Going up against the only undefeated team in the tournament captained by the formidable Adolfo Cambiaso, Park Place (Matt Coppola, Hilario Ulloa, Juan Britos and Jack Whitman) knew there could be no margin for error in the C.V. Whitney Cup Final against Scone (David Paradice, Adolfo Cambiaso, Poroto Cambiaso and Peke Gonzalez).
Meeting on Sunday, March 7 on the U.S. Polo Assn. Field 1 at the International Polo Club Palm Beach, the two teams found themselves locked in a tight game from start to finish, never separated by more than a goal each chukker. Forcing the game into overtime, Park Place relentlessly fought to score the golden goal, claiming not only the title 11-10 and $100,000, but their place as the only 2021 Gauntlet of Polo contenders.
“This win means the world to us. It’s literally a dream come true,” said Ashley Price, Park Place’s team manager.
Firing at Park Place’s goal within the first couple minutes, Scone looked to establish a lead early on, igniting a defensive battle throughout the first half. Receiving a nearside neckshot pass from Adolfo Cambiaso, Gonzalez made a breakaway to score the first field goal of the day. Winning the next throw-in and answering back with an immediate goal, Whitman’s quick response proved to be a precursor of the back-and-forth action to come.
Playing halfway through the second without a goal from either side, Scone added one to the tally to break the tie for the first time 3-2. Exercising precision from the Penalty 4 line, Adolfo Cambiaso’s third chukker goal was met by a strong offensive force led by Ulloa.
“We tried to keep possession of the ball and keep it away from Cambiaso, but I think we were playing a bit slowly at the beginning,” Ulloa said. “Chukker by chukker, we found a way to open up the game, hit long shots and run a bit more.”
Relying on his young teammates who took out the defenders, Ulloa claimed two impressive goals to once again level the playing field 4-4 in the final minute before halftime.
As the intensity of the game increased with each successive chukker, both sides continued to trade goals but were unsuccessful in creating much of a lead. Sticking to his man, Whitman held off Scone long enough for Ulloa to take the ball around the pack and score in the fourth. Positioned to make the assist, Adolfo Cambiaso hit the ball up to his son, who made a strong cutshot to regain the advantage.
Claiming three consecutive goals in the fifth, Park Place played with offensive prowess, Britos stealing possession from Poroto Cambiaso to pick up his first goal of the game. Entering the sixth 8-7, Park Place’s lead quickly evaporated with an opening goal from Adolfo Cambiaso. Closing in on the final two minutes of regulation time, Gonzalez made a run to goal, which put the pressure on Park Place to act fast. Supreme under pressure, Ulloa hit the ball through traffic to tie the game up with seconds to spare.
The electrifying overtime chukker proved to be just as heated as regulation. Nearing the end of the seventh, Park Place’s Ulloa hit a deep neckshot out of the pack to Whitman, who ran the golden goal between the posts with 2:40 on the clock. “To be honest, I wasn’t thinking at all,” Whitman said. “Hilario hit the pass down the boards, and I just went for it!”
In addition to the title, Park Place received $100,000 in prize money while Scone was awarded $25,000 as the runners-up. This year’s Gauntlet of Polo, in partnership with USPA Global Licensing, embraced the spirit of giving with nonprofit charities chosen by the finalists also receiving a donation. Park Place chose to divide the $5,000 between the Polo Players Support Group (PPSG) and Relay Polo, while Scone contributed their $5,000 to PPSG.
Substituting for team owner Andrey Borodin, 16-year-old Whitman received the opportunity of a lifetime when Ulloa invited him to play for Park Place. “I was a little nervous. Just to play in the C.V. Whitney Cup is an amazing opportunity, but to make it to the final is incredible!” Whitman said. “The organization, our coach Julio Arellano and everyone from Park Place has been so supportive. Andrey has also been amazing, helping me with everything, and I want to thank him for giving me this unbelievable opportunity.”
Responsible for the game-winning goal, Whitman was named Most Valuable Player. Best Playing Pony honors were presented to eight-year-old Lavinia Heroica, an Argentine homebred chestnut mare owned and played by Ulloa.
Moving forward with the ultimate goal of being named Gauntlet champions, Park Place is focusing on the long game.
“This is just the beginning,” Ulloa said. The teams will come back stronger in the USPA Gold Cup, including many good teams that didn’t have the chance because of the shootout. We know it’s still a long road ahead, and we have to focus game after game, but we’re definitely headed in the right direction.”
The Gauntlet of Polo continues with the USPA Gold Cup now underway at IPC. All games will be livestreamed on Global Polo TV.