The first final of the 2024 polo season at the National Polo Center concluded Sunday, January 7, in Wellington, Florida. Forbes Plunkett (Brandon Plunkett, Nicolas “Nico” Escobar*, Felipe “Pipe” Vercellino, Lucas Escobar*) led for the majority of the match until Patagones (Jack Whitman*, Marcos Alberdi, Santiago Wulff, Edward Banner-Eve) picked up speed in the second half to tie it up at the end of the fifth. In a riveting final chukker, game MVP Lucas Escobar scored back-to-back goals in the final minutes to secure the Continental Cup trophy for Forbes Plunkett.
The first tournament in the Wellington Polo Tour welcomed a field of four teams on New Year’s Eve. In the semifinals, Patagones bested Catamount 11-7 and Forbes Plunkett defeated defending champions La Fe/Dazos 13-8.
Stepping onto U.S. Polo Assn. Field One for the first time in 2024, Forbes Plunkett already assumed the advantage, as team owner Plunkett has been playing with the Escobar brothers for nearly a decade.
“I started with Luis [Escobar] eight years ago and I’ve played with the boys [Nico and Lucas] since they were little,” recalled Plunkett. “They’ve always been my core players as we’ve gone from 6 to 8 to 12 to the 16 goal, and so they’re always my first two choices.” In November, the trio competed abroad in Argentina in tournaments such as the President’s Cup and Polo Made Cup under the same moniker.
In 2022, the Escobar’s played in the FIP World Polo Championship, hosted by the National Polo Center. “We played in Argentina together, but it’s the first time we’ve played on this field since FIP,” Lucas said. “It feels good to be back with him and to be back home.”
Lucas is an active Team USPA Member, while brother Nico is a graduating member. 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. “They play a lot of polo,” laughed Plunkett. “So every time they can win and I can have some part of that, I love it.”
With Vercellino on board, the Forbes Plunkett squad began practicing together three weeks ago before Christmas. “We’ve had five or six team practices,” Plunkett said, “and I feel like today and in the first game we played, we were really prepared, and the horses were really prepared.”
First chukker foul trouble from Patagones led to two penalty conversions off the mallet of Vercellino, providing an early lead for Forbes Plunkett. Banner-Eve responded with a field goal to put Patagones on the scoreboard, but the team in white would not see another goal until the third. By the end of the first half, Vercellino had made two more conversions, followed by a goal from Lucas to bring the score 5-2 in favor of Forbes Plunkett.
After halftime, Patagones clawed their way back from the penalty line. Two conversions from Banner-Eve and a goal from Wulff matched three combined goals from Forbes Plunkett to maintain the gap, 8-5. In the fifth, three unanswered goals, including two more penalty conversions from Banner-Eve and a goal off the mallet of Whitman, equalized the score 8-all. Banner-Eve scored his seventh of the game in the sixth, placing Patagones in the lead for the first time since the initial bowl-in.
With two minutes left, Vercellino won the throw-in to take possession and make a critical pass to Lucas, who made a massive cutshot towards goal to tie the score. Spectators were on the edge of their seats as Lucas Escobar sealed the deal with one more goal for Forbes Plunkett to defeat Patagones, 10-9.
Despite the tense fifth and sixth chukkers, Forbes Plunkett was able to stick to their game plan. “Going to the sixth, we didn’t change our strategy or anything like that,” Lucas said. “We just had a poor fifth chukker. We were playing the whole game and then the fifth chukker was a little off, so we just went back to our plan, and it paid off for us in the end.”
Lucas was named Most Valuable Player for his critical goals in the game’s final moments. “I wasn’t trying to think too much of the score, I was just trying to play our system and go to the end.”
Best Playing Pony was awarded to Vercellino’s 7-year-old mare, La Tia Bancada. “She’s a mare I bought from Fernando Monteverde in Argentina,” told Vercellino. “I brought her here to the U.S. last year and that was her first year. I think she’s playing really well now. And I have the full sister of La Tia Bancada, Cara Cruz.” Vercellino lent Cara Cruz to David “Pelon” Stirling to play in the 2023 Argentine Open last fall. “I think they’re both really good mares and playing so well for me. They have potential.”
Forbes Plunkett hoisted the Continental Cup above their heads just as the sun peaked from behind the clouds, celebrating their first win of the new year. “When I started riding with Luis, I was holding onto the saddle and a little scared,” joked Plunkett. “So, eight years later, to be on Field One and to win a tournament…especially a 16-goal, it feels like it’s been a long time coming.”
The winners are headed for the Joe Barry Memorial next, which begins Saturday, January 13. Forbes Plunkett will compete against BTA in the opening match of the NPC 16-Goal Championship qualifier at Port Mayaca Polo Club in Okeechobee, Florida. “All the teams are great,” said Lucas. “So just to start a little bit earlier than anyone else, I think it’s an advantage for sure.”
The Continental Cup Final is available On-Demand.
*Lucas Escobar and Jack Whitman are Active Team USPA Members. Nicolas “Nico” Escobar is a Graduating Team USPA Member. 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.
January 12, 2024