Former 10-goaler Memo Gracida had guided his La Herradura (Meghan Gracida, Carlos Hernandez, Memo Gracida and Catlin Dix) through their first three Championship Cup wins but was forced into a coaching position in the tournament final against the imposing Evergreen lineup (Tom Sprung, Carlitos Galindo, Juan Jo Gonzalez and Shane Rice).
Evergreen had ruled the fields at the Empire Polo Club since the beginning of the year, taking top honors in 4-goal competition in the Stagecoach Challenge, the USPA Circuit Players Cup and the USPA General Patton Cup. The Evergreen lineup changed for the 8-goal USPA Constitution Cup in March as they went undefeated once again, but for the season-ending $60,000 Champions Cup they ran into Memo Gracida’s La Herradura entry.
Both La Herradura and Evergreen bowled over their first three opponents before facing one another in the tournament final. A fall suffered by Memo Gracida on Friday, March 30th, however, sidelined the Hall of Fame legend, forcing La Herradura to bring in 6-goaler Santi Torres in an effort to fill out the lineup.
A tenuous start saw Evergreen take advantage of a foul by La Herradura, with Shane Rice converting a 30-yard penalty shot for the early lead. Carlos Hernandez, who had been a scoring powerhouse for La Herradura, tied the game with his first goal of the day. Back-to-back goals from Santi Torres ended the first period with La Herradura on top of a 3-1 lead.
Fouls continued to plague the La Herradura lineup with, Rice converting two 40-yard penalty shots. Hernandez scored his second goal of the game, keeping La Herradura in the lead,4-3 as the second chukker ended.
Torres scored the first goal of the third, extending the La Herradura lead to two goals, 5-3. Two goals from Rice (one on a 30-yard penalty shot) leveled the score at 5-5, and Juan Jo
Gonzalez scored the go-ahead goal for Evergreen to end the first half with a 6-5 advantage.
Memo Gracida might not have been on the field but he was in the team tent at the end of the field.
“It was more about Santi (Torres) and Carlos (Hernandez) talking to one another and coordinating their play on the field,” he said. “I told the girls (Catlin Dix and his wife, Meghan Gracida) to continue pushing forward and to utilize the horses.”
The direction appeared to take hold. Hernandez tied the game with a goal from the field followed by a penalty goal for a 7-6 lead. Torres scored the final goal of the chukker as a solid defensive effort shut down the talented Evergreen attack and edged La Herradura ahead, 8-6.
Hernandez and Torres traded goals with Galindo and Rice in the fifth, with La Herradura maintaining their two goals lead, 10-8, with one chukker left in regulation play.
Playing as if the score was tied, La Herradura exploded in the sixth. Meghan Gracida took the opening throw-in and raced 150-yards down the field for her first goal of the game and a three-goal, 11-8 lead. Rice responded with a goal for Evergreen that cut the lead back to a manageable two goals, 11-9. The teamwork between Torres and Hernandez continued to pay off. Torres scored twice from the field with the two La Herradura players taking turns passing the ball to one another and blocking out opponents for a 13-9 edge. With time running out, Rice scored on a 60-yard penalty shot but it was too little, too late. Torres scored the last goal of the game on a 40-yard penalty conversion as La Herradura celebrated the 14-10 win and a check for $45,000, the winner’s share of the purse. Evergreen suffered their first loss of the winter season but were comforted with a check for $15,000 for their second-place finish.
“It was a tough match“, said Meghan Gracida after the game, “but our team played as a team and pushed hard. Our horses were amazing and so was our coach (Memo Gracida)“, she added, “So happy”.
Torres led all soring with eight goals. Hernandez scored five times and earned MVP honors while Meghan Gracida added a goal for the win. Rice’s six goals (three on penalty conversions) led the Evergreen attack. Galindo added three goals and Gonzalez scored once in the loss.
Rice’s horse, Midget, was named Best Playing Pony.
Buffalo 6, Vancouver/Mother Chukkers 3
La Herradura and Evergreen weren’t the only teams going home with money in their pockets as the Buffalos (Ross Adam, Tim Rudy, Felipe Sordelli and Riley Jordan) took the winners share of an $8,000 purse while the Vancouver/Mother Chukkers (Jay Garnett, Nicolas Maciel, Robert Payne III and Sukey Forbes) settled for $2,000 for a second-place finish in the 4-goal Lions Cup.
Robert Payne opened the scoring in the 4-goal Lions Cup final with a goal from the field for the Vancouver/Mother Chukkers. Tim Rudy converted a penalty shot to tie it at 1-1 and teammate Felipe Sordelli added a goal from the field for a 2-1 Buffalo lead.
Shutout defense by the Buffalos in the second period of the four chukker final was nearly all defensive in nature. Riley Jordon scored the only goal of the period, giving the Buffalos a 3-1 halftime lead.
The two teams exchanged goals in the third, matching one another goal-for-goal. A pair of goals from Payne were countered by single goals from Sordelli and Rudy (penalty goal). The lead remained with the Buffalos, 5-3.
For the second time in the match, Vancouver/Mother Chukkers were unable to mount a successful attack. Rudy’s third goal on the day accounted for all of the fourth chukker scoring as the Buffalos left the field celebrating the 6-3 win.
Rudy scored a team high three goals for Buffalo. Sordelli added two goals and Jordan accounted for a single goal in the win. All three Vancouver/Mother Chukkers goals came from Payne (two on penalty shots).
The Lions Cup and the Champions Cup were the final polo tournaments of the season at the Empire Polo Club and signaled the end of a 14-week season that included women’s competitions and Friday night polo under the lights as well as regular Sunday afternoon tournament action.
The Empire Polo Club is located at 81-800 Avenue 51 in Indio, CA. For further information go to the club website at http://empirepolo.com or call 760-342-7755. Entrance for Friday night games is on Ave. 50 between Madison Street and Monroe Street.