WELLINGTON, Fl.—November 25, 2016---Uruguay’s national team will take a huge step in increasing the sport’s popularity in its homeland when it plays Team USA in the fifth annual International Cup on Saturday at 3 p.m. at Grand Champions Polo Club.
Making its debut in its first major international polo match in the U.S., Uruguay players know they are the underdogs against the four-time defending champion U.S. team.
“It is an honor to represent our country in such an important game, we know our country will be watching,” said Mauricio Sanchez, who first played in the U.S. ten years ago. “It is going to be a tough game because they are good players. We have a good team and I think it will be a good game.”
Sanchez, 27, leads the Uruguay team. He has won various tournaments including three Uruguayan national championships and was a member of the team that won the last Uruguayan Open.
Sanchez has been playing around the world since he was 17 and competed for the national team in the last two FIP playoffs in 2010 and 2014.
“I think the sport is growing a lot in Uruguay and games like this will help,” Sanchez said. “It will be a good game to watch. I am very excited for this game. The people here love polo.”
Sanchez will be joined by teammates Juan Curbelo, 5 goals; Alexis de Boismenu, 3 goals; and Guillermo Besozzi, 5 goals.
“We decided to bring two professionals and two amateurs and it is a very good 18-goal team,” said Uruguay coach Roberto Mailhos. “It is a good mix between experience and younger players and professionals and amateurs.
“This is very important for my country,” Mailhos said. “It is the first time we play the United States. We hope it is not the last time. This will help the popularity of polo. It’s always important to have an international match and I know all the players in Uruguay will follow this game.”
Mailhos said Uruguay will have to play error-free polo to beat the U.S.
“Anything can happen,” Mailhos said. “The U.S. is favored because they are playing with their horses and have played together more times. The most important thing will be that both teams enjoy the game. Maybe we are giving them some handicap but we will do our best.”
The team arrived in Wellington on Thanksgiving and held its first practice on Friday at Santa Rita Polo Farm where they will be mounted for the game.
Curbelo, 28, has the most experience playing in the U.S. He competes in California and Idaho seven months out of the year. He is representing Uruguay for the first time internationally. Curbelo has played against Arellano and Roldan.
“It is an honor to represent my country, I like to play for my country,” Curbelo said. “I don’t feel any pressure. I am excited about the game, let’s see what it brings.”
Curbelo is hoping the International Cup exposure will help elevate the game in Uruguay.
“We have a few small clubs, but it is more amateur than professional,” Curbelo said. “That’s why players travel around to play in Argentina, Europe and U.S.”
The popularity of 10-goaler David (Pelon) Stirling, born and raised in Uruguay, is helping motivate the next generation of players, Curbelo said.
“It is getting better now,” Curbelo said. “Now that we have a 10-goal player a lot of young players are starting to play. It’s growing a lot.”
De Boismenu and Besozzi are playing in the U.S. for the first time and are also first-time national team members.
“I am so surprised at the number of fields and how nice this place is,” said de Boismenu, a third generation polo player. “This is a thrill for me. We are a small country with only three million people. This is a great opportunity for us. My teammates are excellent players. We will try to have a good match and have fun and enjoy being here.
“We will try to do our best but we know the U.S. is the favorite,” de Boismenu said. “We are excited for polo in our country. We are seeing more young people play and that is important.
“I am excited because this is the first time for me on American horses. Everything will be a good experience.”
The Uruguay foursome will take on Team USA’s Marc Ganzi, 1 goal; Grant Ganzi, 1 goal; Julio Arellano, 8 goals and Nic Roldan, 8 goals.
Team USA is undefeated in International Cup play with wins over England, Chile, Mexico and South Africa. Marc Ganzi, Arellano and Roldan were teammates last year.
The International Cup is part of a doubleheader and holiday weekend tradition that ends the biggest week of fall polo at Grand Champions Polo Club.
In the opening game featuring Grand Champions against Aspen Valley at 1 p.m., the Carlos Gracida Legends of Polo Memorial game will honor the legacy of Gracida, who died tragically in February, 2014 at age 53.
Aspen Valley (Tim Dutta, Carlitos Gracida, Mariano Gracida, Cali Garcia Valez) will play Grand Champions (Peter Rizzo, Weston Gracida, Martin Estrada, Tommy Biddle).
Wellington-based ChukkerTV, leaders in polo broadcasting, will live stream the doubleheader.ChukkerTV’s state-of-the art technology also features team challenges and instant replay which made their debut at Grand Champions in January, 2014.
Grand Champions, with eleven well-manicured fields, enjoyed its finest fall season in club history. Grand Champions is the only club in the nation to stage two USPA-sanctioned 20-goal tournaments in the fall. The club also hosted eight successful medium goal tournaments.
Grand Champions caters to men, women and youth polo players at all levels. Its expert staff can customize a complete playing experience including horses, pros and certified umpires in addition to lessons and practice sessions as part of its’ Polo On Demand program, the only polo club in the U.S. to offer the uniqueprogram.
The Polo School, a 501c3 organization, is dedicated to teaching polo to all ages, particularly grass roots youth. Its mission is to provide individuals opportunities in polo. The Polo School operates in Wellington January through June and September through November.
GRAND CHAMPIONS POLO CLUB
WHERE: 13444 Southfields Road, on the corner of South Shore Boulevard and Lake Worth Road, Wellington, 33414.
2016 FALL SCHEDULE
Saturday, Gates Open 12:30 p.m., Carlos Gracida Legends of Polo Memorial, 1 p.m.; Fifth annual International Cup, Team USA vs. Uruguay, 3 p.m.
INFORMATION: For spectators, there are great field side views for tournament action and also the Grand Champions Polo Club Boutique. The club is home base for pro teams Audi and Flexjet. Everyone is welcome to watch every level of polo in a relaxed atmosphere that includes complimentary food and refreshments during the featured games of the winter, spring and fall tournament seasons and other special events. Admission is free except for some special events.