High-Goal Season Ends

The hotshot polo superstars from Argentina and beyond have come and gone. No more “Bend It Like Beckham” high arcing shots through the goalposts from 150 yards away by Paco De Narvaez, or games where nine-goal rated players like Gonzolo Pieres, Jr., score at least as many points as his rating would indicate.

High-goal season in Santa Barbara is over.

But that doesn’t mean you have to mothball the mallets or banish the boots for another year. There is still a lot of polo yet to be played at the Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club, albeit not as fast-paced and thrilling as what we experienced when Zacara took down Piocho Ranch for the coveted Bombardier Pacific Coast Open late last month. [Incidentally, Zacara had quite a 15-day run during the tourney, finishing at 4-0, two victories better than any other team, and compiling a plus-18 goal differential, the only positive number among the four-team group.]

In fact, besides the regularly scheduled fall season, SBPRC is offering a brand new league. The 4-Chukker league is exclusively for players who have never previously played at the Carpinteria fields. It’s the club’s new initiative to increase its membership and broaden its appeal to newer players who aren’t familiar with the club’s amenities, said SBPRC polo manager Andy Smith.

“There are plenty of players in Los Angeles or San Diego and other places who have never seen what a great place we have here,” he said. “This really is the best place to play polo in California, and people should know it. We hope they come and experience the best we have to offer.”

Reducing the games to just four chukkers (seven-minute periods of play) from the usual six means the players can compete with far fewer ponies than the large stable of premier mounts the highly paid professionals must bring in.

“You can get by with just two or three horses,” Smith said. “And since the league will only play on weekends, it’s really quite convenient.”

There are 12 openings for the new players, and the cost is only $500 per player. Matches are scheduled each weekend from Sept. 8-9 through Oct. 13-14.

Meanwhile, the regular fall season, with teams rated 6-8 goals, gets underway at the same time. Practice begins September 6, with the Harry East Memorial taking place September 8 through 16, followed by United States Polo Association’s President’s Cup September 22 through 30 and the Wickenden Cup October 6 to 14. Games are held every Saturday and Sunday at 1 & 3 pm (admission $10 only on Sundays), with practice matches on Thursdays. The fields close for the season on October 15.

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Meanwhile, hoping to avoid a repeat of this year’s disappointing high-goal season, when injuries and other unexpected situations resulted in only four teams competing for the PCO trophy, Smith and the SBPRC began recruiting for summer 2008 before the final horn sounded in this year’s championship game.

“We sent out letters to all the sponsors we’ve dealt with in the past letting them know that entries were opening on the final Sunday (of this year’s high-goal season),” Smith said during halftime of the Zacara-Piocho Ranch finale. “I’ve already got two checks in hand for next year: both Long Beach and Audi Polo are already committed. So things are looking good.”

SBPRC will accept the first eight teams to sign up, and may add two more for a total of 10 if the timing is right. “We’re not going to go with an odd number, because that’s just too difficult to schedule,” Smith said.

So it looks like things will be – pardon the pun – back in full swing for 2008.