Polo: Glamour in the fast life – not always. It takes a lot of different types of people to make polo happen: from Patrons who sponsor (and play on the team), to professionals (who are paid to play), grooms, coaches, and polo managers.
Professional polo player Santi Torres has been a part of the polo world his entire life. He was born and raised in Santa Barbara. His father an Argentine professional and his mother a Canadian amateur met on a polo field in Indio. Santi has been riding since the age of 3 and started playing pee-wee polo when he was only 4. He turned pro (meaning he started getting paid to play polo) at the age of 10. Now 18 and rated at 5 goals, he is one America’s best young polo players. His parents instilled in him a strong work ethic. He grew up hearing: It’s good to be ten goals on the field but it is more important to be a ten goal quality person off the field.
Santi Torres works hard. His day starts at 6:00 am and he is at the barns working by 6:15. Every day he takes sets of horses around the track for exercise. He will tie 7 horses together with a lead line, ride on the center horse, and gallop them around the track side by side for exercise. Then he will take an individual horse on the stick and ball field to practice hitting. (This is the equivalent of golfers going to the driving range.) He also breeds, trains, and sells polo horses.
During the 12-goal season he is playing for the Lucchese team which is sponsored by John Muse (0), Felipe Vercellino (1T) and Andres Weisz (5). In July the team will be changed to have players with handicaps totaling twenty to compete in Santa Barbara’s high goal season. The average gig in polo is short – sometimes only two months. Soon he will load his 20 thoroughbreds on a trailer and head across the country for his next job. He has also worked for teams playing in Connecticut and Florida.
Traditionally the patron pays the professional according to their handicap (the higher the handicap the more they are paid). The patron is also responsible for the tournament fees paid to the hosting club.
The American system of patronage for professional polo is different than most sports played in the States. The sponsor pays the other three players to be on their team. (Can you image if Jerry Buss owned and played on the Lakers team?) Can you envision him standing next to Kobe Bryant at 6’6” and trying to jump that high? While Mario Lemieux, owner of the Pittsburg Penguins, may be considered one of the best hockey players, it’s usually a winning bet to guess that the player with the lowest handicap on the polo team roster is the patron of the team. Patrons usually have skills that earn them a rating of zero or one. (Local resident Andy Busch is an exception – rated at 3 on the grass and 5 in the arena.) The patron is most often working full time at another profession to be able pay for polo.
Most members of the United States Polo Association are amateurs and play in casual games with other amateurs. In clubs-chukkers the player doesn’t have to participate in six chukkers. If a player only has two horses they can ask the polo manager to fit them into a team and play only two chukkers. A player doesn’t even have to own horses – they can be leased or rented.
Hooking in polo is not as racy as it sounds – it’s a defensive move. Just as a player is about to hit the ball his opponent may stick their mallet out and stop the hit by blocking the mallet. It is a foul to reach under or over an opponent’s mount to hook.
The current standings for the USPA Intra-Circuit, the 12-goal tournament which will take place at 1:00 on Sunday at the Santa Barbara Polo Club:
Cotterel: 3 1
Farmers and Merchants: 0 4
Film Finance: 1 3
Lucchese: 3 1
Mansour: 3 1
The USPA Intra-circuit is the most important match of the twelve goal season. It is sanctioned by the USPA and is a week longer than the other tournaments. Since every team plays against every other competitor in the tournament it proves who is the best – there is no such thing as a lucky bye or an easy bracket in the Intra-Circuit.
The next matches at the Santa Barbara Polo Club are the finals of the USPA Intra-Circuit which will be played Sunday, June 24th at 1:00 and 3:00. Lunch and drinks are available for purchase at the events. The club is located at 3300 Via Real in Carpinteria. For more information call 684-6683.
Next weekend the polo fields will be closed for aerating, reseeding, filling divots and adding a soft layer of sand in preparation for Santa Barbara’s high goal season which begins Sunday, July 8th.
Santa Barbara resident, Julia Michelle Dawson, is a member of the United States Polo Association and has been writing about polo for the past ten years.