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After More Than 20 Years Competing In Wellington, Jeff Hall Remains At The Top Of His Game

After More Than 20 Years Competing In Wellington, Jeff Hall Remains  At The Top Of His Game

Polo has always been a family affair, and that’s clearly in evidence for Jeff Hall, one of the top American players whose talent has been on display in Wellington for more than two decades.

Hall’s father, John, a well-regarded polo patron of the Old Pueblo team, introduced his second-oldest son to riding before he was in kindergarten. He played his first professional game when he was 12 and has been doing it at a high level ever since.

“Honestly, I owe my success to my dad. He started me, but I played because I loved it,” said Hall, who turned 41 last September.

Family also plays a significant role in some of Jeff’s most cherished memories of his exceptional career. He has won most of the major high-goal tournaments in the United States.

Among his favorite memories are winning the Silver Cup with his father and brother J.W. in 1999, and again with his father in 2000, and once with his stepmother, Leigh-Anne, in 2004, all in Santa Barbara.

Hall also included winning his record ninth Silver Cup this summer and the 2003 U.S. Open, the most prestigious tournament in North America.

It was with Tommy Boyle’s C Spear that Hall reached the pinnacle of U.S. polo in 2003, and his mount, Harrah, won the coveted Best Playing Pony award. He also reached the 2002 and 2006 finals, both with Orchard Hill.

Hall’s wish list includes another U.S. Open title, especially since it has been so long in between trips to the last Sunday of that tournament. “It’s insanely hard to win,” said Hall, who grew up in Santa Barbara and Houston.

But perhaps his biggest goal is to win the USPA Gold Cup, the second most important tournament in the United States, and the one major championship that Hall has never won.

He will be among the favorites to reach the podium this season at the International Polo Club Palm Beach in Wellington.

Hall anchors a strong La Indiana foursome, led by 10-goaler Polito Pieres, 4-goaler Nico Escobar and patron Michael Bickford in the upcoming 2021 Gauntlet of Polo series.

Last season, La Indiana reached the C.V. Whitney Cup final and the semifinals of the USPA Gold Cup, which was postponed to February because of the pandemic.

“It’s a really good team,” said Hall, an under-rated 6-goaler whose handicap will be raised to 7 goals in June. “I expect to be winning some tournaments.”

Hall said each player will have at least 15 horses for the grueling three-month season. To prepare for a game, Hall believes in putting in the work beforehand and not relying on superstitions.

“Over the years, I’ve learned that if I do everything in preparation, I am happy with the results,” said Hall, who usually does a light workout the day before a match. “You just have to do your part and be super focused. Of course, I ride and stick-and-ball, but I think I’m in better shape now than I was in my 20s.”

In his 20s, Hall was living the good life. In 2005, he made People magazine’s “50 Hottest Bachelors” list and was driving a turbo Porsche.

Now, he has been married 13 years to wife Michelle, a Realtor with Equestrian Sotheby’s International in Wellington, and they have two sons, Luke, who turns 10 this month, and Eli, who turns seven in May.

“They can both ride. I’m not training or pushing them to be polo players,” Hall said. “I give them an opportunity, and I want them to learn how to play.”

Instead, look out for the Hall boys to excel on the golf course.

Relaxing on off days includes spending time with his kids or golfing. Hall is a member at the Banyan Golf Club.

He got his pilot’s license on fixed-wing planes but doesn’t fly anymore. He even started learning to fly a helicopter and had six hours soloing but gave it up as he realized it was something that needed his undivided attention. “I love to fly,” Hall said. “Maybe it’s something I’ll pick up later.”

He has always enjoyed the speed, whether it’s aboard his ponies or cars. Hall has a 2016 Shelby GT 350 with 1,000 horsepower that is at Estancia Pueblo Viejo, his 330-acre ranch on the Brazos River in Sealy, Texas.

In Wellington, he drives a truck. “It’s practical, and I can stay out of trouble. I had all my fun when I was young and dumb,” he said, laughing.

Former 9-goaler Julio Arellano has known Hall for some 20 years, having been both an opponent and a teammate.

“Jeff has always been extremely competitive and very well mounted,” said Arellano, who was a teammate with Hall on the Orchard Hill team that reached the 2002 U.S. Open final. “He is tough physically on the field and a great teammate. He is a good dad and friend.”

Hall, who has represented the U.S. in numerous international matches, including the prestigious Westchester Cup in 2018, noted that he is 100 percent competitive in everything.

“I have no idea [where it came from]. I have always been this way,” he said.

The importance of family was clear when Hall and his father played in the 100th U.S. Open at IPC in 2004, the only time they did so. It was the elder Hall’s first appearance after a 17-year hiatus and fourth overall. They also played and won the 100th Silver Cup in 2000.

Hall said he has learned a lot from his father.

“Treat everyone with respect until they show you that they don’t deserve it, and treat everyone the same, whether it’s the team sponsor or the groom,” Hall said. “The old school ways.”

It’s also the Hall family way.

Learn more about polo player Jeff Hall at www.jeffhallpolo.com.

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Longstanding Family Polo Legacy Continues With Luis Escobar And His Sons Nico And Lucas

Longstanding Family Polo Legacy Continues With Luis Escobar And His Sons Nico And Lucas

Almost six years ago, longtime Wellington resident and polo player Luis Escobar was seriously injured after a collision during a high-goal competition at the International Polo Club Palm Beach.

It was determined that Escobar had sustained a blood clot on his brain, and the recovery process was going to be arduous. But he was determined to return to the game he loved.

“Well, I don’t think I really knew how bad it was,” recalled Escobar, who was born in Costa Rica and started playing at the age of 7 under the tutelage of his father. “My friend Diana Palmer, who is an amazing therapist in California, told me how long before I would feel normal again. I was hoping she would say a year or two. Her answer was five years. Obviously, it was very depressing not only to hear that, but knowing if I came back in five years, I would be 48, almost 49.”

Escobar is still dealing with issues from the collision, but he is happy with the progress he has made.

“To this day, I work on many little things that are left over from the accident. But I can tell you that all the hard work has [paid off], and the five years came up to the day, when I played a final against Adolfo Cambiaso at the Grand Champions Polo Club,” he said.

Even though he lost that final last January, many things came together for Escobar.

“Five years after my accident, it reassured me that everything is possible if you put 100 percent effort in it,” Escobar said. “My dad always told me keep on trying and never give up. Consistency and determination are real.”

Escobar’s father, Francisco, founded the Santa Clara Polo Club in Wellington in 1984, and Luis expanded it, so it now encompasses more than 40 acres. While growing up, he and his family would travel back and forth from Costa Rica to Wellington to play polo during the winter before settling here permanently.

Today, Luis’ sons Lucas and Nico are part of the Escobar polo legacy, both making their mark as up-and-coming players. Nico will be playing in the high-goal Gauntlet of Polo series with La Indiana at IPC. Lucas is still trying to get on a high-goal team this season, but he is expected to play the medium-goal with his father, Alejandro Poma and Diego Cavanaugh.

Lucas and Nico both started polo when they were about five years old. Luis made it fun, and that made it easier for them to join in.

“I’ve played polo all my life, so it was natural for them to get into it,” said Luis, who attended Florida Atlantic University. “Wellington is where we live and where they were born. Georgette [Luis’ wife] is a huge supporter of them, and, of course, living in Wellington it is easy to be involved with polo. A lot of kids play in Wellington, so it’s easy to play when you have friends playing polo at a younger age.”

A lot of Luis’ classic style can be seen when watching his sons play.

“Ever since growing up, my father has taught me to hit the ball the first time,” said Lucas, who is a 2-goaler. “As kids, we would play little 3-on-3 games with a rule that we could only hit the ball once in a row. It has shaped me in the player I am today. I honestly don’t know who I take after in my playing style. I like to go forward and score goals; I prefer playing the 1 or 2 positions. I also can play back, but I love going forward.”

Nico, a 4-goaler, sees himself as playing a more traditional polo game. “The most I have learned from my father is to play a classical type of polo, making me a classical player,” he said. “I hear a lot of people say I play like my father; I’m not sure who I take after. I would like to create my own style one day.”

Off the field, the Escobars participate in several charity events and support the local community. After all, Luis met Georgette while enjoying Wellington’s social scene. Lucas and Nico like the casual lifestyle that makes Wellington special.

“To unwind, it’s always fun to hang out with friends and have a good laugh,” Lucas said. “I like going to the beach and playing other sports, like golf, football and soccer.”

“Lucas and I like to go to the beach with friends, play football and play Rollerblade polo,” Nico added.

Luis also has his favorite spots in Wellington and beyond.

“In a regular year, with no pandemic, I like to disconnect and try to go to the theater,” Luis said. “Even better, if we can get away, I love snow skiing. When in Wellington, we like to hang out quietly, go to the movies and go to some local classic restaurants like Short Stacks for a late breakfast or Park Avenue for some good ribs.”

Both Nico and Lucas have big goals for their future. In addition to playing in Wellington and Santa Barbara, they spent December in Argentina playing at La Aguada under the tutelage of former 10-goaler Miguel Novillo Astrada.

“My goal is to become 10 goals,” said 20-year-old Nico, who attends Palm Beach Atlantic University. “In the next five years, I plan to get to 8 goals and be playing the Argentine Open.”

“In the next five years, I plan to be around 7 or 8 goals,” said 18-year-old Lucas, a senior at the Palm Beach International Academy. “I hope by that time to be playing the Argentine Open with my brother Nico.”

While the brothers are dreaming and planning their future, Luis has had plenty of victories and memories.

“I have played with my dad and both my sons in different tournaments,” Luis said. “Even my brother Federico has played on the same team. That’s always fun. A recent memory that I will never forget was with my dad’s team. He sat down, and my brother Federico played for him. That day we won the America Cup final in California — my brother Federico, Santi Toccalino, Lucas — and Lucas won Most Valuable Player, and I won Best Playing Pony. Later that day, Nico won the final of the Silver Cup with Lucchese and also won Most Valuable Player. It was an amazing day for me and my family.”

Learn more about the Escobar family at www.santaclarapoloclub.com.

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Faces of Polo – Chip CampBell

Faces of Polo – Chip CampBell

The former chairman of the United States Polo Association, Chip Campbell is a polo patron and leader of the Cessna polo team at the International Polo Club Palm Beach. Married to Kim Campbell, he has two children, Camille and Camp Campbell. Both Chip and his son Camp sport 2-goal handicaps. Both have been playing polo for about a decade. When not on the polo field, Campbell splits his time between Point Clear, Alabama; Shreveport, Louisiana; and Big Horn, Wyoming, as well as working with his newly expanded company, Clearwater Land & Minerals. Joining Campbell on the Cessna team last year were Felipe Marquez, Ezequiel “Gellego” Martinez Ferrario and Nicolas “Nico” Saenz.

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Faces of Polo – Gillian Johnston

Faces of Polo – Gillian Johnston

Polo patron Gillian Johnston, sporting a 1.5-goal handicap, will once again be leading her Coca-Cola team in action at IPC this season. Heir to a Coca-Cola bottling fortune, Johnston is carrying on a long family polo tradition. Her grandfather played polo, and her father is a former high-goal player. When not in Wellington, she can often be found at Bendabout Farm, outside of Chattanooga, Tenn., where she grew up and the family has long hosted polo events. Through the years, her team has won just about every U.S. title available, including the U.S. Open in 2002. Johnston is one of a growing handful of women playing on high-goal teams, and she is also active in promoting the sport to the rising generation as vice president of the Polo Training Foundation.

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Faces of Polo – Nico Escobar

Faces of Polo – Nico Escobar

Nicolas “Nico” Escobar is a member of the latest generation of the Escobar polo-playing family. Rated as a 4-goaler, he is the son of Luis Escobar and brother to Lucas Escobar. His grandfather, Francisco, founded the Santa Clara Polo Club in Wellington in 1984, which was expanded by his father. Back then, the family traveled back and forth from Costa Rica to Wellington to play polo. However, the current generation of Escobars is Wellington born and raised. When not on the polo field, Nico Escobar, 20, attends Palm Beach Atlantic University. He will be playing in the Gauntlet of Polo series this season with La Indiana. Always working to up his game, he spent December in Argentina playing at La Aguada under the tutelage of former 10-goaler Miguel Novillo Astrada.

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Faces of Polo – Michael Bickford

Faces of Polo – Michael Bickford

Michael Bickford is highly regarded as one of the sport’s top patrons. His La Indiana team regularly competes in the most prestigious tournaments, often challenging for the title. Bickford grew up in Connecticut playing polo with his father in Vermont. This year will be his fifth leading La Indiana into competition in Wellington. In 2020, 2-goaler Bickford was joined by Santiago Gomez Romero, Polito Pieres, Jeff Hall and Esteban Panelo on the La Indiana roster. The team was competitive, making it to the finals of the Ylvisaker Cup and the C.V. Whitney Cup, and advancing to the semifinals of USPA Gold Cup before the season ended early. That means La Indiana is still in the hunt when the tournament resumes where it left off just before the 2021 Gauntlet of Polo gets underway.

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Faces of Polo – Sapo Caset

Faces of Polo – Sapo Caset

Polo runs in the family for Argentine 10-goaler Guillermo “Sapo” Caset Jr., who was in the saddle by age five, hitting a ball around the field. As a teen, he quickly soared from a 1-goal handicap to a 6-goal handicap. By 2011, Caset had established himself as one of the best players in the world, reaching the coveted 10-goal rating, which he maintains to this day. Last season at IPC, Caset played on the Tonkawa team with Jeff Hildebrand, Ignacio “Cubi” Toccalino, Matias “Colo” Gonzalez and Matt Coppola. He returns to Wellington after a strong season in Argentina, where his team RS Murus Sanctus made it to the final of the Hurlingham Open before falling to undefeated Ellerstina. The team also made it to the semifinals of the Tortugas Open and the 127th Argentine Open.

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Faces of Polo – Mackenzie Weisz

Faces of Polo – Mackenzie Weisz

Born in Wellington, Mackenzie Weisz grew up around horses alongside his polo-playing father Andres Weisz. Now rated as a 4-goaler, he has grown from a young child riding horses to one of the biggest rising stars of American polo. Most recently, the teenager has been a key player on Camilo Bautista’s Las Monjitas team playing with 9-goaler Francisco Elizalde the 10-goaler Pelon Stirling. The team was off to a great start in 2020, winning the prestigious C.V. Whitney Cup. Las Monjitas made it to the semifinals of the USPA Gold Cup before the 2020 season came to an abrupt end. That means Weisz will be back in action with his team when the 2020 Gold Cup resumes in February where it left off.

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Faces of Polo – Gonzalito Pieres

Faces of Polo – Gonzalito Pieres

Argentine 10-goaler Gonzalo “Gonzalito” Pieres was born into a family of polo players. He is the eldest son of polo legend Gonzalo Pieres Sr. and older brother to Facundo and Nicolás Pieres. A classic-style player, he is known to provide leadership and direction on the field. A regular on the Wellington circuit, he spent several years steering Audi to wins in the U.S. Open Polo Championship, the USPA Gold Cup and the C.V. Whitney Cup. In more recent years, he has anchored Pilot Polo, working in concert with his brother Facundo. Pieres returns to Wellington after a winning season in Argentina, competing with Hilario Ulloa alongside brothers Facundo and Nicolás on Ellerstina to win the Tortugas Open and the Hurlingham Open, falling just short in the final of the Argentine Open.

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Faces of Polo – Poroto Cambiaso

Faces of Polo – Poroto Cambiaso

Adolfo “Poroto” Cambiaso is the 14-year-old son of legendary 10-goaler Adolfo Cambiaso. Now rated at 6 goals, Poroto is quickly following in his father’s footsteps. His older sister Mia is also a skilled polo player, currently rated at 2 goals. In fact, polo history was made here in Wellington back in 2018 when all three Cambiaso players competed together to win a high-goal tournament at Valiente Farm. Already viewed by the polo community as an up-and-coming talent, Poroto Cambiaso closed out 2020 playing on La Dolfina Saudi during the Tortugas Open, part of the Argentine Triple Crown, alongside his father, Rodrigo Andrade and Iñaki Laprida, making it to the final match before falling to Ellerstina.

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