The first final of the 2024 season at the National Polo Center in Wellington concluded Sunday, Jan. 7 when Forbes Plunkett defeated Patagones 10-9 to secure the Continental Cup trophy.
Forbes Plunkett (Brandon Plunkett, Nicolas “Nico” Escobar, Felipe “Pipe” Vercellino and Lucas Escobar) led for the majority of the match until Patagones (Jack Whitman, Marcos Alberdi, Santiago Wulff and Edward Banner-Eve) picked up speed in the second half to tie it up at the end of the fifth.
In a riveting final chukker, game MVP Lucas Escobar scored back-to-back goals in the final minutes to secure the win for Forbes Plunkett.
The first tournament in the Wellington Polo Tour welcomed a field of four teams on New Year’s Eve. In the semifinals, Patagones bested Catamount 11-7, and Forbes Plunkett defeated defending champions La Fe/Dazos 13-8.
Stepping onto U.S. Polo Assn. Field One for the first time in 2024, Forbes Plunkett already assumed the advantage, as team owner Plunkett has been playing with the Escobar brothers for nearly a decade.
“I started with Luis [Escobar] eight years ago, and I’ve played with the boys [Nico and Lucas] since they were little,” Plunkett recalled. “They’ve always been my core players, as we’ve gone from 6 to 8 to 12 to the 16 goal.”
In November, the trio competed in Argentina in tournaments such as the President’s Cup and Polo Made Cup.
In 2022, the Escobars played in the FIP World Polo Championship, hosted at NPC. “We played in Argentina together, but it’s the first time we’ve played on this field since FIP,” Lucas said. “It feels good to be back with him and to be back home.”
With Vercellino on board, the Forbes Plunkett squad began practicing together three weeks ago. “We’ve had five or six team practices,” Plunkett said. “I feel like today, and in the first game we played, we were really prepared, and the horses were really prepared.”
First chukker foul trouble from Patagones led to two penalty conversions off the mallet of Vercellino, providing an early lead for Forbes Plunkett. Banner-Eve responded with a field goal to put Patagones on the board, but they would not see another goal until the third. By the end of the first half, Vercellino had made two more conversions, followed by a goal from Lucas, to make the score 5-2 in favor of Forbes Plunkett.
After halftime, Patagones clawed their way back from the penalty line. Two conversions from Banner-Eve and a goal from Wulff matched three combined goals from Forbes Plunkett to maintain the gap, 8-5. In the fifth, three unanswered goals, including two more penalty conversions from Banner-Eve and a goal off the mallet of Whitman, equalized the score 8-8. Banner-Eve scored his seventh of the game in the sixth, placing Patagones in the lead for the first time.
With two minutes left, Vercellino won the throw-in to take possession and make a critical pass to Lucas Escobar, who made a massive cutshot toward goal to tie the score. Spectators were on the edge of their seats as he sealed the deal with one more goal for Forbes Plunkett to defeat Patagones, 10-9.
Lucas Escobar was named Most Valuable Player for his critical goals in the game’s final moments. “I wasn’t trying to think too much of the score,” he said. “I was just trying to play our system and go to the end.”
Best Playing Pony was awarded to Vercellino’s 7-year-old mare, La Tia Bancada. “She’s a mare I bought from Fernando Monteverde in Argentina,” Vercellino said. “I brought her here to the U.S. last year and that was her first year. I think she’s playing really well now.”
Forbes Plunkett hoisted the Continental Cup above their heads just as the sun peaked from behind the clouds. “When I started riding with Luis, I was holding onto the saddle and a little scared,” Plunkett joked. “So, eight years later, to be on Field One and to win a tournament… especially a 16-goal, it feels like it has been a long time coming.”
The winners are headed for the Joe Barry Memorial next, which begins Saturday, Jan. 13. Learn more about the 2024 season at the National Polo Center in Wellington at www.nationalpolocenter.com.