2016 Cham­pi­ons, Al­mat Group Eye Bumper 2017 Polo Sea­son Bat­tles Ti­tan, Kano Terra, PH for Dan­tata Cup Ti­tle

Sunday Trust - - FEVER PITCH - By Ernest Ekpeny­ong

If the 2016 polo sea­son was an in­cred­i­ble year for Nige­ria’s lat­est polo pa­tron, Mau­rice Ekpeny­ong and his Abuja Al­mat Group polo team, the 2017 sea­son is brac­ing for a bumper.

It started with a vic­tory in Kaduna at the UNICEF Char­ity Shield last year and ended with an­other smasher at the Keffi Polo Ranch Open tour­na­ment last De­cem­ber. For polo afi­ciona­dos, that was a rare feat for a young team that com­peted for hon­ours in just two ma­jors last year.

The in­cred­i­ble story of Al­mat Group polo team gal­loped last Oc­to­ber with the UNICEF Char­ity Shield polo tour­na­ment at the fore­most Fifth Chukker & Coun­try Re­sort in Kaduna where Mau­rice and his top run­ning Al­mat squad hit the ground run­ning in a grand style.

The fi­nal bat­tle for the Gen­eral Has­san Cup that pitch two debu­tants, Abuja Al­mat and Kaduna Amana team, was an ex­cit­ing duel that pro­duced 11 ½ goals to the de­light of the dis­cern­ing crowd that throng the mag­nif­i­cent Fifth Chukker Lawns for the grand fi­nale.

Amana In­sur­ers, for­ti­fied with Nige­rian num­ber one, Bello Buba, had man­aged to held back the ram­pant Al­mat war­riors’ Ibrahim Musa, Idris Badamasi, Ma­lik Badamasi and their pa­tron, Mau­rice Ekpeny­ong, in the early stages man­ag­ing a 2 ½ - 4 score line at the end of the sec­ond chukka of the fi­nal.

How­ever, the clos­ing two chukkas did be­long to Al­mat as Ibrahim, Idris, Ma­lik and Mau­rice each scored to close down for 9 – 2 ½ vic­tory and write their names in gold, win­ning the Gen­eral Has­san ti­tle on first at­tempt.

Last De­cem­ber, Keffi wit­nessed one of its grand­est mo­ments in 2016 and Al­mat Group polo lords were again the bright­est stars. At the colour­ful grand fi­nale, Al­mat Group team cel­e­brated at the podium, af­ter an em­phatic 10-6 vic­tory over Iy­atu Farms to clinch the medium-goal Na­tional Assem­bly Cup.

The way Nige­ria’s lat­est polo pa­tron and his Al­mat Group polo team play, polo pun­dits are al­ready heap­ing the odds in their favour to clean the stakes this year. Last May, he rushed back from Keffi where his Al­mat fin­ished high at the 2017 Keffi Ranch polo event, to clinch yet an­other ma­jor ti­tle at 2017 Unity polo tour­na­ment at the serene Guards Polo Club in Abuja.

Win­ning two ma­jors be­fore the sea­son took steam was ex­actly how Ekpeny­ong and his Al­mat squad wanted to start the year. With Kano in­ter­na­tional and African Pa­trons Cup beck­on­ing, the prop­erty guru be­lieve his tar­get of win­ing all top polo lau­rels he vied for, could well be within sight.

The Abuja based Al­mat who ar­rived the Bom­pai polo the­atre with truck loads of sup­port­ers, are eye­ing the event’s sec­ond big­gest prize at the on­go­ing Kano tour­na­ment which en­ters its sec­ond and con­clud­ing week­end Thurs­day with Dan­tata Cup and the event’s big­gest ti­tle, the Emir of Kano up for grabs.

But the highly revered prize would not lit­er­ally fol­low Al­mat back to Abuja, as a bat­tery of more ex­pe­ri­enced op­po­si­tions are poised for what will go down as one of the most con­tested Dan­tata cup duel in re­cent his­tory.

Ekpeny­ong and his war­riors, who are de­but­ing at the leg­endary Us­man Dan­tata Polo Ground, would take as much as they give as they seek to up­stage Sadiq Wali’s Terra T&P, an­other debu­tant from Port Har­court and many times cham­pi­ons and home crowd favoutires, Kano Ti­tan.

“I’m kind of glad,” he said with a broad smile. “We are look­ing for­ward to main­tain­ing the tempo and add more polo lau­rels to our shelf this year and the years to come,” he en­thused.

Win­ning must be ex­cit­ing for the real estate de­vel­oper, and no one has been more pro­fi­cient at it. Even more stun­ning is that Al­mat Group is mak­ing it look easy, al­though get­ting through the semi fi­nals at the Char­ity Shield and at Keffi Open felt as heavy as walk­ing through the beach sand of the Ba­hamas.

“I can’t say that we were too fan­tas­tic last year,” he said. “But we did win two in­ter­na­tional ma­jor tour­na­ments fea­tur­ing pro­fes­sion­als from Ar­gentina, Europe and South Africa, and what a great honor it is.”

Ekpeny­ong, who started his play­ing ca­reer at the Guards Polo Club in Abuja only few years back, wants to keep the vic­tory run. And he’s al­ready think­ing about the big­ger stakes like the highly revered Ge­or­gian, Ma­jeko­dunmi and Emir of Kano cups.

“I think he’ll be a ma­jor high­goal cham­pion within the next cou­ple of years, per­son­ally,” Bello Buba, Nige­ria’s top rated player said. “It’s awe­some to see him tear­ing it up there.”

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