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Isla Carroll, White Birch Advance To Title Game Of Stanford Financial Group - 100th U.S. Open Polo Championship At International Polo Club Palm Beach

WELLINGTON, Florida – Sentimental favorite Isla Carroll and perennial powerhouse White Birch each registered dramatic one-goal victories in the semifinals Thursday to advance to Sunday’s final of the historic Stanford Financial Group – 100th U.S. Open Polo Championship at the International Polo Club Palm Beach.

Pancho Bensadon scored eight goals to lead Isla Carroll past 2003 finalist Lechuza 12-11 and 10-goaler Mariano Aguerre scored on a short forehand 35 seconds into overtime to lift three-time finalist White Birch over Catamount 13-12.

Sunday’s 3 p.m. championship game is a rematch of the 1997 title contest in which Isla Carroll defeated White Birch 10-6.

Both semifinal games invoked the little-used Penalty 7, forcing three-on-three polo instead of the normal four-on-four because of injuries caused by a penalty.

Jimmy Newman, International Polo Club’s veteran Polo Manager said he has never seen a day of polo like this.

“What was done was done by the rules,” said Newman. “Both teams accepted the umpires interpretation. You hate to see games this important be decided by playing three a side, but the team fouled has that option.”

John Goodman’s Isla Carroll, with 15-time U.S. Open champion Memo Gracida forced to sit on the sidelines, held off a late rally to defeat Lechuza in the first semifinal before some 2,000 spectators.

Ten-goaler Sebastian Merlos, Lechuza’s leading scorer, crashed hard to the ground as his horse stumbled with 27 seconds left in the first chukker. Merlos was taken off the field and then Newman, the umpires and the two teams discussed their options. Lechuza could either find a substitute for Merlos or choose one of Isla Carroll’s players to sit out.

Play resumed after a 57-minute delay with three players per side.

Since Merlos could not continue because he injured an elbow and both shoulders in the fall, Lechuza chose to put Gracida, a 9-goaler, on the sidelines. With Isla Carroll at 17 goals, Lechuza substituted 5-goaler Jorge Rodriguez for 3-goaler Gaston Urturi to raise its handicap to 17 goals.

When play resumed in the second chukker, Lechuza scored the next two goals to go ahead 4-2 before Isla Carroll got organized and took control with three consecutive goals, including a near-side by Sugar Erskine with 14 seconds left in the first half to give them a 5-4 lead.

Isla Carroll steadily built a lead, never allowing Lechuza closer than two goals, except for the final margin when 10-goaler Pite Merlos converted a 60-yard penalty with 12 seconds remaining.

“It’s a lot more nerve-wracking watching,” said Gracida, who spent most of the game alone near the end line between the goal posts and team tent, his boots and knee pads still on and a white baseball hat replacing his familiar yellow helmet. “There’s nothing you can do watching.”

Isla Carroll’s leading scorer, Pancho Bensadon, who has 36 goals in six games, praised Gracida.

“He’s (Memo) the coach outside the lines and inside the lines,” said Bensadon, who scored a team-high eight goals in the semifinals. “He deserves to win the 100th U.S. Open.”

“I’m very proud of the team,” said Gracida. “We’ve only been together for one and a half months and we just clicked. There’s mutual respect between the players.”

White Birch and Catamount also invoked the Penalty 7 rule when 3-goaler Del Walton of White Birch crashed into the sideboards less than two minutes into the fourth chukker. Walton was knocked out and slightly injured his shoulder and could not continue.

When a substitute could not be found, the game continued with three players per team after a 19-minute delay. At the beginning of the fifth chukker, 4-goaler Carlucho Arellano replaced White Birch patron Peter Brant.

“He’s a better forward than I am,” explained Brant, whose team reached the U.S. Open finals in 1997, 1995 and 1994. “But I thought it might be a mistake because he was coming in cold.”

There were four ties in the last two chukkers, the final one at 12-12 when White Birch’s Lucas Criado scored with 45 seconds left in the game.

Walton is expected to play in the final as is Brant.

The 26-goal tournament culminates with the championship match between Isla Carroll and White Birch Sunday at 3 p.m. There is also a consolation final between Lechuza and Catamount Saturday at 3 p.m. It is doubtful that Sebastian Merlos will play.

Thirteen teams, featuring 10 10-goalers, entered the Stanford Financial Group – U.S. Open Polo Championship, the most prestigious polo tournament in North America, highlighting the historic inaugural polo season at the International Polo Club Palm Beach. The 26-goal tournament culminates with the championship match on Sunday at 3 p.m. Fifteen teams, in 2002, is the record for teams in a U.S. Open.

The Stanford Financial Group – U.S. Open is being played on the International Polo Club Palm Beach’s five world-class Bermuda-grass playing fields.

The Houston-based Stanford Financial Group, a privately-held global network of affiliated companies, has signed on as the title sponsor of the 100th U.S. Open Polo Championship in 2004. Stanford’s family of companies provides international private banking, trust and brokerage services and real estate development. Currently, the Stanford organization manages in excess of $17 billion in deposits and assets, serving clients on six continents. The success of the group is the result of entrepreneurial spirit and drive spearheaded by third generation Chairman and CEO R. Allen Stanford.

Like the high-goal teams on the field, the International Polo Club Palm Beach has amassed a lineup of prestigious sponsors for the U.S. Open. The Stanford Financial Group – U.S. Open tournament will feature a different presenting sponsor every Sunday, including Bombardier Aerospace, Cunard Ltd. and HUMMER, Mitchell-Peck Jewelers, Piaget, Roderer Estate, Kubota and Roder.

As always, there will be a delicious Sunday brunch, catered by The Breakers, open to the public preceding the featured stadium match, along with the now traditional and very popular champagne divot stomp and a post-match awards presentation.

Individual tickets for the U.S. Open tournament Wednesday’s semifinals and Sunday’s title game range from $15 for general admission to $40 for terrace lawn seating and are available in advance. For ticket information for the U.S. Open, please call the club at (561) 204-5687 or visit online at Tickets are also available at the gate.

International Polo Club Palm Beach is located at 3667 120th Avenue South, between Pierson Road and Lake Worth Road, in Wellington.


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