2016 marks the third year team Palm Beach Illustrated will take the pitch at the International Polo Club Palm Beach. And as much as polo fans long to see a crop of editors try their hardest riding thoroughbreds, swinging mallets, and scoring on half-pitch one-timers, the team is comprised of some of the best and brightest upcoming polo players around.
Once again, team PBI is fielding the youngest team squad in the 20-goal ranks, led by team captain Jared Zenni. At 20 years old, Zenni will be splitting this polo season between schoolwork (he’s currently a student at the University of Miami), and captain duties for team PBI, a position he has held since 2014 when he first took the reins of the team. Joined again by Facundo Obregon (6 goals), a veteran of team PBI who will take up the No. 3 position (attacker/striker), and two newcomers, Nacho Badiola (6 goals) at the No. 1 position, and Jesse Bray (5 goals) at the No. 4/defensive position. Zenni will reclaim his No. 2 slot from 2015, a position he excelled at.
Playing heads-up, team-first polo, Zenni led a formidable squad last year, with hopes to do the same in 2016. “I’ll do whatever my teammates ask of me at the best of my abilities,” said Zenni. “That’s my goal, to put us in a position to win.”
A 3-goal handicap, Zenni is known for making the smart play at the right time, capitalizing on the slightest advantage, clearing room for Obregon’s dynamic offensive play, all while taking up space. At 6’3”, Zenni is a commanding figure on a horse, which is even more remarkable when paired with his handle—a natural with a horse, Zenni is a better horseman than offensive marksman, which makes him a threat to the opposition on the field. Always on the move, and playing with intensity that at times can seem intimating, Zenni is best playing man on the opponent’s best player, creating all-round havoc in the middle. Which is not to say Zenni can’t make a shot or two: at his size, Zenni is dangerous from distance, striking goals from 60 to even 80 yards away.
Jared Zenni playing in the 2014 Joe Barry Memorial Cup.
Photo by Abigail Duffy
A true student of the game, when not working his horses, or working on stick and ball technique trying to maintain rhythm during the offseason, Zenni is watching high-goal polo matches from around the world, studying the best of the best to learn from their strengths. He first picked up a polo mallet and reins at the age of six, playing his first tournament at the age of eight. With 12 horses in his stable (four of which are his favorites), Zenni is building on his past successes with an eye to the future—hopes are with a few more wins on his portfolio he’ll make the jump to a four handicap this season—“hopefully we get some luck.”
With a dedication to the sport and hunger for winning, Zenni is certainly one to watch this season as the polo plays out. On the eve of his 2016 campaign start, we caught up with Zenni to talk polo, his game, and the upcoming season.
Catch Team Palm Beach Illustrated and the rest of the 20-goal polo teams as they take the Engel & Völkers Field for the Joe Barry Memorial Cup from January 9-24, followed by the Ylvisaker Cup from January 27 through February 21.
PBI.COM: What’s the team looking like this year?
Zenni: We’ve only had a few practices but I think we are playing pretty well. I have played with Facundo a few times before but this is the first time I have played with Jesse and Nacho, but I think if everyone does their job and plays as well as they can, we should have a pretty good team.
Your first match is against Villa del Lago—your father’s team. How’s that going to play out?
We practice with them, so everyone knows how each other plays, knows their horses…it will be tough. There are no big secrets, we just need to stay disciplined and put ourselves in the position to win.
How would you best describe your game?
I try to control what’s controllable, you know? Some days you’ll be better with the ball, some days you won’t, but defense will be there everyday. You can always control how hard you play, how much you want it I guess. Otherwise, when I get the ball I feel like I can do some damage.
This season I won’t be so much playing with the ball but making space for the other guys. I’ll probably be going with the other team’s better players and trying to lock him down so the other guys can play more freely.