Robert Skene Memorial Trophy. The action continues the third week of July with the USPA America Cup and culminates in August with the Pacific Coast Open.

Competition is usually tough, and this year was no exception. Eight 20-goal teams played in the Skene tournament with a ninth, Camilo Bautista’s Las Monjitas team, joining up for the last two events. “It was the strongest competition, in terms of the quality of teams, which I’ve seen over the last five years that I have been playing there,” Snow said. “This is true mostly because of Las Monjitas and Bendabout joining the fray, with four Novillo Astradas and good organizations. There were three 10-goal players playing and no weak teams. I think that everyone was playing their best horses which they own in the States. And for most of us this means our best horses, period.” In fact, in all three tournaments, half of the games were decided by a single goal. Year after year teams have to settle for only one or, on rare occasion, two of the events. Generally, the teams that come on strong in the first tournaments tend to fizzle by the Pacific Coast Open and those that don’t show well in the early tournaments can’t be counted out.

Snow says: “The reason it’s so difficult to win all three tournaments is that polo in America is a handicap sport, so all teams are pretty evenly matched. The finals we won by five goals, but up until then we were 4-1 and every single match had been determined by one goal, two of them being in O.T. This is how clase it is. So you need to have everything you can right, and then a little luck. This is the reality.”

Some players commented that scheduling was a problem with games clustered around the weekends. Without a few days of rest between games it can be very tough on horses, especially when there are three tournaments in a row. Snow says: “… The uneven number [of teams] made consistent and balanced scheduling very, very difficult. … At the end we got to play one or two Thursday- Sunday weeks. What I mean is that we played our matches on Thursday and Sunday instead of Friday and Sunday. Thursday-Sunday is my favorite because my best horses play these two games hard (with an extra day rest) and don’t need to practice during the week. I think it’s a much better program for the horses and makes for better polo on Sunday. It looks like the club is starting to go along with players’ wishes in this regard.”

A is for Antelope as fans line the field.

Playing with the 1-goal Palmer for the first time, Snow proposed the team to him with 8-goal Luis Escobar and 15- year-old Miguelito Torres, rated 1 goal. Snow explained, “This was my first season. Las Monjitas eventually met Bendabout in the final after they knocked out Antelope, then Isla Carroll in the semifinal. The final made for an interesting match up of two favorite teams with two Novillo Astrada brothers on each team. Snow says: “Before the season began, I thought Bendabout and summer playing with Luis. I had a feeling we could combine well. It always takes some time, but by August we had a good understanding both on and off the field. He was very willing to double his best horses and, in a way, this was a motivation to me during the Open. In the semis and finals [of the Pacific Coast Open] I basically played on four horses, and I hadn’t done that in a while! And I’m glad I did.”

In the Robert Skene Memorial final Bob Fell’s Tuscany Oak’s defeated Andy Busch’s Grant’s Farm Manor 11-10. Tuscany Oaks was led by 8-goalers Mariano Gonzalez and Hector Galindo, who joined Fell and 4-goaler Brad Blake. The game was won on an incredible goal by Gonzalez from 90 yards out that people are still talking about. His father, former 10-goaler Daniel Gonzalez, who was at the game, commented that it was like nothing he had ever seen before, even with all the years playing the Argentine Open.

Bendabout and Las Monjitas were two of the favorites to begin the 20-goal season..
Mariano Gonzalez hooks Julio Arellano in the semifinal.

Grant’s Farm Manor got payback by defeating Tuscany Oaks 11-10, knocking them out of the single-elimination America Cup days later. Grant’s Farm was eliminated by Everglades days later, who then lost in the semifinal to Las Monjitas, playing their first game of the season. Las Monjitas eventually met Bendabout in the final after they knocked out Antelope, then Isla Carroll in the semifinal. The final made for an interesting match up of two favorite teams with two Novillo Astrada brothers on each team. Snow says: “Before the season began, I thought Bendabout and Las Monjitas were two of the strongest teams. Both teams had good combinations and underrated players.” Most predicted Bendabout would out-horse Las Monjitas. Bendabout certainly had the upper hand through the first half of the game, but Las Monjitas rallied, tying it in the fifth chukker. Bendabout, however, held out for the 8-6 win. The subsidiary Santa Barbara Cup was won by Duende over Antelope 14-9.

Antelope's young Miguelito Torres puts the pressure on Tuscany Oaks' Mariano Gonzalez.

Even as a new team, Antelope was not living up to its potential after the first two tournaments. They had a 2-1 record in the Skene Memorial before being beaten in the consolation and were downed in their only game of the America Cup, dropping into the subsidiary tournament. They won their first subsidiary game but lost in the subsidiary final 14-9 to Duende. Snow explains: “The main adjustment we made after the first two tournaments was to have Luis take knockins and Penalty 5s and for me to hit the open-goal penalties. Geoff agreed to fill whatever role I felt would be the most effective on a game-to-game basis.” They got off to a good start in the PCO with a nail-biter opening game against Las Monjitas. “All the games were difficult (including the final) in the PCO, but beating Las Monjitas in our opener was critical to our having a successful Open. … Antelope’s team strategy changed game to game. We treated every game of the PCO like a final, and, although this wasn’t a conscious decision before the start of the tourney, I don’t think we would have won without this attitude.”

Unfortunately, a few player disciplinary problems marred the tournament. Some players have complained that a few teams chose to use one of their lesser-rated players to act as a battering ram against their higher-rated opponents, often away from the play and the umpires’ focus. They say this is why players are getting frustrated and losing their tempers. Whether that is the case or not, highly rated professional players, sometimes uncharacteristically, are losing their cool. Regrettably, incidents occurred three Sundays in front of large crowds.

Hector Galindo, left, goes for the deep neckshot while being challenged by Miguelito Torres.

In the first incident, 8-goaler Paco de Narvaez was fined $5,000 for striking an opponent, 6-goal Jeff Blake, with the mallet. Blake’s teammate, 8-goaler Julio Arellano was fined $500 for yelling after the incident occurred. The following week 9-goaler Eduardo Novillo Astrada apparently thought he had been sandwiched by his opponents and yelled to the umpires, to no avail. Eventually, the umpires asked him to leave the field. It was reported that Astrada then struck a ball sitting on the field, narrowly missing an umpire. After a club disciplinary hearing, he was suspended for two months and fined $7,500; however, his case is being appealed. The next week, 10- goal Mike Azzaro and 5-goal Javier Novillo Astrada collided, following what some described as rough riding between the two, causing Javier to fall from his horse. It was reported that Javier’s brother and teammate 10-goal Miguel Novillo Astrada pulled Azzaro from his horse. Miguel was fined $5,000 and was placed on a year’s probation.

“The disciplinary problems were unfortunate, and a little embarrassing to the sport since they happened in front of grandstand games,” Snow says. “I saw one of the three incidents and I’m sure there are two sides to all of them; but ultimately, responsibility for our actions on the field lie with us, the players. … People are complaining about the umpiring and the scheduling, but it’s the same umpires we have in Florida; and scheduling a nine-team tournament is a thankless task to start with.”

Things finally seemed to settle down in time for the semifinals. In the first semifinal Tuscany Oaks would meet up with Grant’s Farm for the third time. The score was the same in all three games, 11-10. Each team had come out on the winning side once, but the third time was the charm for Tuscany Oaks as they advanced to the final in overtime. The second game was also decided in overtime when Antelope edged Isla Carroll 9-8. Snow explains: “In the semifinal with Isla Carroll, I chose to let Miguelito go to the hitter, Pancho [Bensadon] so that Luis or I could stay a little free. I thought Miguelito played his best defensive game in the semi and it was a big reason why the strategy worked for us.”

Below: Mariano Gonzalez hooks Julio Arellano in the semifinal. Bendabout’s Steve Orthwein, Miguel Novillo Astrada, Javier Novillo Astrada and Gillian Johnston celebrate their America Cup Victory over Las Monjitas.

The final would be Antelope vs. Tuscany Oaks. Twice before the teams had met up, with each team taking a win, and it clearly was anyone’s game. Antelope made a few more minor adjustments. “In the final I wanted to go to the hitter, Mariano Gonzalez, so he wouldn’t have too much space in the back of their game. I thought I could handle Brad [Blake’s] picks OK and still put pressure on the ball; and I felt comfortable with this position during the game. … [Geoff] made a large contribution and it was mostly a defensive one. … He was often working with one of their higher-rated players and this helped us a lot. And Luis was back to cut off the longer plays. In the second half, I’m not sure it was so much our strategy as our attitude that worked. We went for everything, and it worked. In the first half, we were playing a little tentatively and fouling. In the fourth, we exploded.”

Snow didn’t relax until the team went up by five goals with just a minute and a half left in the game. Tuscany Oaks’ goals came from Gonzalez and Galindo with four goals each. The win was the first for Antelope and the second for Snow. Snow’s last win was with Gonzalez on the Windsor Capital team in 2002 “Because I proposed the team to Geoff and chose the players, winning with this team gives me a special sense of achievement.” Miguelito, then 14, spent last fall living on Snow’s farm while playing with him in Aiken, South Carolina. Snow says, “It is sort of like playing with a relative. He’s extremely talented, and I feel lucky to have something to do with the start of his polo career.” With a job and school, Snow’s wife, a veterinarian, and kids don’t always get to see his big wins. This time however, they were getting ready for a family trip to Argentina so they got to be there for the excitement. “I had my dad there and my whole family—it was and still is a great feeling!” Snow was named most valuable player. Galindo’s horse was honored as best playing pony. Grant’s Farm, led by 8-goal Julio Arellano’s eight goals, beat Isla Carroll 12-8 in the consolation, also played as the Western Badge & Trophy. Piocho defeated Everglades 9-8 in the subsidiary Mayor’s Cup.