One of the oldest United States Polo Association tournaments, the one-hundred-and-twenty-first edition of the Farmers & Merchants Bank Silver Cup® returned to Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club in Carpinteria, California. After three weeks of play, the gripping final on Sunday, August 8, came down to undefeated Klentner Ranch (Jacob “Jake” Klentner*, Santiago Toccalino, Jesse Bray*, Justin Klentner) and Farmers & Merchants Bank (Daniel Walker, Lucas Criado Jr., Lucas Criado Sr., Matthew Walker). Building off an early and impressive offensive attack, Klentner Ranch delivered at least two goals each chukker, maintaining the lead throughout to capture their first ever Silver Cup® title, 14-12.
“The Silver Cup® is hard to win because it doesn’t come here very often. Being on that cup is very special. I feel like it puts you into polo history. We’re trying to build a family team that plays for generations and it’s important to be a part of a history that’s already taken place.” – Justin Klentner, Klentner Ranch Team Owner
Klentner Ranch asserted themselves early, highlighted by the play of Bray. “We attack, we hit the ball hard and we run. We play simple polo and make sure all four players are involved,” said Bray, as he led the charge with two goals in the first chukker. Farmers & Merchants Bank were awarded a Penalty 1 in the opening stages of the second chukker, involving two of the seven total yellow cards issued during the match. The exceptional play of Criado Jr., scoring two field goals in the chukker, helped tie Farmers & Merchants Bank 3-all, but Justin Klentner scored before the horn sounded to restore a one-goal advantage for Klentner Ranch. High speed, running and open style play highlighted the third chukker, the teams alternating three goals each with back-and-forth action. “The more we ran, the better we knew we would play, ” stated Bray. Jacob Klentner and Matthew Walker added a final tally each to leave the score 7-6 in favor of Klentner Ranch entering halftime.
“We attack, we hit the ball hard and we run. We play simple polo and make sure all four players are involved.” – Jesse Bray
The frenetic pace carried into the second half with nine combined shots between the two teams in the fourth chukker, but it was Klentner Ranch’s accuracy, finishing fifty-three percent from the field, that allowed them to extend their lead. “We took advantage of the opportunities we had. I thought we shot to goal pretty well and our goal percentage was high,” stated Bray.
Teammate Toccalino pushed Klentner Ranch’s lead to three after hammering two field goals through to end the chukker. Desperate to pull within reach, Farmers & Merchants Bank team owner Daniel Walker scored on the opening play of the fifth chukker, but Klentner Ranch responded with Bray’s third goal riding Cell Tower.
A tense final chukker resulted in Farmers & Merchants Bank pulling within one goal after consecutive Penalty 2 conversions from Criado Jr., but Klentner Ranch maintained a narrow lead. Emotions ran high as three yellow cards were issued in the last three minutes, but a final Penalty 4 conversion from Toccalino sealed the victory, as Klentner Ranch celebrated the 14-12 triumph.
Having played Farmers & Merchants Bank three times already this season Klentner Ranch knew their opponents well and Toccalino commented on their winning mindset. “It was really close, as every game we play against them [Farmers & Merchants Bank]. They are a great team and really well mounted. It was important to be positive until the end. We were winning by three, then it was tight and you felt the pressure. But I think we played really well and really calm.”
The Silver Cup® has been played at numerous clubs throughout its illustrious history including Houston Polo Club (Houston, Texas), Greenwich Polo Club (Greenwich, Connecticut) and Aspen Valley Polo Club (Aspen, Colorado), but returning to Santa Barbara for the eighth time, Klentner Ranch finally added their name to the elusive trophy. “The Silver Cup® is hard to win because it doesn’t come here [Santa Barbara] very often. Being on that cup is very special. I feel like it puts you into polo history. We’re trying to build a family team that plays for generations and it’s important to be a part of a history that’s already taken place,” stated team owner Justin Klentner.
“I’m really happy they brought me to the team,” said Santiago Toccalino on joining the Klentner Ranch organization this year. “This organization is a great organization, it’s a family organization. I’ve been received really well and I’m really happy to be here.”
Most Valuable Player was awarded to Jesse Bray for his six-goal performance. Bray attributes much of his elevated play to 8-goal teammate Santiago Toccalino. “The way he can take control of the game is incredible. I’m learning a lot playing with him this summer…I think he has a really incredible mind for the game and the way he plays is similar to the way I think I can play. He definitely makes me play better.”
Bray’s eight-year-old thoroughbred mare Cell Tower, played in the first and fifth chukkers was named Best Playing Pony. “I bought her as a four-year-old from Matthew Gonzalez. Last year was her first season of high goal. I feel very comfortable on her and know I can win any play I go to. She’s strong, has a really nice mouth and a lot of speed, those are her best attributes. She is a very complete mare”.
Entering the Pacific Coast Open, Klentner Ranch is on an impressive run with two USPA tournaments titles after also capturing the Pacific Coast Circuit Intra-Circuit. “We’re having one of those dream seasons. Every time you win, it gets harder and harder because everyone brings all their best horses, all their best strategy,” described Justin Klentner. However, experiencing the season with his son Jake has made it that much sweeter. “It’s truly unbelievable. I’ve been planning this for twenty years. It’s taken me a long time and I have son number two coming up next” Justin Klentner continued. “It means everything to us,” echoed Jake Klentner. “It is a testament of what my dad has built through all these years. He’s a person that got into polo out of pure interest at forty years old and really found a love and a passion for it. Luckily that passed down to me. To win it as a family, it’s massive. I’m getting flashbacks to the  Pacific Coast Open. One more to go.”
The Pacific Coast Open begins on Friday, August 13, with all games to be livestreamed exclusively on Global Polo TV.
*Jesse Bray is a Graduating Team USPA Member and Jacob Klentner is a Team USPA alumni. Team USPA is a USPA program designed to enhance and grow the sport of polo in the United States by identifying young, talented American players and providing mentored training and playing opportunities leading to a pool of higher rated amateur and pro players and the resultant giveback to the sport of polo.
Photos by ©David Lominska