The 2017 Gulfstream Pacific Coast Open at the Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club in Carpinteria, California, was a fight until the bitter end. Six intense chukkers of regulation play gave way to not one, but two overtime chukkers in a gripping match that will undoubtedly go down in the history books. The seasoned Farmers & Merchants Bank defeated the young guns of Klentner Ranch 11-10 taking home the glorious trophy for the first time in the organization’s history.
“You take moments in life and you turn them into memories, and that’s what today is”. –Danny Walker, Farmers & Merchants Bank Team Owner. Due to an accident on the interstate, the game began 20 minutes late, building up the suspense between these two evenly-matched teams and providing over 5,000 polo devotees a chance to find their seats before the first ball was thrown into play.
The first chukker started much like the previous semifinal matches, getting off to a rocky start with several fouls. Klentner Ranch was able to capitalize with back-to- back penalty conversions from Facundo Obregon to take an early two-goal lead. The game gradually began to open up, Lucas Criado of Farmers & Merchants Bank weaving the ball through the crowd lobbing it high and through the goal off a nearside neckshot with Jesse Bray* riding hard on his hip.
Klentner Ranch’s Bray would answer with two field goals before the end of the second, but numerous costly fouls (16 in the first half) against Klentner Ranch resulted in six penalty conversions, five of which were scored by Felipe Vercellino, for Farmers & Merchants Bank. Farmers & Merchants Bank were able to shut out Klentner Ranch in the third to take a strong three-goal lead 7-4 at the half.
“The first two chukkers we played well, it was really only the third chukker we lost badly. We just fouled a lot in the third chukker”. – Klentner Ranch’s Jesse Bray. Klentner Ranch was able to reel themselves in for the second half of play, relinquishing only two penalties and outscoring Farmers & Merchants Bank in each chukker. Farmers & Merchants Bank on the other hand began to concede the goals through penalties allowing Klentner Ranch to equalize the score 8-all in the fifth, after an incredible end-to- end breakaway goal from Facundo Obregon. Nico Escobar retaliated immediately out of the bowl-in to take back the Farmers & Merchants lead 9-8, with his first field goal on the day.
The sixth chukker was a clash of the titans as physical play escalated. Fans were on the edge of their seats, adding tremendously to the atmosphere and excitement with whoops and gasps for goals and near misses. Vercellino converted yet another Penalty 2 to widen Farmers & Merchants Bank’s lead to two 10-8. An aggressive play drove Geronimo Obregon* into a goal post in the Klentner Ranch goal mouth and Klentner Ranch was awarded a Penalty 1 to bring them within one 10-9. As play continued at full speed up and down the field, a backshot pass from Vercellino was intercepted by Geronimo Obregon who left three Farmers & Merchants Bank defenders in the dust as he tied the game 10-all with a beautiful neckshot goal to send the game into overtime.
Farmers & Merchants Bank had the advantage in the seventh chukker, going short on the throw-in. That didn’t stop Klentner Ranch’s Bray who grabbed the ball out of the line-up making a run towards goal but was unable to find the mark. Players and horses were beginning to show signs of exhaustion as the chukker wound down with no goal in sight leading to a second overtime chukker.
Horses were the name of the game in the eighth and final chukker, players forced to unwrap poulticed pony legs to bring integral horses back into the game. Early into the chukker, a crucial Penalty 4 for Klentner Ranch, disappointingly flew high and wide to the left. Another minute of play flew by as both teams passionately channeled their remaining strength. It would be Criado riding Cadenita to finally find the goal at the 1:39 mark smashing a neckshot past Klentner Ranch defenders and through the uprights.
“Klentner Ranch was the toughest opponent we have ever seen. We were the ones that got the most luck and got the last goal. What a shot by Lucas Criado, I couldn’t believe it.” -Danny Walker, Farmers & Merchants Bank Team Owner.
Best Playing Pony honors were presented to 12-year- old Canadian Thoroughbred mare Disney owned and played by Klentner Ranch’s Jesse Bray. Reminiscent of the golden age of polo when horses would play numerous chukkers, thestriking gray played a portion of no less than five chukkers (1,4,5,6,7). “Disney has a huge heart and never quits. That’s what makes her so special.” -Klentner Ranch’s Jesse Bray
Most Valuable Player was awarded to golden goal scorer Lucas Criado. “I’m so happy, because we have never made it to the final in this tournament,” said Criado. “Finally, we made it to the final and to win in second overtime is crazy! I think both teams deserved it, we made a difference in the beginning, but the game was really tied from the fifth until the very last goal. The other team, I’ll tell you, they played tough and they are big fighters, but finally we were lucky today. I’m really happy for Danny too, this is my sixth season with him. So to make it to the final with him and win in second overtime, it was great. I hope it was a good game for everyone to watch.”
*Jesse Bray and Geronimo Obregon 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.