La Dolfina Captures $50,000 National 12-Goal Tournament; Juan Martin Zubia Most Valuable Player

10.JPG

WELLINGTON, Fl., March 31, 2019---La Dolfina became the youngest team in tournament history to capture the sixth annual $50,000 National 12-Goal Tournament Saturday at Grand Champions Polo Club.

La Dolfina (Santos Merlos, 0, Segundo Merlos, 2, Poroto Cambiaso, 3, Juan Martin Zubia, 7) defeated Beverly Equestrian (Bill Ballhaus, 0, Geronimo Obregon, 4, Hilario Figueras, 3, Tolito Ocampo, 5), 13-10.

The team averaged 16 years in age with Santos Merlos, 13, Cambiaso, 13, Secundo Merlos, 19, and Juan Martin Zubia, 19. In 2017, GSA (Henry Porter, Santino Magrini, Juan Martin Zubia, Toro Ruiz) was the youngest team with an average age of 18.

For the second time in tournament history, Zubia was named Most Valuable Player. Zubia, who scored a game-high six goals in 2017, scored eight goals, including five on penalty conversions, against Beverly Equestrian and joins past MVPs Luis Escobar (2014), Mark Tomlinson (2015), Jesse Bray (2016) and Toro Ruiz (2018). 

"This is the most important win for us out of the 12-goal tournaments," said Segundo Merlos, oldest son of polo great Sebastian Merlos, who congratulated both his sons after the game. "This is a friends team. It was really good fun. Everyone played the best they could."

La Dolfina joins past team champions Palm Beach Equine (Scott Swerdlin, Alejandro Gonzalez, Tommy Collingwood, Luis Escobar), Audi  (Grant Ganzi, Juancito Bollini, Mark Tomlinson, Wes Finlayson), Palm Beach Illustrated/Team USPA (Todd Thurston, Jared Zenni, Geronimo Obregon, Jesse Bray) and GSA (Henry Porter, Santino Magrini, Toro Ruiz, Nachi Viana).

La Dolfina finished undefeated at 3-0 in the nation's only 12-goal tournament that offers major prize money in the single-elimination, winner-take-all competition. La Dolfina defeated WPL, 15-6, in the quarterfinals and Team USPA, 11-6, in the semifinals. Beverly Equestrian finished 2-1.

Also scoring for La Dolfina, Santos Merlos had three goals and Segundo Merlos and Cambiaso each had one goal. Ocampo led Beverly Equestrian with six goals and Obregon had four.

It was the first time the four young players had played in a tournament. In the physical, hardfought game, La Dolfina led for most of the game after a 2-2 opening chukker. Beverly Equestrian tied the game, 4-4, early in the third chukker and cut the lead to one, 11-10, at the end of the fifth chukker, but La Dolfina came up with a 2-0 final chukker to clinch the win. Zubia scored both goals, the first on a penalty conversion and the second from the field weaving his way through a crowd of defenders.

"This is the highlight of the season for us," Merlos said. "I think it helped that we were friends and to watch my brother play well was fun. Beverly Equestrian is a hell of a team. They never stopped. They come at you 100 percent. We were lucky. They had the same horsepower as us but somehow we managed to win."

For 13-year-old Santos Merlos, it was the biggest win in his young career. "I am very happy," Merlos said. "I was a little bit intimidated in the first chukker but we played together. This is my biggest win. Maybe I will buy a horse with the prize money."

The Grand Champions Polo Club Best Playing Pony was bay mare Norma Jean, played by Figueras in the second and third chukkers, out of the Cria Yatay breeding operation.

The American Polo Horse Association best registered horse of the game was Dolfina Lufthansa, played by Cambiaso in the sixth chukker.

The American Polo Horse Association was created in 2006 by the legendary Polo Hall of Famer Sunny Hale to recognize polo ponies in America and encourages events that showcase them and hard-working dedication of grooms.

During the winter polo season, Grand Champions, the nation's largest and most innovative USPA-sanctioned polo club, is hosting 24 tournaments: 6, 8, 12, 20, and 0 to 40 goals, WCT Finals and women's weekly league play and 26-goal World Polo League tournaments at both Grand Champions, Valiente Polo Farm and several other fields in the area.

Grand Champions tournaments attract a large international field of players from all corners of the world  including India, Mexico, New Zealand, Chile, Costa Rica, Argentina, Canada, Ecuador, Brazil, Switzerland, France, Germany, Uruguay, Azerbaijan, Australia, South Africa, Nigeria, Venezuela and England.

Season highlights for 2019 are the Sterling Cup, $50,000 National 12-Goal Tournament, John T. Oxley Memorial and $100,000 World Cup Tournament, a unique 0-40-goal, winner-take-all single-elimination tournament and inaugural World Polo League.

Grand Champions and Santa Rita Polo Farm is the largest and most unique polo facility in Wellington with 120 stalls in five self-contained barns, exercise track, five climate-controlled tack rooms, vet room, staff quarters, guest house and three polo fields with state-of-the-art underground irrigation including one field for stick-and-ball with plans to build more polo fields in the future.

Grand Champions Polo Club and Santa Rita Polo Farm caters to men, women and youth polo players at all levels and ages. Its' expert staff can customize a complete playing experience including horses, pros and certified umpires in addition to lessons and practice sessions as part of its' Polo On Demand program, created by Grand Champions President Melissa Ganzi when the club first opened in 2007.

The Polo School, a stand-alone USPA-sanctioned polo club, is dedicated to teaching polo to all ages, particularly grass roots youth. Its mission is to provide individuals opportunities in polo at every economic and ability level. Scholarships are available. The Polo School operates in Wellington January through June and September through November. Headed by Director of Operations Juan Bollini, The Polo School has nurtured several men and women polo players now playing in the pro and amateur ranks since its inception.