It’s 9:30 on a Monday morning in Wellington, and Santi Torres is sitting with his grooms in the barn aisle, intently polishing a set of kneepads. At the end of a 20-minute interview he’s still at it. Why?
“The more you polish them, the shinier they get,” he says, tilting them at an angle so he can see how they look in a different light.” That may be of little consequence when he whacks the ball, but it’s a matter of respect for the sport and his team, he says.
It has been two years since Torres has worn the Valiente jersey. He was ecstatic—and grateful—to get the call in December from Adolfo Cambiaso.
“Any opportunity to have a job and improve your game is great, but nothing can compare with playing with Adolfo and being part of the Valiente organization,” says the 24-year-old from Santa Barbara. He is playing for Valiente in the 20-goal Ylvisaker Cup semifinals tomorrow and in the 26-goal C.V. Whitney Cup, which opens next week at International Polo Cub Palm Beach.
Just 19 when he began playing for Valiente, Torres was handicapped at 6 goals, as he is this season. But he went up to 7 for a stretch in between, which limited his employment options because the numbers have to work out for the team’s total handicap. With patron Bob Jornaynaz being raised to 2, the team had to be reconfigured without Torres.
Sitting out the 2017 high-goal season was rough on him emotionally and financially, but Torres, a pro since the age of 11, was a realist. He continued his program, bringing his horses to Wellington last winter as usual to train them. As he said then, “There are ups and downs in anyone’s life, but you just keep going. Even if I don’t have anything I still have to work and try my hardest to get the next opportunity.”
When he got the first call from Valiente in 2013, he had been playing the past few seasons for Lucchese in Florida and California. He played the next season with Cambiaso in Santa Barbara and continued on with them to Wellington.
After the team’s 2018 Ylvisaker Cup quarterfinals win two days ago Jornayvaz said, “We’re happy to have him back. He’s a great individual, a hard worker and great for polo.”
Cambiaso nods. “It’s always a pleasure to play with Santi Torres. He is one of the kids that I like from the States, and we try to support him,” he says. “Now that he’s back at 6 goals it was a very good opportunity to bring him back to play on Valiente.”
The season has been going great for them. Valiente is a semifinalist in tomorrow’s game against Tonkawa. Torres will be playing some of his favorite horses, which he bought in Wellington. They were made but not yet playing high-goal. They include River, an 8-year-old Thoroughbred mare. “She’s pretty complete—stops, turns, runs, whatever you ask,” he says. “I have an older mare, Millonaria, who has been playing the high-goal the past couple of years. She knows what she’s doing.”
What’s it like for a young developing player to be on a team with Adolfo Cambiaso? Here’s how Torres described the experience:
• “He’s fun to be with around the barn, but he’s pretty strict. Everyone works out and everyone plays practice just about every day. That’s what it takes if you’re going to be part of Valiente.”
• “He’s pretty fair about the game. He kind of mixes things up. He uses you, and he works for you. He doesn’t just use you the whole game and then you don’t get to score or you don’t get any passes. He teaches you and then uses you as another player, not just as a blocker. He uses you all throughout the game.”
• “He teaches you to play smart, to think more before you get to the play rather than while you’re doing it. You learn better plays, so you already know what to do next. He’s been playing at the top for so many years that when you get used to playing with a player like that. You start learning how to play with a player like that, who has played at the top for so long, and then you learn better plays, so then it comes naturally. You already know what to do next.”
Photos by David Lominska