Put on your best outfits and break out your champagne glasses â€” Wellingtonâ€™s world-famous winter polo season is underway. Following last yearâ€™s inaugural season at the National Polo Center-Wellington, the nationâ€™s â€œSunday Fieldâ€ for polo is ready for the excitement to return. If you listen carefully, perhaps you can hear the thundering sound of hoofs galloping at full speed across the field, led by some of the worldâ€™s best polo players. Watching the â€œsport of kingsâ€ on Sundays at NPC is a tradition to be enjoyed by everyone, from year-round residents to jet-setting socialites, longtime polo experts to those new to the sport. Perhaps you prefer cheering from the grandstands, or maybe tailgating is more your style. Others enjoy the sumptuous brunch with all the amenities at the Pavilion. Either way, the United States Polo Associationâ€™s National Polo Center-Wellington is the place to be on Sunday afternoons. As we do each year, Wellington The Magazine is highlighting just a small handful of the many amazing athletes you will see on NPCâ€™s pristine fields this season. Turn the page and meet the Faces of Polo 2024.
American prodigy Hope Arellano hails from a long line of polo players. Arellano has held a mallet in her hand since early childhood. At age 12, she won her first 12-goal tournament alongside her brothers, Lucas and Agustin Arellano, and her Hall-of-Fame father, Julio Arellano. The young superstarâ€™s success has catapulted her through the ranks and the record books. At 14, Arellano became the youngest player in history to win the U.S. Open Womenâ€™s Polo Championship. In 2022, she became the first woman to represent the U.S. in the prestigious XII FIP World Polo Championship. Come January, Arellano will once again make history as she surpasses her fatherâ€™s highest handicap to become the first American player since 2015 to achieve a 10-goal status and the youngest American ever to reach a 10-goal womenâ€™s handicap. Not just excelling in the U.S., in December, Arellano became the first American to win the Womenâ€™s Argentine Open.
Tomas Paneloâ€™s polo career has been on the rise since 2017, when he represented his home country of Argentina and won the XI FIP World Polo Championship. In 2021, the fresh-faced Argentine secured another monumental victory at the Queenâ€™s Cup. Panelo had a record year in 2023. During the inaugural winter season at the National Polo Center, Panelo secured wins in the USPA Gold Cup with Scone and an impressive performance in the Ylvisaker Cup final. Over the summer, Panelo shined as he set the speed during the 2023 summer in Santa Barbara with Brookshire, where he picked up wins in the America Cup and the NetJets Pacific Coast Open.
Kylie Sheehanâ€™s track record speaks for itself. From winning both interscholastic and intercollegiate national titles at Garrison Forest (2009) and the University of Virginia (2012, 2013), to winning the U.S. Open Womenâ€™s Polo Championship with BTA/The Villages (2021), Sheehan has proven her polo proficiency time and again. The Baltimore native remains dedicated to growing the sport at home through the Wellington-based Flying Cow Polo Club and the Women of Wellington (WOW) tournament series. The newly formed league provides additional playing opportunities for women and serves as a platform to promote amateur and professional female players, encouraging greater participation in the U.S. Open Womenâ€™s Polo Championship.
Dominating the 2023 winter season at the National Polo Center, 18-year-old Santos Merlos of Argentina made his mark with Iconica in his first professional showcase in Wellington last year. Merlos and his Iconica teammates took home the win from the first Florida Circuit 16-Goal Super-Series Championship after capturing the Joe Barry Memorial, Ylvisaker Cup and Iglehart Cup. In the Joe Barry Memorial, Merlos was named Most Valuable Player after a spectacular four-goal performance. The son of former 10-goaler Sebastian Merlos, this young competitor is sure to shine again this season and is one of the top players to watch!
A long-time legend in the sport, Argentine Adolfo Cambiaso is a name synonymous with polo itself and an integral part of American polo. At just 19 years old, Cambiaso earned the distinguished 10-goal handicap status, and in 2000, he founded La Dolfina, one of the most successful Argentine teams in history. Now 48, the veteran player has a record to match with one of the most successful careers in the Argentine Triple Crown, as well as victories in England and the United States. Throughout his time competing in the U.S., Cambiaso has acquired eight C.V. Whitney Cup victories, 15 USPA Gold Cup titles and nine U.S. Open Polo Championship trophies, including five Most Valuable Player awards during the final. A seasoned professional, the industry titan has now begun focusing his attention on his legacy â€” his children â€” competing in the prestigious Gauntlet of Polo series alongside his son, Adolfo â€œPorotoâ€ Cambiaso Jr. in 2021 and 2022.
SANTIAGO â€˜SANTIâ€™ TORRES
Born into a family of horse lovers and polo players, California native Santi Torres was riding horses as soon as he could walk. Torres started playing peewee polo at age four. By age eight, he was caring for and riding a full string. By age 11, Torres had gone pro. In the years since, he has continued to perfect his craft and add to his trophy collection, winning the Pacific Coast Open in 2012. As a former Valiente competitor, Torres won the C.V. Whitney Cup, the Joe Barry Memorial, the USPA Gold Cup and the Ylvisaker Cup with the powerhouse organization. Most recently, Torres competed in the 2023 Gauntlet of Polo series with Dazos and represented the U.S. against Ireland in the international conclusion to the National Polo Centerâ€™s inaugural season.
ADOLFO â€˜POROTOâ€™ CAMBIASO JR.
Adolfo â€œPorotoâ€ Cambiaso Jr., son of polo legend Adolfo Cambiaso, is following in his fatherâ€™s footsteps â€” literally. The younger Cambiaso emerged on the high-goal scene in 2021 when he competed alongside his father in the Gauntlet of Polo for the first time, winning the USPA Gold Cup and the U.S. Open Polo Championship with Scone. In 2022, Cambiaso picked up another American win in the Pacific Coast Open in California, as well as his first Argentine double, winning the Hurlingham Open and the Argentine Open with his fatherâ€™s organization, La Dolfina. Now rated at 10 goals, Cambiaso competed in his third Gauntlet of Polo season with Scone in 2023 â€” this time, without his father at his side â€” and led his team to victory to take home the sixth prestigious title of his career, the USPA Gold Cup.
Born in Argentina, Hilario Ulloa grew up immersed in the sport thanks to his father, world-renowned trainer Carlos â€œPolitoâ€ Ulloa. Reaching the elusive 10-goal status in 2017, Hilario Ulloa has remained among the top players in the world, competing on the global stage in the United States, England and Argentina. A four-time-winner of the U.S. Open Polo Championship and the C.V. Whitney Cup, Ulloa and Park Place have dominated the winter season at the National Polo Center in recent years.
Facundo Pieres is modern-day, professional polo personified. Born into a family of polo players and descended from polo great Gonzalo Pieres, Facundo grew up playing polo in Argentina with his brothers Gonzalo â€œGonzalitoâ€ and Nicolas â€œNicoâ€ Pieres, as well as cousin Pablo â€œPolitoâ€ Pieres. Facundo Pieres holds an extraordinary record in Argentina, England and the U.S. Of all his accomplishments, the most notable may be Pieresâ€™ 2019 Gauntlet of Polo victory, when he led Pilot to capture all the tournaments in the series in its inaugural year. To this day, Pilot remains the only team to do so. Most recently, in December, Pieres won the 2023 Argentine Open with La Natividad
These are just a few of the amazing athletes competing at NPC this season, which kicks off with the Continental Cup (Dec. 31 to Jan. 7). The Continental Cup is also the start of the NPC 16-Goal Championship series, which consists of four qualifying tournaments â€” the Joe Barry Memorial (Jan. 11-28), the Ylvisaker Cup (Jan. 26 to Feb. 24), the Iglehart Cup and the Outback Cup â€” with each winning team advancing to the NPC 16-Goal Championship, set for April 10-14. The seasonâ€™s most anticipated competition, the Gauntlet of Polo series, runs from February to April and features top teams and players from around the world as they contest for the coveted C.V. Whitney Cup, USPA Gold Cup and U.S. Open Polo Championship trophies. Also at NPC this season is the U.S. Open Womenâ€™s Polo Championship during the month of February and the debut of the National Presidentâ€™s Cup, which will unite some of the most talented 8-goal teams in the nation when it is held April 12-21. Learn more about the season at www.nationalpolocenter.com.