WELLINGTON, Fl., March 16, 2016---In a wild finish, Palm Beach Illustrated/Team USPA rallied for a thrilling 13-12 victory over Pony Express in the final of the $50,000 National 12-Goal Tournament Tuesday at Grand Champions Polo Club.
In front of a packed house and worldwide ChukkerTV audience, the foursome of Todd Thurston, Jared Zenni, Geronimo Obregon and Jesse Bray, all current Team USPA members, is the youngest team to win the winner-take-all third-year tournament.
"This is awesome, it doesn't get any better than this to be honest," Zenni said. "I really thought if we play the way we are capable of playing we had a good shot at winning the tournament."
Obregon scored the winning goal with 1:25 left in the game.
Said Obregon: "I knew we were in good position when we scored but we still had more than a minute left. It was grab your teeth, hold on tight and win the next throw-in. We got lucky. This feels pretty amazing winning a $50,000 tournament."
Bray, 23, was named Most Valuable Player after turning in one of his finest career performances.
"This is a big win, it's nice," Bray said. "This is up there with one of the better wins of my career. It's exciting.
"I knew we had a team that could win," Bray said. "We just had to play smart and stop fouling. We started to foul a lot in the last chukker and were a little slow. Once they caught up we woke up and finished strong."
Palm Beach Illustrated/Team USPA dominated most of the first five chukkers and built as much as a four-goal lead (6-2, 7-3, 8-4 and 11-7) before Pony Express' brothers Justin and Benji Daniels, Bautista Urbina and Tomas Goti started chipping away at their lead and rallied in the sixth chukker.
"We kind of collapsed at the beginning of the sixth chukker," Obregon said. "We started looking at the ball a little more than the man. We made some fouls but then we started looking at the man again and sticking to how we started and pulled through. We got lucky."
Added Zenni, "We got away from our original game plan which was to stick close to Goti. At the end, we got a little excited. Being four young players, you get anxious."
With the momentum on its side, Pony Express scored four unanswered goals, one with 1:22 left in the fifth and three to open the sixth chukker.
"I am very happy with the team," Goti said. "It is a pleasure to play with the two Daniels kids. They played really well. I am very proud of them, they are like my brothers. They understood what to do and they did it perfectly.
"This was a very good team we played today," Goti said. "Four kids who are going to go up in their handicaps for sure and soon."
Pony Express tied the game, 11-11, when Goti connected with Urbina for a goal. Bray converted a penalty-three to give his team back the lead, 12-11, but a minute later Urbina scored again to tie the game.
"We had our best horses out there and we wanted to win," said Justin Daniels, a junior at St. Andrew's School. "We played as hard as we could. We had a chance in the last chukker, we just made some silly mistakes."
With 1:25 left, Bray belted a 50-yarder downfield where Zenni and Obregon were.
"Geronimo had the goal shot of the game," Zenni said. "I was behind him, down by the goal with Tomas Goti. I looked up but couldn't see the ball because Jesse hit it so high and long. I saw Geronimo's eyes looking at it. It fell right in front of him. He did a flick of the wrist and was able to get it in."
Added Bray, "I thought the ball was going to go out when I hit it. When it bounced, Geronimo said it stopped so it didn't roll out of bounds. He was able to reach in and put it through."
Palm Beach Illustrated/Team USPA got balanced scoring from Zenni, Obregon and Bray, each with four goals. Thurston had one.
Goti scored a game-high nine goals. Urbina had two goals and Justin Daniels added one.
Goti's sixth chukker horse "61" owned by Bob Daniels was named Best Playing Pony.
One of the nation's most important and competitive tournaments with major prize money on the line attracted some of the sport's top teams, several pros including Britain's Mark Tomlinson, Michel Dorignac, Jason Crowder and Gringo Colombres and up-and-coming young players Grant Ganzi, Juancito Bollini, Matt Coppola and Joaquin Panelo. It is the nation's only 12-goal tournament that offers major prize money.
"If you see the growth in polo today in the United States, it's happening in the medium goal level," said Marc Ganzi, who created the tournament in 2014. "There's more teams inmedium goal today than there was three years ago.
"The medium goal really offers a unique blend of amateurs and pros to play together. If the amateurs play above their handicap on any given day, they can affect the outcome of the game. You see a bunch of young kids today, some of them are young pros that are developing, some of them are young amateurs who want to become pros.
"It's providing that access that creates the opportunities for these kids and pros to keep moving up. If we are to grow the sport we have to grow it at this level and we have to focus on it. We have to show that the medium goal is just as important and I think that's what we showed today."
Said Zenni, "Having tournaments like this you can get better teams and help young kids get exposure and play polo."
Palm Beach Illustrated/Team USPA joins past champions Palm Beach Equine ( Scott Swerdlin, Alejandro Gonzalez, Tommy Collingwood, Luis Escobar) and Aspen Valley Polo Club (Grant Ganzi, Juancito Bollini, Mark Tomlinson, Wes Finlayson).
The game was live-streamed by ChukkerTV, leaders in polo broadcasting. Wellington-based ChukkerTV is exclusively live streaming International Polo Club Palm Beach and Grand Champions Polo Club games during the 2016 season with polo broadcasters Toby Wayman and Dale Schwetz calling the action.
Grand Champions is the nation's busiest and most innovative polo club with tournaments ranging from six to 20-goal.
Grand Champions Polo Club also features The Polo School, dedicated to teaching polo, 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 2016 WINTER SCHEDULE
16-Goal: Santa Rita Abierto, March 19, Saturday, Postage Stamp Farm vs. Dutta Corp, 3 p.m.; March 22, Tuesday, Travieso vs. Dutta Corp, noon; Casablanca vs. High Ground/GSA, 4 p.m.; March 24, Thursday, SD Farms vs. High Ground/GSA, noon; Postage Stamp Farm vs. Travieso, 4 p.m.; March 29, Tuesday, Santa Rita Handicap Final, noon; Semifinals, 2 and 4 p.m; April 2, Saturday, Final, 3 p.m.
12-Goal, Top Pony 12-Goal Series, March 18, Friday, Skaneateles vs. Flexjet, 10 a.m.; Palm Beach Polo vs. Heathcote, 4 p.m.; March 20, Sunday, Whitehall Ranch vs. Heathcote, 10 a.m.; Skaneateles vs. Pony Express, 10 a.m.; Palm Beach Polo vs. Beverly Polo, noon; March 23, Wednesday, Pony Express vs. Wildcat, 3:30 p.m.; March 26, Saturday, Pony Express vs. Flexjet, 11 a.m.; March 27, Sunday, Wildcat vs. Skaneateles, 10 a.m.; Beverly Polo vs. Heathcote, 10 a.m.; Whitehall Ranch vs. Palm Beach Polo, 1 p.m.; March 29, Tuesday, Wildcat vs. Flexjet, 3:30 p.m.; March 30, Wednesday, 1 p.m.; April 2, Saturday, Final, 1 p.m.; April, Museum of Polo and Hall of Fame Challenge Cup.
8-Goal, The Limited Edition 8-Goal Series: March 17, Thursday, Odosan/Polologistics vs. Smithfield, 4 p.m.; March 22, Tuesday, Odosan/Polologistics vs. Longfield Farm, 3:30 p.m.; March 25, Friday, Skaneateles vs. Odosan/Polologistics, 3:30 p.m.; March 26, Saturday, Smithfield vs. Longfield Farm, 1 p.m.; March 26, Saturday, Smithfield vs. Longfield Farm, 1 p.m.; April 2, Saturday, Final, 11 a.m.; USPA Regional President's Cup; April, USPA Association Cup.
6-Goal, Madelon Bourdain Memorial, March 17, Thursday, Longfield Farm vs. Horseware, 5 p.m.; March 19, Saturday, Smithfield vs. Seacap, 11 a.m., Pony Express vs. Grand Champions, 1 p.m.; March 23, Wednesday, Valiente vs. Grand Champions, 10 a.m.; March 24, Thursday, Smithfield vs. Horseware, 2 p.m., Pony Express vs. The Polo School, 4 p.m.; March 26, Saturday, Grand Champions vs. The Polo School, 10 a.m., Seacap vs. Horseware, 1 p.m.; March 28, Monday, Valiente vs. The Polo School, 4 p.m.; March 29, Tuesday, Seacap vs. Longfield Farm, 5 p.m.; March 30, Wednesday, Pony Express vs. Valiente, 3 p.m.; March 31, Thursday, March 31, Longfield Farm vs. Smithfield, 5 p.m.; April 3, Sunday, Final, 11 a.m.; April, Las Acacias.
GRAND CHAMPIONS POLO CLUB
WHERE: 13444 Southfields Road, on the corner of South Shore Boulevard and Lake Worth Road, Wellington, 33414.
DIRECTOR OF POLO: Juan Olivera, 561-644-5050, firstname.lastname@example.org; hotline 561-373-0073.
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 a complimentary Argentine asado by Cilantro's during the featured games of the winter, spring and fall tournament seasons and other special events. Admission is free except for some special events.