In a successful and monumental debut for the National Polo Center in Wellington, the USPA-owned facility took center stage with the global XII FIP World Polo Championship. Held from October 29 to November 6, the competition welcomed eight talented teams from across the world for ultimate international polo glory.
Teams from Argentina, Australia, Italy, Mexico, Pakistan, Spain, Uruguay, and the United States meet on the adrenaline-filled field. Outfitting the teams with official performance jerseys and equipment as the Official Apparel Partner and Presenting Sponsor, U.S. Polo Assn. is proud to join forces once again with the FIP World Polo Championship. This team up promotes the brand during the pinnacle of international polo competition.
Visiting teams arrived on October 26 and drew one of eight evenly-matched strings of 22 horses provided by J5 Equestrian. Then, they spent time leading up to the first day of the competition riding and practicing them to develop strategies and decide who best to ride each mount.
Bracket play began on October 29. The competition officially started in grand fashion with the opening ceremony at NPC’s U.S. Polo Assn Field One. The event featured a team parade in classic cars and plenty of sideline spirit from eager spectators.
Over the course of the weeklong event, USA and Spain rose to the top of the competition. The former is composed of Agustin Arellano, Lucas Escobar, Nicolas “Nico” Escobar, Jacob “Jake” Klenter, Hope Arellano, Joaquin Avendaño, and Nicolas “Nico” Diaz Alberdi. The latter, on the other hand, has Nicolas “Tuki” Ruiz Guiñazu, Luis Domnecq Carrión, Pelayo Berazadi Rózpide, and Nicolas Álvarez Cervera on their roster. Effectively mastering their horses and executing stellar teamwork to drive continued success, each country captured a 3 to 1 record entering the final.
In their opening match, USA triumphed with 9 to 4 over Australia, establishing their position as one of the tournament’s dominant competitors. A slight setback followed shortly after, falling to Italy with 6 to 4. Desperate for a win in order to qualify for the semifinal round, USA worked tirelessly in a physically and mentally exhausting battle to edge out Uruguay with 7.5 to 7.
In USA’s semifinal match, Hope entered the playing field, substituting for Jake Klentner. Making history, the 19-year-old polo phenom became the first woman to compete for the United States in an FIP World Polo Championship. Her addition to the starting lineup continued USA’s forward momentum without a hitch. This allowed the two sets of siblings to emerge with an electrifying 9 to 8 overtime win against defending champions and competition favorites Argentina.
Spain’s journey to the final mirrored that of the USA. An initial triumph over Pakistan with 9 to 7.5 was followed by a dominant performance over Mexico with 11 to 4.5. Already qualified for the semifinals by record, Spain suffered a small setback in their third match of bracket play, falling to Argentina with 6 to 3.5. The team in red and yellow bounced back however, and secured an assertive 10.5 to 7 semifinal win against Uruguay to earn their place in Sunday’s title match.
Prior to the championship final, Argentina and Uruguay met in the Bronze Medal match. Argentina enlisted Joaquin Sanchez Herrero, Tomas Delfino, Marcos Panelo, Tomas Marin Moreno, Gonzalo Santamarina, Santiago Buzzi, Estanislao Abelenda, and Bartolome Fermin Bayugar in their team. Uruguay gathered Gaston Magariños, Ignacio “Nachi” Viana, Santiago Stirling, Matias Carrique, and Mauricio Sanchez to complete their roster.
Securing the lead from the start of the game and holding tight until the end, Uruguay grasped the FIP Bronze Medal with 9 to 7.5, with a game-high four goals coming off the mallet of Gauntlet of Polo alum Nachi Viana. J5 Dolche (Open Chimento x Dulce), played by Uruguay’s Santiago Stirling, was named Best Playing Pony. Uruguay’s third place finish capped off an inspiring FIP World Polo Championship run for the team as it was their first time ever qualifying.
Shortly after, USA and Spain met on NPC’s immaculate U.S. Polo Assn. Field One in front of a sold out grandstand crowd. At the outset of play, an early Penalty 1 automatic goal in favor of Spain sparked momentum for the European team. Thus, Tuki drew first blood from the field. In response, Hope and Agustin combined forces in an outstanding display of teamwork to get USA on the scoreboard. This ended the chukker with Spain holding with just a slight 2 to 1 edge.
Digging deep to take control of the game in the second chukker, USA’s Lucas maneuvered his way to goal twice. Meanwhile, his brother Nico capitalized on Spain’s mistakes to successfully convert two penalties. Agustin added one of his own to make it a stand-out five-goal chukker for the hometown team as the stadium crowd erupted in deafening cheers. With just one goal off the mallet of Pelayo, the USA dominated to double up on Spain with 6-3 at the end of chukker.
Eager for a comeback in the third, Pelayo and Tuki combined for two goals, each outscoring the USA. Hammering down on defense, Spain held USA to just two field goals off the mallet of Nico Escobar. Effectively closing the gap between the two contenders, the USA led by only one at halftime, with 8 to 7.
With both teams hoping to replicate early success, the fourth chukker featured intense play and impeccable defense. As each team was only able to score once, Nico Escobar made the first move with Pelayo responding to prolong the one-goal differential, now 9 to 8, with USA still on top.
With the fifth chukker serving as the final period of regulation play, Hope worked quickly to create more space between the USA and Spain with a field goal. However, a series of mistakes from USA turned into game-changing opportunities for Spain. Pelayo first successfully converted a Penalty 2, followed by another from Luis, landing his chance at goal late in the chukker. This put the game in a 10-all deadlock and forced overtime.
Fierce play on both ends kept the match going through the overtime chukker’s halfway point. But, a foul from USA gave Spain yet another penalty opportunity, which Pelayo masterfully scored – sending the ball high above the USA defenders to capture Spain’s first FIP World Polo Championship title.
For his five-goal performance, golden goal and leadership on the field, Spain’s Pelayo was named Most Valuable Player. His third and fifth chukker horse, J5 Matilde (Open Picaro x @Matilde), was also awarded Best Playing Pony honors. A notable horse, J5 Matilde spent this past summer playing under Poroto Cambiaso at the Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club.
Lucas, praising Pelayo’s leadership and Spain’s talent and teamwork, notes, “[It was] total war the whole game. They played amazing. We just couldn’t win it in the end. My hat goes off to them. They play really well with each other. [Pelayo Berazadi Rózpide] played amazing with the ball, and the other guys work [well] for him. They have a really good system and it worked for them. We needed to stick to them just a little bit more, [but] we’re happy to be here. We wanted to be here for our country.”
Extremely grateful for the opportunity to represent the U.S., Agustin reflected on the tournamen. He shares, “I had the time of my life getting to play with my sister and my dad coaching, and Lucas and Nico have been nothing short of incredible. To be able to play with two [sets of] siblings on a team and to have my sister be the first woman ever to play has been incredible.”
Also thankful to be involved and sharing how meaningful this experience was to her, Hope echoes her brother. “This entire team has been such a beautiful thing to be a part of!” she exclaims. “I have met people from all over the world that will be friends for a lifetime. Thank you to everyone who made this so special – from the calls, texts, and the cheering on the sidelines. You have no idea how much it meant to all of us.”
An event that was years in the making, USPA Executive Director of Services Carlucho Arellano expressed how meaningful the success of the competition was, especially after meticulous planning efforts. He opens up, “One thing that I promised when the U.S. was still bidding to be the host of the world championship was that we would give the world the very best of the USPA—the very best horses we could find, the very best venue, and the very best service. I think all of that planning really translates into good polo. When you do things well and organize things well, it has a trickle-down effect. By giving the players our best, they were able to show us the very best of their talent.”
FIP Tournament Coordinator Felipe Del Sel, one of the many contributors who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to help organize and execute the international event, also described his pride in being a part of the team to bring the FIP World Polo Championship to the U.S. “I think that the event went smoothly and exceeded all expectations,” he explains. “FIP and the teams were really impressed with all the attention to detail and the level of fields, horses, and accommodation. It was the perfect event to present the National Polo Center – Wellington to the world. The U.S. is a great place to host these types of international events and Wellington, being one of the polo capitals of the world, was the perfect setting.”
Incredibly pleased with the U.S.’s performance and hopeful for the country’s future in international competition, USA’s Assistant Coach Jesse Bray reflected on the experience. “In two of the last three FIP competitions, the U.S. has finished in second place, both in overtime. I have been part of both—one as a player and one as a coach. I know we are very close to bringing home gold,” he shares enthusiastically.