Gladiator Polo™ Spartacus Edges Past Spiculus 13-10
It’s the best arena polo you can find in the states. It’s top competition. – Felipe Viana (Team USPA)
Mark Bellissimo and the International Polo Club Palm Beach (IPC) in Wellington, Florida, hosted the third installment of the USPA-sanctioned and highly-innovative Gladiator Polo™ arena event, presented by U.S. Polo Assn. on Thursday, February 23.
Spectators and polo fans flocked to the Equestrian Village of Palm Beach International Equestrian Center (PBIEC), also known as “The Coliseum,” to watch some of the highest-ranked arena polo with an unprecedented $250,000 prize purse over four months.
Teams competed for an additional $24,000 for the winning team and $6,000 for the losing team in the preliminary round match. Continuing to sport a new look, both ponies and players donned team uniforms. Matching wraps, saddle pads, equine head sleazys and helmet covers created a cohesive look for each Gladiator team. Spiculus in purple consisted of 9-goaler Sebastian Merlos and 7-goalers Pelon Escapite and Juan Martin Zubia. Pitted against Spiculus was Spartacus, winners of the inaugural Gladiator Polo™ event. Spartacus in red was led by 10-goaler Tommy Biddle along with 7-goalers Jason Crowder and Felipe Viana (Team USPA). The two all-star teams, named after Roman Gladiators, played on the flat over six five-minute chukkers of continuous play.
Undefeated Spiculus and Spartacus returned to the arena for a truly thrilling match as both teams appeared to have mastered the new arena. Hot off their win last week, Spiculus struck first with a goal from Escapite which was quickly answered by a goal from Viana. Crowder followed up with two more Spartacus goals, both skillful scores, including a backshot goal through multiple players to bring the score 3-1. Spiculus came alive in the second showcasing fantastic team play resulting in three consecutive goals from Zubia, riding Gordo owned by Matias Magrini, to take the lead 4-3. Spartacus’ Viana scored the equalizing goal in the final moments of the second but Spiculus put two more goals on the board to gain the lead 6-4 before the half.
Play resumed with both teams firing on all cylinders for a fast-paced fourth chukker, the highest scoring of the game. Spartacus’ Biddle opened with two goals including the first two-pointer of the game to take the lead 7-6. Zubia swiftly followed with back-to-back goals for Spiculus. The teams traded the last two goals for a score of 9-8 in favor of Spiculus. It was obvious in the fifth that there was prize money on the line, as the teams battled it out in an aggressive and physical game. A solitary penalty conversion from Biddle equalized the score 9-all leading up to the final chukker. Biddle followed up with another penalty conversion and Spartacus took the lead. A long drive down the arena from Viana was finished by Biddle and all the elements seemed to fall into place for Spartacus as they capitalized on excellent team play. A goal by Merlos left Spiculus trailing by one 11-10 with 1:30 left in regulation play. As the clock wound down, spectators oohed and aahed with anticipation at a succession of near goals. 10-goaler Biddle did not disappoint, rising to the occasion with his second two-point goal of the game with 10 seconds left in play to cement Spartacus’ victory 13-10.
“At halftime we sat together and we realized we had to change our game plan,” said Viana. “They had Sebastian Merlos sitting in the back and he was collecting all the loose balls and the long shots. We just decided we had to keep the ball more, and make him come into the play and then release—that was key. We would release when we had to, instead of rushing. In the second half our horses changed too, unfortunately we didn’t line up our list the best way, we probably lined up our weaker horses together and our horses in the second half made a big difference.”
The Tourist Development Council (TDC) of the Palm Beaches, in collaboration with the Palm Beach Sports Commission, Discover the Palm Beaches and the Palm Beach County Film and Television Commission, partnered with the Wellington Equestrian Partners (WEP) to promote the Gladiator Polo™ League nationally, in an effort to make Wellington, Florida, the world headquarters of arena polo. The TDC entities will be the title sponsors of the NBC Sports Broadcast to air on February 28. The national broadcast of the February 23 game is scheduled for February 28 at 11:00pm ET following the Boston Bruins and Colorado Avalanche NHL hockey game. The next four games of the Gladiator Polo™ League are slated for March 9, March 16, March 30 with the $50,000 Gladiator Polo™ Final on Saturday, April 8. The remainder of the games will be livestreamed on the USPA Polo Network.