Team takes Pacific Coast Open for second straight year.

Santa Barbara’s high-goal season lasts for seven weeks and includes three 20-goal events—the Robert Skene Memorial, the America Cup and finally the Pacific Coast Open. Seven teams competed this season, including Geoff Palmer’s and Dan Walker’s Antelope/Long Beach, Pat Nesbitt’s Windsor Capital, Ben Soleimani’s Mansour, Andy Busch’s and Justin Klentner’s Grant’s Farm/Klentner Ranch, Mike Hakan’s Duende, Marc and Melissa Ganzi’s Audi Polo and Lyndon Lea’s and Michael Rothbard’s Jimmy Choo/Los Toros. For Audi Polo, Melissa Ganzi played the America Cup while husband Marc played the other two tournaments. For Jimmy Choo, Rothbard and 7-goaler Mariano Fassetta played the first two events before being replaced by Lyndon Lea and 7-goaler Ruki Baillieu in the Pacific Coast Open. The remaining teams stayed largely unchanged throughout the season.

The Pacific Coast Open is played in a single bracket and includes semifinals between the top four teams. Teams are guaranteed two games in each of the first two events and six games in the third, for a total of no less than 10 and even more if a team draws the four-team bracket, or qualifies for a final or consolation. It can be a grueling season, especially for the most successful teams. The teams with the fattest strings of horses generally do the best, and even so, it’s extremely difficult to win all three events. The Skene tournament was named after legendary 10-goaler and former Santa Barbara club manager Robert Skene. For this event the teams were divided between two brackets—the Ocean and the Mountain— a reference to the club’s picturesque location, which is cradled between the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Ynez Mountain foothills. Mansour shared the Ocean bracket with defending champion Antelope and runner-up Duende. Jimmy Choo/Los Toros, Grant’s Farm/Klentner Ranch, Windsor Capital and Audi Polo filled out the Mountain bracket.

Mansour, featuring Soleimani, 9-goaler Adam Snow, 6-goaler Julian Daniels and 5- goaler Martin Zegers, started out the season strong. They toppled Antelope/Long Beach 17-11 before hammering Duende 18-13 and advancing to the final. The other finalist, Jimmy Choo/Los Toros lost to Grants Farm/Klentner Ranch 11-14 before edging Windsor Capital 12-11 and Audi 15-14. Mansour kept their momentum in the final, toppling Jimmy Choo/Los Toros 14-9. Most valuable player Snow led all scorers with six goals, one from the penalty line. Teammate Zegers scored five goals and Soleimani and Daniels two each. Soleimani was named MVP-amateur and his mare Samantha took best playing pony-amateur. Best playing pony for a professional went to Chloe, owned by Snow. Audi beat Antelope/Long Beach in the consolation final 15-9.

Mansour continued to flex its collective muscle in the USPA America Cup, winning all preliminary games before earning the final spot for the Mountain bracket. They managed to slip Audi Polo 12-11, Windsor Capital 16-15 in overtime and Duende 15-11. In the Ocean bracket, Antelope/Long Beach wouldn’t settle for the consolation this time and managed to edge Grant’s Farm Klentner Ranch 11-10 and Jimmy Choo/Los Toros 15- 14 in overtime to advance to the final against Mansour.

Last year’s teammates, 7-goaler Luis Escobar and Mansour’s Snow now faced each other in the final. This time Escobar teamed up with 9-goal Pancho Bensadon, 4-goal Walker and 12-year-old Santiago Torres, filling in for the 1-goal Palmer. With the help of Torres, who played remarkably well and contributed a game-high four goals, Antelope/Long Beach handed Mansour their first loss of the season, 9-7, while taking the win. Torres, who club manager Andy Smith says is playing 2.8 goals, was named MVPamateur, while Bensadon was named MVPpro. Best playing pony-amateur went to Plumita, played by Torres and owned by him and his dad, Miguel, while BPP-pro was Bensadon’s Novia.

Audi once again took the consolation final, this time by defeating Jimmy Choo/Los Toros 12-11. Audi’s Kris Kampsen was high scorer with six goals, all scored from the penalty line. Kampsen teammates Pablo Spinacci and Juan Bollini knocked in two and three goals respectively.

It was on to the season finale Pacific Coast Open, the final of which would serve as what is dubbed as the Triple Crown of Polo. The first leg of the Triple Crown is played at the Sarasota Polo Club in Sarasota, Florida, and is the final of the Robin Uihlein Memorial. The second leg is played at the Las Colinas Polo Club in Dallas, Texas. The Triple Crown title can be confusing as several tournament series have been unofficially referred to as the Triple Crown of Polo: the British Open, the Argentine Open and the U.S. Open; the Tortugas, Hurlingham and Argentine Opens; and the C.V. Whitney, U.S. Open and the USPA Gold Cup. But that’s not all. No one can claim this particular Triple Crown title as no team competed in more than one leg of the Triple Crown. Nonetheless, the Triple Crown event certainly added to the excitement, with impressive sponsor tents lining the field, and the hyperbolic display of the event trophy’s arrival in an armored car. Triple Crown organizer David Lane also managed to get each leg of the event televised on ESPN2.

Preliminary games were close, so close in fact that nearly 75 percent of the 21 games played ended with a two-goal or fewer difference. About half were decided by just a goal. After three weeks of playoffs, Jimmy Choo, led by 8-goal Nick Roldan, who had an impressive season, finished at the top with five wins and just one loss. Interestingly enough, the teams that won the earlier tournaments, Mansour and Antelope, finished the Pacific Coast Open in sixth and seventh place respectively. Antelope could count only one win to their five losses, while the middle five teams were tied with 3- 3 records.

After Smith announced the rankings of the five tied teams, it was determined the method for breaking the ties didn’t specifically follow the tournament conditions as published in the 2006 USPA Blue Book. The club requested an official interpretation from USPA officials. After considering the official USPA interpretation of the tournament tiebreaking procedure, the club tournament committee named a revised ranking.

The top four teams advanced to the semifinals, where Jimmy Choo took on Windsor Capital and defending champ Duende met last year’s runner-up, Grants Farm. In the first match, the favored Jimmy Choo started strong, capitalizing on Windsor’s missteps by converting three penalties while holding them to a goal. Windsor fought back in the second and third, tying the score at 4 at the half. The teams traded goals in the fourth, but Windsor gained ground in the fifth, holding Jimmy Choo scoreless while taking a two-goal lead. Windsor extended their lead in the sixth before Jimmy Choo started chipping away at it, but time ran out for them and Windsor advanced to the final.

Just as in last year’s final, the Duende- Grant’s Farm game was a squeaker. Tied 3-3 after one and 7-7 at the half, it wasn’t until the fourth chukker that Duende began to edge ahead. They extended their lead to two in the fifth and held it through the sixth chukker to once again overcome Grant’s Farm, this time14-12 to advance to the final.

With the sidelines bustling with polo fans, television cameras in position and umpire Bobby Barry wired with a camera and microphone offering a unique bird’s eye view of the action, the final game got underway.

For the second year, Hakan’s Duende team was led by 10-goaler Agustin Merlos and 9-goaler Paco de Narvaez. Young 1-goaler Carlito Galindo rounded out the team. For Nesbitt’s Windsor Capital team, 8-goaler Jeff Hall and 7-goaler Sugar Erskine made up the middle while 4-goaler Chris Nevins covered the Back position. Nesbitt, who previously underwent hip replacement surgery and has recently been experiencing some pain, was replaced by Juan Jose Gonzalez after halftime. Hall conceded Gonzalez didn’t have it easy. “It is difficult to jump in after halftime. It’s not fair to him. By the time he gets warmed up, the game is over.”

Windsor had beaten Duende the week prior and planned on using the same strategy. Hall says: “They are kind of a team with two [strong players]. They score a lot on penalties. We wanted to open it up but be patient when they got the ball. … They play choppy so the bouncy field helped them. ...”

Duende was the first to get on the scoreboard when de Narvaez converted a Penalty 4 after being cross hooked. Windsor answered with a tally by Hall. Merlos converted a Penalty 2 for Duende, but Windsor quickly responded when Nevins pushed the ball through the goal. Duende’s Merlos was given a technical halfway through the first chukker. The players were bunching up and roughness was increasing. De Narvaez says: “Everyone wants to win. Everyone has passion so it is rough. Finals are more rough than other games.” Hall agrees: “It’s a final so everyone goes. They wanted to win, we wanted to win.” Just a minute into the second, Merlos jumped off his horse after taking a bad bump. He resumed play soon after, but the roughness continued.

Barry, along with umpire Darrell Schwetz, did a remarkable job keeping the conflicts between the players from escalating. They acted quickly when, with about a minute and a half remaining, Erskine and de Narvaez got into a confrontation. Both players were ejected from the field for the remainder of the chukker. A minute later Merlos received a technical. With all the players back on the field for the third chukker, de Narvaez scored an impressive near-side neckshot with the ball bouncing to put Duende ahead by two. The lead was short-lived after Hall converted two penalty shots to tie the match 6.

Though Hall reminded his teammates during the halftime break to stay with their man, the players were having difficulty doing so. Windsor’s only hope was to focus on the original plan to open the game up, but de Narvaez and Merlos kept the ball close. Instead of offensive runs Windsor was forced to defend and was drawn into making costly fouls—just what they were trying to avoid.

Adding insult to injury, in an unfortunate accident Hall’s 14-year-old chestnut mare, Susie, broke a leg. This particular incident didn’t involve other players, and according to Hall it was unusual because he was running in a straight line, by himself, when it happened. After being examined by a veterinarian, the horse had to be humanely euthanised. Hall had her cremated and plans on bringing her ashes back to the Museum of Polo and Hall of Fame, which has a life-size photo of the mare on its wall.

Duende pulled ahead in the fourth with a pair of penalty conversions and a field goal, while holding Windsor to a single goal. Windsor also got slapped with another technical. Windsor fought back in the fifth, coming within one, but Merlos’ seventh penalty conversion and another penalty, helped in by Carlito Galindo, in the sixth put the icing on the cake for Duende. It seemed ill will lingered between the players when Hall twisted his hand from de Narvaez’s grasp after an end of game handshake. When asked about the rough play, de Narvaez said: “It was intense, physical. Finals are finals but [no one was] playing with bad intentions.” Hall agreed saying everyone just wants to win.

The Duende team not only took the win but most of the prizes as well. This was Duende’s fourth PCO victory. Most valuable player-amateur went to Hakan, while his grey horse Piojo took BPP honors. MVP-pro went to Merlos, and de Narvaez’ dark bay mare Galleta took BPP-pro. Jimmy Choo’s Nick Roldan won the Robert Skene Outstanding Player Award for the high-goal season, while teammate Lyndon Lea won the Linfoot Most Improved Player award. This was Hall’s fourth attempt at the Pacific Coast Open. He looks forward to trying again next year.

The consolation match, played as the Western Badge and Trophy, was taken by Grant’s Farm/Klentner Ranch 13-10 over Jimmy Choo. Grant’s Farm held the lead until the fifth chukker when Ruki Baillieu hammered in four goals and Nick Roldan one to tie the match at 10 all. It seems as though Jimmy Choo used up all they had as Grant’s Farm held them scoreless and put in three more goals, two from the penalty line, to take the win. The match to determine fifth and sixth place wasn’t played.

In conjunction with the PCO, more than 225 guests attended the PCO ball at the Montecito Country Club. Polo club members, players and sponsors, including Tiffany & Co., Hub International and Lexus, sipped cocktails while enjoying the beautiful Pacific sunset before an awards presentation, dinner and dancing. Overall, according to Smith, the high-goal season was a great success. Players enjoy playing at the facility because of the competition, the social events and so many things to do on the off days. With the club’s close proximity to the ocean, players have the opportunity to ride the horses in the ocean, surf, fish, swim, whale watch and more. The club is very family friendly and on any given day you’ll be sure to see swarms of kids out having fun.

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