Adolfo Cambiaso rode into town a year ago on a high horse, and there he stayed. The acclaimed Argentine polo player lived up to his reputation during the 20-goal season at the Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club, leading the Lucchese team to three tournament championships while winning all 10 of their matches.
Cambiaso is back this summer, but there appears to be a new sheriff in town—an old sheriff, actually, by the name of Francisco “Paco” de Narvaez. He had been an outstanding player on the Carpinteria fields for the better part of a decade, but he was overshadowed by the debut of Cambiaso last year. When the two Argentines clashed in the final of the 2010 Bombardier Pacific Coast Open (PCO), de Narvaez wrenched his thigh and was unable to continue. He could only watch as Lucchese claimed the season’s most coveted prize with a 10-8 victory over ERG.
ERG and de Narvaez and came back with a vengeance last Sunday. They overpowered Lucchese by a score of 16-7 in the final of the Piaget Silver Cup. So pumped up was de Narvaez that when he took penalty shots, he sent one soaring over the scoreboard toward Highway 101, and the other into the swimming pool of the condos at the north end—both of them splitting the goal posts. He scored six goals while helping ERG control the flow of play. Cambiaso struggled to make anything happen for Lucchese. In the sixth chukker, he took out his frustration on the referees, who pulled out their red flags and sent him off the field.
When somebody remarked after the match that Lucchese had a bad day, de Narvaez snapped, “Because we had a good day.” Scott Wood, president of the company (Energy Reserves Group) that bears his team’s name, has assembled a formidable lineup. Alongside de Narvaez (rated at 8 goals in polo’s handicap system), are fellow Argentine Sebastian Merlos (9 goals) and Miguelito Torres (3 goals). Wood has an amateur rating of zero, hence the team’s total handicap of 20.
Three teams feature players with the highest achievable rating of 10 goals—Lucchese’s Cambiaso (he’s 36 years old and has been a 10 since he was 17), Audi’s Gonzalito Pieres, and Mansour’s Guillermo “Sapo” Caset. But often, a team of lesser players who work well together, and have a solid stable of horses, will prevail.
Torres was the wild card in Sunday’s game. He continually showed up in the right place and scored six goals in the run of play, matching de Narvaez for scoring honors. Torres was chosen MVP of the championship, which made area polo aficionados proud. The 22-year-old carries the legacy of his late father, Miguel Torres, who emigrated from Argentina, became one of the most popular polo players at the Santa Barbara club, and raised his sons, Miguelito and Santiago, to follow in his stirrups.
Miguelito showed promise in 2004, when he was a 1-goal player on the Antelope team that won the Pacific Coast Open. He received a polo scholarship at Texas A&M but left after a year to pursue his fortunes in the professional game. “This is very special since I grew up here,” Torres said, clutching his MVP award. “Our team has been working hard for this season.”
ERG’s breakthrough victory was special in another way. The Silver Cup is the oldest prize in U.S. polo, having originated in 1900. It resided at various clubs over the years, most recently in Aiken, South Carolina, but never on the West Coast until now.
Two more 20-goal tournaments will be contested over the next month at the Polo Club—the USPA America Cup (final on August 14) and the Pacific Coast Open (final on September 4). ERG threw down the gauntlet Sunday to Lucchese and the other rival teams. “If they keep playing like that, they’ll be tough to beat,” said Andy Busch, leader of the Grant’s Farm team that won the PCO in 2009.
The club situated between Carpinteria and Summerland was in the limelight last month when Prince William was featured in an afternoon of polo that raised millions for charity.
But that was a kinder, gentler display of the sport than the action that is now raging every Friday and Sunday. Just ask Paco de Narvaez or Adolfo Cambiaso.
See all photos from Sunday’s match at kimkphoto.com.
GOINGS-ON: The Santa Barbara Foresters, who had to share their 18th summer baseball league championship with the San Luis Obispo Blues, are playing in the National Baseball Congress (NBC) World Series in Wichita, Kansas. … There will be a public memorial for beloved football coach Jeff Hesselmeyer Monday, August 8, at 6 p.m. at the San Marcos High Greek Theater. … Tony Perez (684-6166) is trying to track down his teammates on the 1961 SBCC football team for a 50th reunion this fall.