Wellington, Fla. – 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.