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Grand Champions Polo, Resolut/Armstrong Farm Capture WCT Sunny Hale Legacy Finals; Hazel Jackson, Tiffany Armstrong MVPs

Updated: Apr 10

WELLINGTON, Fla., April 9, 2024---The memory of Sunny Hale lived on for players and friends at the recent Women’s Championship Tournament (WCT) Sunny Hale Legacy Finals at Grand Champions Polo Club.

By Sharon Robb

Photos by Candace Ferreira

On a special afternoon to remember the Hall of Famer, polo pioneer and WCT founder, five teams competed at a high level of polo in both open and 8-goal divisions.

Photo by Snoopy Polo

Grand Champions Polo (Megan Manubay, 1, Becky Schmeits, 1, Hazel Jackson, 10, Millie Hine, 8) defeated Orea Polo/Armstrong Farm (Petra Sobotova, 1, Tiffany Armstrong, 1, Kylie Sheehan, 5, Hope Arellano, 10), 6-5.

The teams tied at the end of regulation play after one of the most competitive games in tournament history. The rainbow rule was instituted with Jackson scoring the winning goal, lofting it through a crowd of players over the back line with 5:46 left.

The British 10-goaler swept Most Valuable Player and Best Playing Pony honors. Her horse, Carioca, owned by Felipe Viana, was selected BPP.

"I thought the team did really well," said Jackson, who also won last year with La Monarquia and earned MVP honors. She now heads to England for the season. "The game could have gone either way. It was very competitive and super fun.

"I played against Sunny when I was a a little bit younger than her," Jackson said. "She was always my idol growing up and someone I looked up to. She was so well-respected. What she achieved in her career was unreal. I think it's super important we keep her legacy going.  

"She did a lot for ladies polo and also made a name for herself in the mixed polo which to me is even more impressive. She was so well-respected by so many male pros. She made such history herself and was an incredible lady."

Hope Arellano, Becky Schmeits and Ava Rose Hinkson were awarded the Sunny Smiles Sportsmanship Award. Arellano's horse, Mentira, was the American Polo Horse Association Best Playing Pony which Hale created.

"That was super fun," said Arellano, the first American woman to achieve a 10-goal Women’s Outdoor Handicap since the legendary Hale, and first American to achieve any 10-goal status since Polito Pieres in 2015.

"It's always nice to go into that tournament honoring Sunny," Arellano said. "I think any woman in polo looks up to Sunny. It was great to play. The last time I played it I was a little girl and Sunny invited me to play. It was super fun to play in that tournament many years later. It was a great group of girls and super fun open game. Melissa and Marc [Ganzi] are so kind to continue on with her legacy. I think that's just amazing."

Arellano was pitted against Jackson, her good friend and Argentine Open and U.S. Open teammate.

"Whether we are playing with or against each other, she is one of my closest friends," Arellano said. "I definitely prefer to play with her than against her. It's always a blast to play against her and Millie, such great players. We have a great time."

Added Jackson, "It's not that much fun playing against Hope. I definitely prefer to play with her. I know her well. She always goes super hard. She plays 100 percent. She is so talented. I have so much respect for her."

Petra Sobotova, a show jumper and polo player, enjoyed sponsoring the team. She had never met Hale but was well aware of her accomplishments.

"I actually have all three of her books on my bedside table," Sobotova said. "I wasn't in the polo world when she was around. I learn so much by reading them. It's great she took out the time in her schedule to sit down and write her thoughts about the sport. It's a valuable resource she left us."

Sobotova had been playing mostly mixed polo. "I hadn't played too much women's polo so when Becky Schmeits told me about the event it sounded like a really fun group of people to play with.

"It went really well," Sobotova said. "Playing with guys there's a lot of yelling on the field. And then I am playing with Hope and she is so positive. She's like 'you guys are doing great.' There was so much positive energy. All the ladies were so happy out there playing. It was such a nice event and really fun time."

Resolute/Armstrong Farms (Nicole Hai, Lauren Proctor Brown, Tiffany Armstrong, Kylie Sheehan) rallied to win the 8-goal division round robin. Santa Rita/La Monarquia (Megan Manubay, Mary Wright, Ava Rose Hinkson, Malicia von Falkenhausen) finished second and Jupiter Polo (Rebecca Cohen, Paige Coles, Alyson Poor, Jenna Davis) was third. It was Manubay's third game of the day after playing a morning game.

Armstrong was Most Valuable Player. Hinkson's horse, 7-year-old Murrco, was Best Playing Pony. He played in the first and fourth chukkers.

Photo by Snoopy Polo

"Every year I play with Malicia and it's something we both look forward to," Hinkson said. "It was super competitive and the fields are fun to play on in front of the stadium. It's so unique and such a great cause.

"I think we all have such fond memories of Sunny and it's nice to go out in her spirit, uplift each other and remember her legacy and what we are all in this for," Hinkson said. "I did the first tournament in 2016 the first year I started playing polo. I got to meet Sunny. She was an incredible person. She was so unique. There was no one like her."

Hale died on February 26, 2017 in Norman, Okla. at the age of 48 after a battle with breast cancer but left a lasting legacy. She was a pioneer and advocate for players and horses. She created the women's polo handicaps that were implemented  by the U.S. Polo Association. In 2006, she started the American Polo Horse Association which recognizes polo ponies in America and encourages events that showcase them.

Hale, rated 5 goals in mixed polo and awarded 10-goal status posthumously, was the first woman in U.S. history to win the U.S. Open in 2000 with Tim Gannon's Outback team (Phil Heatley, Lolo Castagnola and Adolfo Cambiaso).

Women's polo now accounts for more than 50 per cent participation in the sport. Arellano is hosting an inaugural Girls Polo Camp at her home farm in Aiken, S.C. the first week of June helping the sport to grow even more.

"I think it's incredible how much women's polo grows every single year," Arellano said. "It keeps getting better and better. I am excited to see in the future how it continues to improve. I think Sunny would be proud of of that, too."



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