Sebastian Merlos has a fierce passion for horses, making him one of the strongest horsemen playing polo today. The 46-year-old Argentine native is one of the few elite polo players in the world to achieve the coveted 10-goal ranking. Now playing as a 9-goaler, he has captured the titles of every major tournament in more than 18 countries. Merlos played for Travieso in 2017, making it all the way to the U.S. Open semifinals. He was back in action with Travieso last season at the International Polo Club Palm Beach. He returns to Wellington after playing on La Cañada during the fall season in Argentina with Ezequiel Martinez Ferrario, Agustín Obregon and Jared Zenni. Look for him this season at IPC on the Iconica team with Maureen Brennan, Peke Gonzalez and Matias Magrini.
The International Polo Club Palm Beach welcomes back another elite season of world-class polo beginning Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018, and continuing for 17 weeks until Sunday, April 21, 2019. The 2019 season will host teams and spectators from around the world.
Sprawling nearly 250 acres of pristine turf and South Florida landscape, the iconic venue has captivated the attention of polo enthusiasts for decades.
Nestled in the heart of Wellington, IPC offers something for everyone, whether it is viewing and enjoying the atmosphere of a prestigious high-goal match on Sunday, or experiencing and relaxing within the renovated amenities and restaurants, the club becomes the heartbeat of the winter equestrian season.
IPC, acquired by Wellington Equestrian Partners in 2016, has seen a number of additions and improvements throughout the facility in the past three years, attracting more players, patrons and enthusiasts to contest polo’s most competitive North American season. Significant investment into the turf and field maintenance has revolutionized the playing surface, with the club now supporting more games than ever from December through April.
“It’s a very exciting time for our partnership group as we continue to explore new opportunities and possibilities at the International Polo Club,” said Mark Bellissimo, managing partner of Wellington Equestrian Partners. “We’re anticipating an incredibly competitive season this winter, as many of the adjustments that have been made in the off season will positively benefit current and emerging players and teams.”
The season is set to begin with the Herbie Pennell Cup, the annual first tournament of the calendar year, and parlay into a slew of high-goal matches for the ensuing four months.
The introduction of the Gauntlet of Polo has made waves in the polo community, uniting polo’s major forces, the United States Polo Association (USPA), United States Polo Association Global Licensing (USPAGL) and the International Polo Club. The series will highlight the three major tournaments of the season, the coveted C.V. Whitney Cup, the USPA Gold Cup and the U.S. Open Polo Championship, totaling more than $1,000,000 of prize money if a competing team captures victory in all three tournaments, making it the most valuable tournament series in polo history.
Along with the game of polo comes the glitz and glamour of the impressive winter social scene at IPC. The Veuve Clicquot Pavilion and Celebrity Cruises Coco Polo Lounge will return again for another season of social entertainment, featuring an immense and delicious Sunday brunch prior to the start of the iconic 3 p.m. game each week at the venue.
The enjoyable atmosphere, coupled with a perfect field-side view, makes the Veuve Clicquot Pavilion and Celebrity Cruises Coco Polo Lounge two of the most enviable tickets during the winter season. Premier stadium boxes and grandstand seating are also available for purchase throughout the season, as well as field-side tailgating spaces.
Members of the club can experience two spectacular restaurants, the Mallet Grille and 7th Chukker Lounge, as well as utilize a full fitness center, spa and thriving tennis program. The spacious pool and deck are perfect for a lounge day or events, offering an additional amenity for members and their guests.
Weddings, corporate events and sporting tournaments can also be booked and reserved at IPC, making it an ideal location for any special outing or occasion. The picturesque venue offers an extensive list of event spaces and offerings and is open year-round.
In addition to the extensive amenities at the venue, IPC’s management introduced the Polo School in 2018, offering lessons and amateur-friendly games for individuals interested in learning more about playing the sport of polo. Last year, the school welcomed more than 30 students throughout the season, and this year will increase the number of polo ponies and instructors. Lessons are available seven days a week and can be purchased in hourly sessions or in a package plan. In addition to commencement of the Polo School, IPC also launched its first-ever low-goal league, allowing Polo School students and other amateur players in the area the opportunity to compete in a traditional tournament setting.
Gladiator Polo is scheduled to return to the venue in 2019, debuting a new state-of-the-art arena and creating a new buzz in Wellington on Friday evenings. A spectator-friendly and intense version of arena polo, Gladiator Polo will pit eight of the top arena teams against each other over the course of eight weeks, culminating in an exciting final match in April. A traditional Argentine-asado-style buffet will be offered for premium ticket holders, as well as free general admission seating during the matches.
“Our organization is deeply committed to ensuring the future and longevity of polo. We are building a pipeline for future players and providing engaging platforms that will help continue to generate interest in the sport,” Bellissimo said. “We are actively pursuing and presenting field polo and the derivatives of polo that we are introducing to new groups of sponsors and investors, which will help redirect and improve the overall trajectory of the sport.”
The International Polo Club Palm Beach is located at 3667 120th Avenue South in Wellington. Visit www.internationalpoloclub.com to learn more.
Polo is a sport where you can’t help but be awed by the unrivalled athleticism and the raw speed, strength and beauty of the participants — and that’s just the horses.
Few sports offer the sheer drama and spectacle of polo. Man and animal, competing as one, working in harmony to best their foe on a thundering battlefield.
Now, the rapidly growing “sport of kings” is getting a tournament series worthy of its incredible scope and pageantry.
The United States Polo Association (USPA), USPA Global Licensing (USPAGL) and the International Polo Club Palm Beach (IPC) recently announced a thrilling new high-stakes polo event — one with a title almost as epic as the sport itself: the Gauntlet of Polo.
Launching in February and culminating in April, this trailblazing competition offers a total purse of $1 million — a payday previously unheard of in the world of polo. And all a team has to do to claim the prize is win all three of the sport’s biggest tournaments at the IPC stadium field, home of U.S. Polo Assn., in a row.
Sounds easy, right? Think again. The Gauntlet of Polo is a true “survival of the fittest” competition, and teams are focused on making this one of sport’s most unique and memorable winner-take-all tournaments. That means that the world’s most skilled polo players and finest horses have to be at the top of their game for nearly three straight months if they expect to be crowned champions and hoist the Gauntlet trophy.
The series begins with the coveted C.V. Whitney Cup, held Feb. 13-24, where the winning team will take home the trophy and $125,000.
It is immediately followed by the USPA Gold Cup, held Feb. 24 through March 24. At stake is another title, along with $125,000 in winnings.
The Gauntlet’s final stage is the prestigious U.S. Open Polo Championship, held March 27 through April 21. The Gauntlet highlight show will be aired to millions of viewers on CBS Sports on April 28, and the world will see the winning team take home one of the most beautiful trophies in all of sports, along with $250,000.
Should one team survive the unrelenting competition and win all three tournaments, that team will win an additional $500,000 bonus — bringing total winnings to $1 million. More importantly, that team will be crowned the inaugural Gauntlet of Polo Champion and have its name etched into polo’s history books forever.
USPAGL Chairman David Cummings sees this new series as a turning point for the sport in America.
“The Gauntlet will challenge the world’s top players and horses like never before,” he said. “It will provide an entirely new platform for athletes, teams and sponsors. That means we’ll see an expanded interest in the sport that will literally change the trajectory of polo in this country while offering an incredible game day experience for all fans.”
If you’re a polo player or fan already, the Gauntlet of Polo brings an all-new level of intensity to a sport that already offers it in abundance. If you’re new to the sport, there’s no better opportunity to discover what the excitement of polo is all about.
Whether you’re cheering the non-stop action from the stands in your finest fashions, rubbing elbows with celebrities in the social tents, or stomping divots with a glass of champagne in hand, there is simply no experience quite like it.
Teamwork, strategy, mental strength and physical toughness — teams will need all of these and more from both players and horses alike if they want to call themselves Gauntlet champions. It promises to be one of the most incredible displays of raw power and refined athleticism ever seen in any sport. And if initial buzz for this historic new series is any indication, the world will be watching.
The inaugural Gauntlet of Polo will bring tens of thousands of polo players and fans from around the world to Wellington this winter. Make plans now to be part of this historic event.
For more information and tickets to see these incredible matches live at the International Polo Club Palm Beach, visit www.internationalpoloclub.com.
Behind every good polo player is a great horse. Behind every great horse, you will most often find an incredibly hardworking, dedicated and passionate groom, who loves the sport as much as he or she loves the horse.
Each featured Sunday match held at the International Polo Club Palm Beach requires at least 78 horses to be prepped and ready for play, and it is no small feat to organize that many horses at once. Each horse requires care, training and love, both on and off the field.
The grooms of polo are instrumental to a team’s success, perhaps even more so than for other disciplines. To get an insider’s look into the daily life of a groom, we sat down with Elly Brien, the top groom at Mariano Aguerre’s high-goal polo operation.
A native of Ireland, Brien first started her involvement with polo 20 years ago at Peter Brant’s White Birch Farm in Greenwich, Conn. Seven years later, Brien began working for Aguerre and has been on his team ever since.
It is common in the polo industry — as well as the equestrian world in general — to see frequent movement of grooms and players alike. Why has she stayed in one place for so many years? “It just clicks for us,” Brien said. “It just works, so we stayed!”
It wasn’t always about polo for Brien. She began her barn days back in County Waterford, Ireland, with show jumpers, first competing herself and then working for professionals. She made the trip over to the United States first with jumper barns before finding her way to White Birch. “I was always more interested in polo anyway,” she said.
Even after all these years, however, she’s not quite interested in playing on the field. “I love riding them around, but I was never any good at sports, so I’d probably never hit the ball,” Brien joked. “I wouldn’t have the hand-eye coordination and be able to ride at the same time.”
Her daily routine is similar to most other grooms in the horse world: wake up, feed the ponies, muck out some stalls, do some grooming before the horses are exercised, and maybe ride a few of them herself. However, in Brien’s case, she has 12 to 15 horses to look after, not just three or four, which is typical in most other disciplines.
It’s a long day at the farm with her boyfriend sharing the general duties. The pair also does most of the fitness training, such as taking daily sets and riding singles. Then, there is the preparation, organization and trailering to weekly practices or games. They are with Aguerre and his horses 24/7 for whatever they may need.
Having that background in two disciplines offered unique insight on the biggest difference between grooming for high-goal polo and hunter, jumper or dressage barns.
“I’d imagine that the biggest difference between them is the number of horses we take care of and present to one competition,” Brien said. “A polo team would have about 40 horses for a top tournament, versus a top jumper or dressage barn would probably be concentrating on getting three to five horses ready for a top competition.”
It’s not just the sheer number of horses being prepared for competition. It’s also the quality and level of prep that a polo groom has to focus on, because each of the 10 horses a player uses must be at the same physical and mental level. Brien’s favorite part of the job is seeing all of these horses at the peak of their fitness and looking their best on game day.
What’s Brien’s “top tip” is for grooming? “I’m not sure I have just one trick,” she laughed. “I’ve just always believed in being organized and treating all your horses as individuals. I think that’s important.”
But this approach doesn’t mean that it’s easy for her to pick out just one favorite horse.
“I have a soft spot for all of my horses that we take care of, so it’s hard to have one favorite in the polo sport,” Brien said. “If I have to think of one in particular, I’d say Califa is definitely one of my all-time favorites.”
Now quietly living out a happy retirement at Aguerre’s farm, Califa had a pretty impactful life both on the sport and the science behind polo. He received multiple awards throughout his career, including the USPA Horse of the Year in 2006, and the APHA Horse of the Year in 2009. In 2016, Califa was even inducted into the Museum of Polo and Hall of Fame for his achievements. Perhaps Califa’s most notable claim to fame, however, is his title as the first ever polo pony to be genetically cloned in 2010.
Brien said that the cloning of some of polo’s greatest ponies is something that people outside of the sport might not typically know but may find intriguing. “I think it’s interesting that not only are they being cloned, but currently those clones are playing at the high level of polo and doing so with great success,” she said.
As a groom to both Califa and his clones, Brien has a first-hand account of how cloning works and the outcomes seen so far. “Yes, [the clone] totally behaves and performs the same,” Brien explained. “He’s got the same likes and dislikes as our original Califa — things that we thought were learned habits from over the years, but the new clone arrived with the exact same behaviors.”
Not only has she had a front-row seat to the amazing technology, but Brien has also had the chance to watch generations grow up.
“It’s interesting being with one operation so long that we can see the generations of the horses,” she said. “We have granddaughters here now of certain mares that were just playing when I first joined the operation.”
After so many years caring for these mares and stallions, Brien and the grooms kind of know what they’re getting before the foal even comes out. As soon as the embryos are chosen, she knows what to expect from the new batch coming to the farm.
Brien remains dedicated and passionate about the game, and even more so about her horses. She works hard to keep each individual comfortable and in top form, so they are ready to play their best on the field. This season, when Aguerre rides out, she’ll be found behind the end lines, setting up her team for success from the first to final whistle.
Imagine you’re the mother of young children hearing the news that your mammogram shows an abnormality. Because of pre-existing health conditions, you have no insurance to pay for the follow-up tests that could give you a sigh of relief or confirm your worst fears. The cost of biopsies, MRIs and ultrasounds is so far beyond your reach that you don’t know how you will ever pay for the tests that could save your life.
This was the distressing scenario that Wellington resident Lisa Fitter faced in 2013 when she was 47 years old. “When you don’t have insurance, you don’t realize how far out of reach healthcare is,” Fitter said.
Fitter’s situation is a common one for Susan G. Komen Florida. Every week, calls come into the organization from women — and sometimes men — desperately needing financial assistance to pay for the screenings, testing and treatment that could save their lives. Answering their urgent pleas for help is why Komen Florida calls itself the “first responders to breast cancer.”
In Fitter’s case, it was the Bethesda Women’s Health Center that let her know Komen offered financial support for the tests she needed. Fitter’s follow-up was paid for by Komen, and on Christmas Eve 2013, she received her official breast cancer diagnosis.
While it was a shock, Fitter no longer had to live with the unknown. She could now move forward and focus on treatment. “If there were no Komen, I honestly don’t know what we would have done,” she said. “You hate to think that you would ever be in that situation.”
Fitter’s next challenge was figuring out how to tell her twins, 10-year-olds Talia and Joshua. They had just completed a project at school about diseases people can die from. One of them was cancer.
Fitter opted to be very open with her children. She wanted to be direct and help them understand as much as they could.
“You can’t hide it,” she said. “Suddenly, you have a house full of people bringing you meals, you’re lying in bed all day, you’re going to the hospital. Children will sense something is going on. You can’t overload them with information, but they have to know that mommy is sick right now. You can figure out how much they can cope with.”
Fitter was fortunate. Her breast cancer was early stage and contained. She had a bi-lateral mastectomy with no need for chemotherapy. The timing of her surgery coincided with the Affordable Care Act, guaranteeing that she could receive insurance coverage even though she had a pre-existing condition. Even so, Fitter knew that if she had no insurance, “Komen would have been there for me.”
The friends Fitter has made in the Wellington community were also there for her. When she moved to Wellington in 2005, she found it to be a welcoming, family-centered community, perfect for her own young family — a strong benefit she shares with those looking to move into the area as a Realtor with the K Company.
The circle of friends she made when her children were in preschool came together to rally around her during her breast cancer journey. They were also there for her last year when she celebrated her fourth cancer-free anniversary on Feb. 10, 2018, gathering together in her kitchen, where her daughter Talia recited a poem she had written. Her words brought tears to everyone in the room.
“That one phrase, ‘find the cure’ that didn’t mean anything to me before, suddenly became my whole world,” Talia wrote. “No, that one phrase, ‘find the cure,’ was all I thought about for the next few years… Now, it’s four years later… She is a fighter, she is my hero, she is who I aspire to be, and this whole time, she never gave up. See, now this ‘phrase’ means every little bit to me. It means bravery, and I never knew what bravery was until I saw it in my mom.”
Writing was Talia’s way to cope with her mother’s illness. Now she has taken the phrase “find the cure” one step further by joining the Komen South Florida Race for the Cure Junior Committee. In her mother’s honor, she has formed a race team at her school, Palm Beach Central High School, called “Lisa’s Warriors.”
Joining the Race for the Cure is something mother and daughter will do together on Jan. 26 in downtown West Palm Beach, with son Joshua and husband Rich at their side. Fitter is on the Survivor Committee, helping to recognize the hundreds of men and women who have fought her same battle. All will gather on the Meyer Amphitheatre stage at the conclusion of the race for the inspiring and emotional Survivor Recognition Ceremony.
This will be Fitter’s first race experience, the first time she has felt comfortable as a survivor coming forward in the larger community. She is grateful to help volunteer for the organization that saved her life. “I want to be able pay it forward,” Fitter said.
She and more than 10,000 supporters who come out for the Race for the Cure will help raise funds to take care of others like Fitter in the local community. Komen dedicates 75 percent of money raised to provide breast health education and breast cancer screenings and treatment in Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie and Indian River counties. Twenty-five percent is invested in breakthrough research benefiting breast cancer patients around the world.
“We’re able to be the first responders to breast cancer for thousands of women and men like Lisa because of the funds we raise through the Race for the Cure,” said Kate Watt, executive director of Susan G. Komen Florida. “The race is symbolic of our promise to never let anyone walk alone on her breast cancer journey.”
Fitter’s presence at the race will be a symbol, too, that with early detection and treatment, breast cancer is a battle that can be won. Just two weeks after the race, on Feb. 10, Fitter will mark her five-year cancer-free anniversary. In her daughter’s words, “she is a fighter… she never gave up.” Now she’s ready to be an inspiration to others.
Join or donate to Fitter’s team for the Race for the Cure, Lisa’s Warriors, at www.info-komen.org/goto/lisaswarriors, or create your own team by registering at www.komenflorida.org/race.
Also, be sure to take Lisa Fitter’s advice: get a mammogram every year to ensure early detection; if your mammogram is abnormal, have follow-up tests immediately; and if you have children and are diagnosed with breast cancer, be as open and honest as possible.
For more information, contact Susan G. Komen Florida at (561) 514-3020 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or find them on the web at www.komenflorida.org.
Ripples of change are percolating through the world of American polo, and the epicenter of that change can be found here in Wellington. Carlucho Arellano, the executive director of services for the United States Polo Association (USPA), is focused on making a big and positive impact on polo in the U.S.
Arellano is not interested in being a polo dignitary, who appears in photos and is seen at ribbon-cutting ceremonies. Instead, he wants to aggressively expand the polo universe in the U.S., which currently has roughly 5,800 polo players.
Arellano has been on the job for almost a year, and he hasn’t stopped promoting, publicizing and playing the sport since he took the position.
Of course, it’s also important to realize that Arellano is not an outsider with wild dreams and unrealistic expectations. His life is firmly entrenched in the sport and has been for years. “I started in the sport by grooming horses and cleaning out stalls,” Arellano said.
He was then given a chance to ride and play — and he hasn’t stopped.
Arellano was the Intercollegiate Player of the Year in 2000 while a student at the University of Virginia, and he has played several times in the U.S. Open Polo Championships. He remains active in the sport.
“I can still play, be competitive, and mix it up,” said the 40-year-old Arellano, who is currently a five-goaler.
It’s accurate to say that Arellano can “walk the walk and talk the talk.” During a recent interview, Arellano said that he has three main goals that he wants to achieve while serving in his current role with the USPA.
Firstly, he wants to get more young people playing polo. Secondly, he intends to put more emphasis on tournament play. Thirdly, he’s focused on raising the level of safety in the sport.
Along the way, he would like the U.S. to become the number one polo country in the world. Currently, Argentina rules the roost in world polo, while the U.S. and England are neck-and-neck for number two in the world.
In Argentina, polo is a way of life, where families have a legacy in the sport, he explained. Arellano is committed to bringing that same passion to the U.S.
To achieve that objective, he is working to boost interest in the sport from two different angles: from the grassroots up and from the top tier down.
At the grassroots level, Arellano is working to create more polo schools where the sport can be properly taught and developed.
“We are also in touch with more private polo families and private farms to get them involved in promoting the growth of our sport,” Arellano said.
While polo is known to be an expensive sport to play, Arellano counters by saying that it doesn’t take a big bank account to show an interest in the sport and learn to play, as he and his polo-playing brother Julio did.
Both were born in Nicaragua, but raised in Wellington, where they took care of horses, groomed them and fed them. “We did not have the same means we had in Nicaragua, so my brothers and I had to work hard if we wanted to play polo,” Arellano said.
Arellano explained how he and his associates at the USPA are working with American polo greats such as Adam Snow, Tommy Wayman and Mike Azzaro on having them sharing their expertise with young, talented, up-and-coming polo players.
According to Arellano, all three are great role models who are willing to share their knowledge, skills and experience with the next generation of American polo enthusiasts.
At polo events in Wellington, announcers are being trained to inform and educate those in attendance about what is happening on the field. Arellano explained that you can’t assume that everybody in attendance at a polo match truly understands what is taking place on the field and why.
“Every day, we are busy planting seeds of growth,” he stressed.
Another area of the sport that shows strong promise is with women’s polo. “Women’s polo is exploding,” Arellano said. “We have several great female polo players in the U.S.”
Arellano also noted that the USPA is updating and modernizing many of its instructional and educational videos, which people watch to learn about the sport.
At the top of the sport, Arellano wants to make the great events even better.
“I want to bring more prestige to our tournaments by having more prize money and getting more publicity and exposure,” Arellano said. “I really want to lift the quality of the sport.”
The three big events which he intends to make bigger are the C.V. Whitney Cup, the Gold Cup and the U.S. Open. All three events are contested in Wellington. The C.V. Whitney runs from Feb. 16 until early March, the Gold Cup takes place throughout most of March and the U.S. Open is held in April and concludes on April 21 to culminate the season.
The USPA is a sponsor of the new Gauntlet of Polo program that highlights these three tournaments by providing additional prize money.
Arellano is proud of the fact that every team entered into the U.S. Open this year has at least one American player on the squad.
Another feather in polo’s cap is getting CBS Sports to televise highlights from the finals of the U.S. Open, as it did last year. “It will probably be a 90-minute special,” Arellano said.
As for the issue of safety, by June 2020, all polo players will be required to wear a helmet that meets a certain minimum safety level, as determined by the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE), which creates performance standards for safety gear in other sports, such as football, baseball, lacrosse, soccer, field hockey and ice hockey.
“We must raise the level of safety in the sport,” Arellano said.
As he approaches his one-year anniversary at the USPA, Arellano’s main goal is to, “gain the confidence of all polo clubs that I am committed to improving the sport.”
As time moves on, there’s one thing that Arellano would like to see happen, which will confirm that his grand plan is working.
“I want to still be the executive director when we have our next American 10-goaler,” Arellano said.
That sounds like the dream of a man on a mission.
When she’s not running her second-grade classroom at Frontier Elementary School, Wellington High School graduate Lauren Starr is running the trails around her community. Today, Starr’s passion for trail running is right at home at Arden, where her family now calls home.
Growing up on Flying Cow Road and the surrounding area, Starr felt her best when spending time in the great outdoors. She was always outside playing with friends and family who shared her love of nature and an active way of life. “I dreamed of providing that same healthy lifestyle for my own children one day,” she said.
Today, she is living her dream with her husband and two children at Arden, a scenic community west of Wellington on Southern Blvd. designed to foster an active, outdoor lifestyle. Her family chose to settle down in Arden for its focus on healthy living and its many unique amenities that encourage a connection to nature.
“The first time we saw the community, we were immediately impressed by the amount of outdoor recreation and the five-acre farm on the property,” Starr recalled.
Arden is the first of its kind in South Florida — and among the few places in the country — to feature a farm as a central part of community life. “We could picture ourselves kayaking on the lakes, the kids playing in the parks and, of course, running the miles of trails,” she said.
Three to four days a week, you can find Starr running along the trails that meander around Arden. The property features an expertly mapped trail system with 20 miles of trails that wind around sparkling lakes and weave over grassy hills throughout the community. These trails provided a perfect place for Starr to train for the recent Key West Half Marathon.
“The trail loop I run is around nine miles,” she said. “One of the great things about Arden is all of the different areas to run and the different terrains along the trails.”
This range of terrain, from soft paths to steep hills, has allowed Starr to build up the stamina that she has needed for all of her races. She appreciates that the community’s trail system was designed by a member of Arden’s development team that runs ultra-marathons, which are races that extend beyond the standard marathon distance of 26.2 miles.
Since she hit the ground running several years ago, Starr has completed six half marathons, along with a number of 5K and 10K races. She is now skipping the marathon circuit and racing ahead to ultra-marathons.
Starr enjoys running with the local group Down to Run (DTR). This company supports a variety of trail-running events, organizations and athletes with a passion for trails and nature. Founded in 2012 by a group of avid runners, DTR promotes a healthier lifestyle and empowers athletes to discover the positive changes that trail running brings to life.
A natural-born trail runner, Starr’s favorite race is the Full Moon Night Trail Run at Jonathan Dickinson State Park in Hobe Sound, which is sponsored by DTR. As its name suggests, the race is run at night, and all of the runners rely on headlamps and the light of the full moon to guide their paths. She loves this race because it’s a natural adventure where she’s surrounded by wildlife while tackling the challenging terrain of the park, from pine woods to mangroves and river swamps.
Starr’s current goal is to run in the DTR Endurance Challenge in April, which is also at Jonathan Dickinson State Park. With this 50K daytime race, she will be able to enjoy the natural beauty and wildlife of the park, while running its miles of demanding trails.
But running these races will require plenty of training, which she is tackling by hitting the miles of trails around her Arden home. She is also in the process of starting a trail running group within the community, bringing together other like-minded running enthusiasts with a love of the great outdoors.
While she’s focused on her training, Starr is always happy to smile and wave at friendly neighbors strolling along the trails or enjoying their evening bike rides. She also enjoys stopping to meet new faces that keep arriving as the development continues to grow and new families move in.
“One of the best things about living at Arden is the strong sense of community,” she said. “Many of our new neighbors have kids, so we all sit outside together in the evenings, the kids playing and the parents chatting.”
Her family also enjoys the lively gatherings and seasonal events hosted by the community’s lifestyle director that bring all of the neighbors together.
While Starr sees herself running for many years to come, her favorite part will always be running home to her family in the Arden community she loves.
Mariano Aguerre is one of the best polo players of his generation. The Argentine superstar’s résumé is loaded with impressive major championships, highlighted by U.S. Open titles in 2005 with White Birch and in 2014 with Alegria.
Aguerre has also won nine USPA Gold Cup titles and nine Argentine Open championships. His first major titles were in 1987, winning the USPA Gold Cup and the International Open when he was 18 years old playing for White Birch at Palm Beach Polo. His acrobatic style helped White Birch win the 1988 World Cup, and Aguerre was named Most Valuable Player as a 4-goaler.
“I said it before, and I’ll say it again: polo is not what I do, it’s what I am,” said Aguerre, who is still going strong as he approaches his 50th birthday on May 25.
Aguerre returns for another high-goal season in Wellington, anchoring Annabelle Gundlach’s Postage Stamp Farm team during the 22-goal tournaments at the International Polo Club Palm Beach. He is excited about their prospects.
“We have a great organization, and horse-wise, I think we will be up there,” said Aguerre, who achieved a 10-goal handicap in the United States in 1994 and in Argentina in 1998 and kept the sport’s top ranking for nearly two decades. “It’s such a competitive season. Chemistry is going to be the key to succeed.”
Aguerre has been playing at a high level in Wellington for more than 30 years, starting with Peter Brant’s legendary White Birch team as a teenager. A natural left-hander who has to play right-handed because of the sport’s safety rules, Aguerre learned how to play from his father, Martin, and older brother, Martin Jr. Aguerre blossomed under tutoring from icons Hector Barrantes and Gonzalo Pieres Sr. when he joined White Birch, beginning his meteoric rise to 10 goals.
“Mariano is a complete horseman,” Brant said. “His passion for horses extends beyond just excelling at playing polo. He is also a student of breeding and raising and training a horse, and at the same time has acquired an impeccable eye for confirmation and movement of the horse. This gives him an incredible advantage. He has spent a great deal of time studying every aspect of a horse that plays polo at the very top level.”
In addition to his prowess on the field, Aguerre has become a well-respected horse breeder through Los Machitos, which he founded with Australian Nick Manifold and Naco Taverna.
Manifold first met Aguerre in Argentina in 1988 and they became friends when he went to work at White Birch two years later. They started Los Machitos in 1995. Based in Argentina, Los Machitos ponies have played around the world in the sport’s top tournaments.
“I’m very fortunate to have come across him, a great friend and business partner, who helped those around him grow,” said Manifold, who is a 5-goaler. “Being one of the best horsemen, along with his knowledge of the game, led him to be one of the greatest players. Mariano is famous for being continuously well-mounted and always with great organizations behind him.”
While horses are the key to success for any polo player, Aguerre’s immense talent and his aggressive, mercurial style make him a fan favorite.
“Mariano is a very competitive player who at the same time keeps cool while he strategizes his next play,” Brant said. “After the game, Mariano is a sweetheart who doesn’t have a mean bone in his body. He is one of my very closest friends.”
Aguerre hesitated before describing his style of play, but he acknowledged that he enjoys the competition.
“I try to accommodate what the team needs,” said Aguerre, who is currently rated at 8 goals in the U.S. “I’m willing to change things to what the team needs. I enjoy setting up plays more than making goals, probably, so you could say I’m a setup guy.”
While Aguerre has had numerous memorable moments in the U.S. while competing in Wellington during the winter and in Greenwich, Conn., during the summer, he was quick to pick his favorite.
“Winning the U.S. Open with White Birch for the first time [is my favorite],” said Aguerre, who began riding when he was three and started playing in tournaments at age 6 on small ponies in his native Buenos Aires. “It was so hard for us to win it. We lost four finals before we won it. As a team, that’s the most memorable. Being inducted into the Polo Hall of Fame [in 2017] was so great, because of what it means. It’s a personal achievement; I’ve been recognized individually. I’m honored, proud to be a part of it. I’ve been blessed.”
Off the field, Aguerre is quick to smile and to laugh. But he can also be very serious.
“Mariano is a very kind and intelligent person who is a fan of all sports and one of the most competitive people I know,” Manifold said. “He’s an avid hard-lined [Argentine soccer super-power] Boca Junior fan, an aficionado of the arts and has a real passion being a self-taught fly fisherman.”
Aguerre also enjoys golf, and he usually spent Mondays at various local courses earlier in his career. Now married with four children, he doesn’t golf as much. He is married to Tatiana Pieres, daughter of Gonzalo Pieres Sr., and they have three daughters, Sofia, Lola and Carmen, and one son, Antonio.
“Having kids is something. It changes everything, of course,” Aguerre said. “It goes beyond polo. The way of life, the way you put things in perspective. It doesn’t change the way I play, how I focus before games. But off the field, it’s completely different when you have kids.”
Aguerre, like many players, spends most of his day around the horses, whether it’s at the barn, stick-and-balling, playing in a practice or a tournament game, or riding singles. Getting everything ready is what the general public doesn’t see. They see the game, the excitement, the majesty. Aguerre puts in the necessary time to continue to excel at a high level.
“Mariano is first of all a family man,” Brant said. “Along with his lovely partner and wife Tatiana, they have built a great family — a family that the whole polo world should be very proud of.”
The annual Lucchese 40-Goal Polo Challenge will return to the International Polo Club Palm Beach on Saturday, Feb. 16 to benefit the Polo Players Support Group, which has provided more than $2.5 million to 80 seriously injured or ill players and grooms.
While Wellington plays host to thrilling polo each winter season, it’s rare for spectators to have the opportunity to cheer on the top-ranked polo players in the world all in a single game. However, every year on the Saturday of President’s Day weekend, eight of the best players come together to play the highest-rated polo match in North America — the Lucchese 40-Goal Polo Challenge.
Hosted at the International Polo Club, the star-studded event is the marquee fundraiser for the Polo Players Support Group, a nonprofit charitable organization that provides financial assistance to seriously injured and ill players and grooms in the polo community. Since its inception in 2002, the PPSG has awarded assistance grants of more than $2.5 million to 80 players and grooms in need.
The inspiration for the organization was the 1995 injury to 8-goal polo player Rob Walton, who suffered a spinal cord injury from a polo-related accident in Malaysia. Arena polo benefits were held for Walton from 1997 through 1999, which led to the 2000 Outback 40-Goal benefit at Royal Palm Polo in Boca Raton.
The match was an outstanding success as a fundraiser and as a polo social event. It was then that Dave Offen, Tony Coppola and Tim Gannon founded the Polo Players Support Group to provide financial assistance to seriously injured or ill polo players and grooms. “The PPSG is here to help those members of our polo family who could have easily been forgotten,” Gannon said.
The Outback 40-Goal Challenge moved to International Polo Club Palm Beach in 2005. The event earned a reputation as a fun, casual charity event with great food and outstanding auction items, including the player’s jerseys, with Adolfo Cambiaso’s holding the record of $50,000.
In 2018, the Lucchese 40-Goal Polo Challenge raised more than $380,000. This year, the 2019 Lucchese 40-Goal Polo Challenge returns to the International Polo Club Palm Beach with the goal of raising $500,000.
“As awareness has grown, so has the demand for assistance grants,” Offen said. “Currently, the PPSG assists half a dozen players and grooms who will likely need help for the rest of their lives, which amounts to well over $100,000 per year.”
Offen is proud of his work with the organization.
“Being a co-founder and executive director of the PPSG has been the most rewarding experience in my life,” Offen said. “I have gotten to know players and, more specifically, grooms and their families, who I likely would never have met. I am very fortunate to get to know these people and be the recipient of their gratitude.”
This year’s event is dedicated to the grooms, who are integral to the sport of polo. In 2002, groom Ruben Repollo was stabbed eight times and survived, although that was just the beginning. Repollo’s story includes fellow grooms who looked after him and doctors who provided several pro bono surgeries.
Others, such as Justin Pimsner and Joi Rodriguez, survived horrible truck and trailer accidents, both requiring multiple surgeries and extensive rehab. Hector Machado was a groom who lost his battle with cancer. Hopefully, by January 2019, Luis Martinez will have had his kidney transplant and will be on his way to recovery after being diagnosed with chronic kidney disease. These and dozens of other examples were made possible by the charitable funds raised at the annual 40-Goal Polo Challenge.
Hot off the 2018 Argentine polo season, World No. 1 Adolfo Cambiaso, as well as the Pieres brothers, Gonzalito, Facundo and Nico, are expected to make their returns to the Lucchese 40-Goal Polo Challenge.
Cambiaso, a veteran of the sport and the charitable event, has participated in the 40-Goal Polo Challenge 16 times and is a steady crowd favorite. In 2018, the youngest of the Pieres polo dynasty, Nico Pieres, made his debut at the event. Proving to be a great rival on the field, Nico was awarded the Tito’s Handmade Vodka Longshot of the Day award.
“It is good fun and always a pleasure to play polo with these amazing players. It’s good to be a part of it,” Nico Pieres said.
Among other notable 10-goalers expected to return to the field in 2019 are Sapo Caset and Hilario Ulloa. Having been involved every year since 2012, Caset is committed to the greater purpose of his event.
“Dave Offen is the one behind all of this, and I think it’s a great idea to get all of the 10-goalers together to play an exciting exhibition match and help raise funds to support those in need,” Caset said. “This is all for charity, and it’s great that we do this to help players, grooms and other people around polo if they had an injury or are ill. I feel good to be a part of the event, and we should continue being involved in this way.”
For tickets, information or to make a donation, visit www.polosupport.com.
Jared Zenni and his family’s polo organization have come a long way in a short time. In his first attempt, Zenni helped his Daily Racing Form foursome capture the coveted U.S. Open Polo Championship last April, upsetting tournament favorite Valiente in last season’s finale at the International Polo Club Palm Beach.
To put that feat into perspective, White Birch, the pre-eminent team of its era during the 1980s and 1990s, won its only U.S. Open title after four previous visits to the final. And Valiente, currently the top polo team in North America, lost in the U.S. Open final twice before raising the trophy in 2015 and 2017.
“There’s not really a better way to following up a U.S. Open win,” said the 23-year-old Zenni, who had his handicap raised from 5 to 6 goals for the 2019 season. “We are going to try our best in all three of the tournaments in the 22-goal series [at IPC], but we will see what happens.”
Zenni will be joined by 6-goalers Agustin Obregon and Santi Cernada, and 4-goaler Geronimo Obregon, in defense of the U.S. Open crown. A record 16 teams have entered the U.S. Open, being held at IPC for the 16th consecutive year. No team has won back-to-back U.S. Open titles since Zacara accomplished the feat in 2012 and 2013.
Zenni is confident about his team’s chances, especially because of his horse power, which is one of the major keys to any team’s success.
“We should be in a very good position,” said Zenni, who will be playing the No. 4 position, just like last season. “I have the same string I had last year, and I’m going to bring a few up from Argentina.”
Veteran player Luis Escobar, who is based in Wellington year-round, has played in the U.S. Open numerous times and was Zenni’s teammate when he was first starting out. Daily Racing Form was a team put together at the last-minute, Escobar noted.
“It was a great outcome for polo. Nobody expected them to win. They beat two of the biggest organizations in polo in Wellington — in Grand Champions and Valiente,” he said. “To go out there and beat those two organizations, it’s more than winning the U.S. Open. It’s a huge accomplishment.”
Last year, Daily Racing Form began to organize its U.S. Open team just a few months before the winter season began. Most teams begin about a year prior to the tournament. Of course, Daily Racing Form also had 10-goaler Hilario Ulloa as its linchpin. This year, they are going with a more balanced foursome.
Zenni and his father Jim are not strangers to polo in Wellington. They have played together and separately over the years. Last year, they were teammates and reached the Joe Barry Memorial Cup final while playing for Villa del Lago, the family equestrian facility in Wellington. However, they have played under different team names, usually companies owned by the elder Zenni, such as Daily Racing Form, Modere or Equine Liquid BioCell.
They have been competitive, winning the Herbie Pennell Cup and Iglehart Cup in 2017 and reaching the Joe Barry Memorial Cup final in 2018 at IPC. And the younger Zenni also won the $100,000 World Cup at the Grand Champions Polo Club.
Polo roots run deep in the Zenni family. Jim learned the sport from his father, and Jared learned from his father, often going with him to the fields. His two older sisters participated in the hunter-jumper arena when they were younger but have since stopped.
Zenni played other sports growing up, but he became more and more interested in polo until it was his primary interest.
It is certainly an interest that he has made the most of. Zenni, who was a 1-goaler at 14 years old, has put together plans to continue to improve. He is a member of Team USPA, a United States Polo Association program designed to improve and grow the sport of polo in the U.S. by identifying young, talented American players and providing training and playing opportunities.
Another improvement strategy that Zenni has employed is playing in Argentina, the worldwide mecca of the sport. He recently traveled there for his third consecutive season, but it was the first time that he qualified to compete in the Argentine Open and the Hurlingham Open, two of the three most important tournaments in South America.
Zenni played the No. 4 position for the 28-goal La Canada-Daily Racing Form in the tournaments that featured two 40-goal teams. Although they lost all eight games in the two tournaments, it did not dim Zenni’s enthusiasm for the experience. “This year has been special because we classified for Hurlingham and Palermo, which put us up against the best teams in the world,” Zenni explained. “Playing in Argentina makes you a better player in all aspects. Playing against better competition and playing at their pace and skill really makes you a better player.”
Zenni is continuing his polo career while also pursuing his degree in marketing and finance at the University of Miami. His goals include trying to win another U.S. Open and becoming more of a staple in the Argentine Triple Crown. The elder Zenni is not expected to play at IPC during the upcoming season.
“Jared is a good guy, and he works hard at it,” said Escobar, who will be competing for Santa Clara in the 22-goal season at IPC. “I think he will keep going up in handicap. He’ll get far.”