U.S. Open Arena Polo Championship comes to satisfying conclusion at California Polo Club.
made me play that good. I couldn’t
get to the plays without them, they deserve all the credit.”
— Nicolai Galindo
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA, UNITED STATES, January 15, 2024 /EINPresswire.com/ — A busy week of arena polo began with a record nine teams descending on the scenic California Polo Club in Los Angeles, California, to crown a new victor in the U.S. Open Arena Polo Championship, presented by U.S. Polo Assn. Held over three days, the battle to determine the champion at the highest level of arena polo in the United States resulted in a memorable match-up between SIG (Eden Ormerod, Daniel “Cacho” Galindo, Nicolai Galindo) and KCrush (Harrison Azzaro, Remy Du Celliee Muller, Mike Azzaro). Utilizing the boards and taking advantage of open goal penalty opportunities, a spectacular 14-goal performance from Nicolai Galindo combined with a steadfast defensive strategy allowed SIG to hang-on to their lead for an exhilarating 15-14 victory and $55,000 in prize money. The final of the US Open Arena Polo Championship is available on-demand via the USPA Polo Network channel on YouTube.
Arena polo, sometimes referred to as hockey on horseback, is a ball and mallet sport played on highly trained horses. Arena polo is played in an enclosed arena with two goal mouths set into either end of the 300 by 150-foot dirt, sand or other footing arena. The game is played with teams of three players each mounted on horseback. All players are equipped with mallets and attempt to move an inflated ball into their respective goals to rack up points. Periods of play last for 7.5 minutes and are known as chukkers. At the end of a game, typically consisting of four chukkers, the team that has the highest number of goals wins. Teams must abide by all rules to ensure the safety of players and horses. Teams that commit any infraction upon these rules may be subject to penalty as dictated by the umpires officiating the match. It’s a fast-paced sport with quick reaction times, highlighting human athletes and their amazing mounts.
Charting their path to the final, KCrush navigated the challenge of defeating two teams in quarterfinal round-robin play, easily handling both Hotels At Sea (Tareq Salahi, Marcos Bignoli, Jorge “Tolito” Fernandez Ocampo Jr.) and Equus Hotel Waikiki (Devon Dailey*, Dewitt “Hobbs” Weymouth, Garrett Bankhead). Ramping-up semifinal action, a lively battle against Work to Ride/BOOM! Cult (Daymar Rosser, Kareem Rosser*, Patrick Uretz*) displayed KCrush’s willingness to fully embrace the physicality of high-goal arena polo for the 19-11 victory.
Beginning their bid to the championship, SIG faced-off against Prestonwood/Broken Taco (Vance Miller III, Andrew Scott, Vaughn Miller Jr.) with the team in black earning the 14-12 triumph. Resuming play in the semifinals, end\-to-end action against OC Polo (Spencer Hurtt, Jared Sheldon*, Shane Rice) featured a spectacular 34 combined goals that came down to a brilliant two-pointer from Ormerod in the final minutes of play to seal SIG’s 19-15 win.
Assembling the SIG trio with the support of team owner Deep Singh, the 14-goal team consisted of brothers Cacho and Nicolai Galindo alongside English arena veteran Eden Ormerod. Relying on the experience of Ormerod, Nicolai shared SIG’s preparation for the tournament, “We had a few practice games in the desert [Indio, California] before we came up here. Eden was the one that walked us through everything.” As for his own play, Ormerod added, “I’m a big fan of arena and play a lot in England. I didn’t have a very good [U.S. Arena Open] last year and I felt I needed a bit of a redo.”
Entering the final with a tournament leading 42 goals, KCrush’s high-flying offense was quick to pounce with Mike Azzaro scoring twice in the first chukker. SIG’s Nicolai Galindo also found an early rhythm that included two conversions to give his team a 3-2 advantage.
Each taking turns striking from distance, a brilliant two-point penalty conversion from Mike Azzaro was promptly answered with a spectacular two-point shot off the mallet of Nicolai Galindo to tie the match 5-all. The remainder of the chukker was all SIG, as Galindo added three more before the horn to take an 8-5 lead into the break.
Igniting action in the second half, KCrush quickly took control of the ball as a Penalty 3 from Mike Azzaro was complimented by Harrison Azzaro becoming the second KCrush teammate to reach the scoreboard. Following three successful conversions from Nicolai Galindo, the back-and-forth battle between the team’s two leading scorers continued. Mike Azzaro capped off the chukker with his second two-point penalty shot of the game, keeping KCrush within one 11-10.
Opening the final chukker of play, Cacho Galindo scored his first of the contest, as Nicolai continued to impress with his defensive abilities on a brilliant steal straight to goal off Mike Azzaro to keep SIG ahead by four. Not to be deterred, KCrush quickly regrouped and maintained pressure on SIG. A rapid response from Harrison Azzaro was followed by Mike Azzaro hitting a crucial two-pointer to bring KCrush back within one. With time ticking down, SIG assembled a final defensive stand to overcome KCrush’s comeback attempt and earn the electrifying U.S. Open Arena Polo Championship victory 15-14.
Accounting for all but one of SIG’s 15 goals while converting eight of his nine attempts at the penalty line, Nicolai Galindo’s ability to find himself generating opportunities earned him Most Valuable Player. When asked to assess Nicolai’s efforts on both sides of the ball Ormerod stated, “Solid with penalties, [had] some great hit-out’s [and] controlled the ball really well. He just got better every chukker. Today, Nicolai just got a hold of that ball and took really clean shots.” Cacho added, “Every play he was involved in he was dominant, [he] wanted to play better and was there for [the team].”
Reflecting on his own performance Nicolai shared, “I think the penalties helped a lot today. I missed a [Penalty 4] but all the 2’s and 3’s I made. I won a lot of the plays I went into, so that helps.” Quick to credit his string Nicolai elaborated, “The horses did everything today, they made me play that good. I couldn’t get to the plays without them, they deserve all the credit.”
LWR Sweet Sioux (XXX x Zibby), a 4-year-old bay mare played and owned by Mike Azzaro was awarded Best Playing Pony. “XXX, her mother, was out of the famous stallion Valid Expectations and her father Zibby, is owned by Carlos Gonzales,” said Azzaro, “She is a homebred on our Ranch (Lonesome Wind Ranch) and we broke her to ride at 2-and-a-half years old. [We] started playing her this summer for the first time at Denver Polo Club [Sedalia, Colorado] and Valiente, she showed so much maturity and talent we had to bring her.” Played in halves of the first, second and third chukkers of the final, Azzaro described LWR Sweet Sioux’s best qualities, “She has incredible speed handle and bumping power.”
The Jockey Club Thoroughbred Incentive Best Playing Pony was presented to Awesome Sauce (Colonial Colony x Eligance), an 11-year-old chestnut mare, trained by Shane Rice and Megan Flynn, and owned by Hidden View Farm. Played by Rice, Awesome Sauce was given the honor for her performance in the first, third and fourth chukkers of the U.S. Open Arena Polo Championship bronze medal match between OC Polo and Work to Ride/BOOM! Cult. Previously
awarded the Jockey Club Thoroughbred Incentive Best Playing Pony at the 2023 National Arena Delegate’s Cup (Brookshire, Texas), Awesome Sauce is known for her great versatility and is frequently utilized by Flynn for beginners in polo and Rice in high-level competition.
For their continued positive attitude, fairness and support for their peers on and off the field, Brian Salmon was the recipient of the Overall Sportsmanship Award for the U.S. Open Arena Polo Championship and United States Arena Handicap, while Spencer Hurtt took home the Sportsmanship Award honors for the U.S. Open Arena Polo Championship.
Standing together for their final interview of the tournament, Nicolai shared what it meant to earn his first U.S. Open Arena Polo Championship title with his brother, “It makes it even more special. This is the first time I’ve ever really played with Cacho. I won the Pacific Coast Circuit Governor’s Cup with my other brother [Carlos “Carlitos” Galindo Jr.] and that was great but winning it with Cacho was just as good.” Cacho quickly interjected, “Now we have one up on
Semi-finals of the US Open Arena Polo Championship, presented by U.S. Polo Assn. are also available on-demand on USPA Polo Network YouTube channel.
BYLINE – United States Polo Association
PHOTO CREDIT: ©Tequila Sunsets Photography
2023 US Open Arena Polo Championship semi-final SIG Polo Team vs OC Polo Club