WELLINGTON, Fl., March 18, 2016---Flexjet, playing with confidence, knocked off previously undefeated defending champion Audi in the USPA Gold Cup Thursday at Valiente.
After a close first half, Flexjet took the lead for good in the fourth chukker and went on to capture a hardfought 11-9 victory.
The foursome of Melissa Ganzi, Tincho Merlos, Sebastian Merlos and Nic Roldan bounced back from Sunday’s heartbreaking 11-9 loss to Coca-Cola with its most impressive game of the tournament.
Playing as a team for the first time in its first tournament, Flexjet gave Audi’s second-year veteran team of Marc Ganzi, Rodrigo Andrade, Gonzalito Pieres and Freddie Mannix all it could handle with a swarming defense and offense that capitalized on Audi errors and fifteen penalties.
“It was a fantastic game,” Tincho Merlos said. “Audi is a very strong team. They have proven that in the past.”
Both Grand Champions Polo Club-based pro teams finished 2-1 in Bracket II play.
“Every game we seem to be getting better and better,” said Roldan, America’s top-rated player at eight goals. “These guys, holy cow, they played lights out.
“We tried to make as little mistakes as possible. We have a great system going. Melissa played outstanding. She played one of her best games. It was such a team effort.”
Audi found itself catching up for most of the game.
“I’m really excited for our team,” Melissa Ganzi said. “I think Sebastian and Tincho play really well together and Nic’s been able to figure out how to play with them really well. Nic has been really strong with his huge back shots and big passes and that’s really helped us. The chemistry is there.”
Flexjet jumped on Audi early in the opening chukker for a 2-0 lead on goals by Roldan following up Ganzi’s approach shot and Tincho Merlos on a breakaway.
Audi came back with some offensive punch of its own after Andrade won the throw-in and connected on a long pass with Ganzi who scored. A minute later, Pieres converted the first of his five penalty shots.
After Audi was called for a right-of-way penalty, Tincho Merlos scored in the final minute to give Flexjet a 3-2 lead.
Audi outscored Flexjet 2-1, including an 80-yarder by Andrade for a 4-4 tie at the end of the second chukker. Flexjet then outscored Audi 2-1 to lead 6-5 at the half.
After Pieres opened the fourth chukker with a 40-yard penalty shot for a 6-6 tie, Flexjet dominated the chukker with three unanswered goals by Tincho Merlos for a 9-6 lead to end the chukker.
Audi and Flexjet exchanged goals in the fifth chukker with Flexjet taking a 10-7 lead. Pieres scored another penalty goal to cut the lead to 10-8.
Audi could get no closer in the sixth chukker. With 5:54 left in the game, Tincho Merlos stole the ball and scored on a neck shot for an 11-8 lead. Both teams had opportunities to score in the final five minutes of the game.
Unlike its last game against Coca-Cola (17-5), Flexjet kept the throw-ins even, 11-11.
“We played much better with the throw-ins, which has been our weakest point,” Sebastian Merlos said. “We fixed that and we are doing much better there.
“We feel good. The horses were amazing. Everyone on the team, the four of us did what we were told to do so things came up pretty easier than before. Audi is a hell of a team. They have been playing together since last year. They are well-organized with horses and all played well. We got some lucky breaks, we didn’t miss many opportunities and the field was amazing. It was a big win.”
In the final two minutes Tincho Merlos came up with another big play when he stopped Pieres’ penalty goal attempt resulting in a safety which Pieres converted to cut the lead to 11-9.
“We played amazing,” Tincho Merlos said. “To beat this team by two it’s not easy. We are pretty happy. We are building the confidence of the team game by game. We want to get as far as we can. But what’s important is we are building the team.”
After both teams lost challenges, Audi had a chance to come within one with 1:38 left but missed a penalty-three. Roldan took possession and connected with Tincho Merlos who also missed a goal attempt with 49 seconds.
“We just wanted to make sure we didn’t foul in the sixth chukker,” Melissa Ganzi said. “We were ahead by two and were really lucky.”
Flexjet converted 10-of-17 field shots and Audi could manage only 4-of-12. Audi converted 5-of-7 penalties and Flexjet 1-of-4. There were 29 total fouls committed.
Brothers and former 10-goalers Tincho and Sebastian Merlos were on top of their game, anticipating each other’s every move on the field. The pair combined for nine goals.
“We know pretty much where we will be,” Sebastian Merlos said. “When we ask for something we know what the other one means and we know it’s going to be there. Without looking, we know all we have to do is hit the ball around where we are.”
Added Tincho Merlos: “Growing up together and playing the same language of polo is a big plus. Obviously, he is an amazing, very strong player. I even use his strength for my way and I take advantage of that. It is a pleasure to play with him.”
For Audi, Pieres had five goals, all on penalty shots. Andrade had three and Marc Ganzi scored one.
“It feels great to beat them, they are the winners from last year,” said Roldan, who scored two goals and played well defensively. “They are always one of the top teams and most competitive. We are just happy to win.
“Today we said we just wanted to come here, we didn’t care about any of the results of the other games. We just wanted to play well and win. The team is going great. We are right back in it.”
In other Thursday bracket games, Dubai defeated Lucchese, 11-6, to remain unbeaten at 3-0 in Bracket I; Orchard Hill topped winless White Birch, 12-10; and Coca-Cola edged Valiente, 12-11, in overtime.
The USPA Gold Cup is the second 26-goal tournament of America's Triple Crown in polo.
Audi, recently rated No. 1 by Consumer Reports as the best auto brand overall, is a valued sponsor with a rich winning tradition in polo. The German automobile manufacturer designs, engineers, produces, markets and distributes luxury automobiles throughout the world including West Palm Beach. Audi, founded in 1909, oversees its worldwide operations from its headquarters in Ingolstadt, Bavaria, Germany.
Flexjet, another valued sponsor, has been a member of the Directional Aviation family of companies since 2013. They are committed to creating premium travel experiences and providing access to the most modern, technologically-advanced aircraft in the industry on a daily basis, going above and beyond world-class private travel experiences.
The Flexjet-Audi game can be viewed on 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 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 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, juan.olivera @gcpolo.com; 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 Saturday featured games of the winter, spring and fall tournament seasons and other special events. Admission is free except for some special events.