April 22, 2024

In a season-long test of attrition and skill, four months of fierce competition culminated in the anticipated NPC-16 Goal Championship, on Sunday, April 14, hosted by the National Polo Center – Wellington (NPC) on BTG Pactual Field 2. Four prestigious national tournaments held across South Florida from January to April served as qualifiers for the main event, including the Joe Barry Memorial hosted by Port Mayaca Polo Club in Okeechobee, Florida, alongside the Ylvisaker Cup, Iglehart Cup and Outback Cup, led by Patagones Polo Club in Wellington, Florida, and a series of private fields falling under the Wellington Polo Tour (WPT) umbrella.

Narrowing the competition throughout the season from 17 contending teams, the final showdown featured a match-up between Ylvisaker Cup champions Clearwater (Joaquin “Pelo” Vilgre La Madrid, Raul “Gringo” Colombres, Lucas Diaz Alberdi, Camp Campbell) and Joe Barry Memorial victors Forbes Plunkett (Brandon Plunkett, Nicolas “Nico” Escobar*, Felipe “Pipe” Vercellino, Lucas Escobar*). Intensely competitive 16-goal polo, penalty conversions proved the deciding factor of the game. Equal in field goals, Clearwater capitalized from the penalty line in the first half accumulating a four-goal lead. In the second half, the tide turned in favor of Forbes Plunkett, Vercellino sinking five goals from the penalty line to edge past the competition 13-12 for the NPC-16 Goal Championship title.

Beginning semifinal action on Thursday, April 11, Iglehart Cup winners BTA (Ignacio “Nachi” Viana, Ignacio Arbelbide, Steve Krueger*, Kelly Beal) went head-to-head against Clearwater. Arbelbide substituting for an injured Alfonso Pieres, a dominant 9-goal performance from Viana led the way for BTA. Clearwater’s balanced offensive counterstrike kept the teams within no more than two goals of each other for the entirety of the match. Each member of Clearwater added their name to the scoreboard, including new addition Vilgre La Madrid, who was substituted onto the original roster following a handicap raise to Benjamin Quiroga. Requiring overtime to settle the score, Diaz Alberdi sent the golden goal, his fourth goal of the contest, through the posts to deliver the 11-10 triumph for Clearwater.

Earning qualifying victories in both the Joe Barry Memorial with Forbes Plunkett and the Outback Cup alongside team owner Ben Ketchum for Copperline Farms, the trio of Vercellino and the Escobar brothers elected to compete with Forbes Plunkett in the NPC 16-Goal Championship. Reunited with Plunkett for the first time since their 4-1 Joe Barry Memorial run in January, Forbes Plunkett faced-off against La Fe/Dazos (David Farache, Kristos “Keko” Magrini*, Francisco Elizalde, Louis Devaleix), claiming their spot in the semifinals based on season points earned throughout the qualifying rounds and team availability.


Trailing by one at the half, Forbes Plunkett began their comeback on a three-goal run in the fourth. Featuring three players competing in the Gauntlet of Polo, Magrini carried La Fe/Dazos’ efforts from the field, as Elizalde hit a key Penalty 3 to take the lead with moments remaining in regulation. Seemingly destined for a second semifinal overtime, a brilliant pass from Vercellino to an undefended Nico Escobar escorted the ball across the line with just seconds left on the clock to earn the electrifying 10-9 victory.


A high-stakes tournament final, Forbes Plunkett’s overzealous play inadvertently provided an opening for Clearwater team owner Campbell. Capitalizing swiftly on three penalty shots, Clearwater established a commanding 4-1 lead. Keeping Forbes Plunkett off the scoreboard in the second, Diaz Alberdi added to Clearwater’s advantage. Lucas Escobar responded in the third, scoring Forbes Plunkett’s first goal since the opening chukker, igniting a three-goal run. However, Clearwater dominated the remainder of the half, posting three goals of their own, including a long-distance Penalty 5 from Colombres at the end of the chukker to double the lead 8-4 at the break.


Analyzing the first half, Vercellino stated, “The strategy was to play open polo, but the truth is—it wasn’t working good for us. We were hitting the ball and Gringo was there, and we were passing the ball to Gringo. So, the first three chukkers they were playing better than us.” Elaborating on the teams’ early performance, Plunkett continued, “I was a little nervous. I thought we came out really flat, we had a good plan, but literally everything we talked about we didn’t do.” Confident in Forbes Plunkett’s ability to erase the four-goal deficit, Lucas Escobar added, “We’re a second half team. We’ve been all season. We made a few adjustments at halftime that really paid off.”


A reenergized Forbes Plunkett dominated the fourth chukker, rallying to earn four goals including back-to-back drives from Lucas Escobar, finishing with a spectacular angled neckshot to tie the match 8-all. Eliciting an eruption of cheers from Forbes Plunkett’s support section led by Georgette Escobar, Plunkett expressed, “I think the most impactful moment was the first two minutes coming out of halftime. Knowing we were down, and we hadn’t played well—to be able to get a couple of quick goals, I think we all realized, ‘hey we’re here, we can do this!’”


Colombres and Diaz Alberdi continued to lead the way for Clearwater, as back-to-back conversions from Vercellino and a field goal from Nico Escobar sent Forbes Plunkett into the final chukker ahead by one. Trading goals from Vercellino on the line and Colombres from the field, the collective effort of Forbes Plunkett’s commanding second half pressure overcame Clearwater’s final push to deliver the 13-12 victory.


Contributing four goals in Forbes Plunkett’s championship win, Lucas Escobar was named Most Valuable Player, sponsored by Wind Vintage. “I had two goals on a horse named Ringer,” said Escobar, “she’s an American Thoroughbred and she played really well. I think she helped me earn MVP in the fourth chukker.” Dolfina Niñera (Niña Bonita x Durazno), a 10-year-old mare played in the first and sixth chukkers and owned by Raul “Gringo” Colombres was awarded Best Playing Pony.


Combining for a spectacular 20-4 season record between Forbes Plunkett and Copperline Farms, Vercellino and the Escobar brothers collected victories in the Continental Cup, Joe Barry Memorial and Outback Cup. Reflecting on the trio’s 16-goal dominance, Nico Escobar stated, “I think this is our fourth tournament that we’ve won the whole season. 4 out of 6 tournaments is an amazing season!”