WELLINGTON, Fl., March 24, 2016---Playing one of its best defensive games of the high goal season, Audi defeated Orchard Hill, 12-10, to return to the final of the USPA Gold Cup Sunday at International Polo Club Palm Beach.
The defending champion (3-1) will face undefeated Dubai (4-0), making its U.S. debut this season.
Led by the world's top player, Adolfo Cambiaso, Dubai advanced with an 11-9 victory over Coca-Cola in the other Wednesday semifinal.
In the subsidiary final, Valiente will play White Birch at noon in the Tesoro Cup. The championship begins at 3 p.m. in front of an expected sellout crowd at Engel and Volkers Field and worldwide ChukkerTV audience.
The much-anticipated Audi (Marc Ganzi, Rodrigo Andrade, Gonzalito Pieres, Freddie Mannix)-Orchard Hill (Steve Van Andel, Julian de Lussareta, Facundo Pieres, Hilario Ulloa) game, a rematch of last year's USPA Gold Cup final, lived up to expectations in front of a packed house.
"To reach the finals two year in a row is a testament to our organization," said Ganzi, who also won the Gold Cup title in 2011. "This is the first game all season we really communicated well.
"I think we re-discovered our edge a little bit," Ganzi said. "We understand that defense leads to offense and that's what we did today. I'm happy."
Playing in front of their legendary father, Gonzalo Sr., brothers Gonzalito and Facundo Pieres, playing with a broken right index finger, were pitted against each other. Nine-goaler Hilario Ulloa replaced an injured 10-goaler Polito Pieres, who suffered a separated shoulder in the quarterfinals.
"We played good defense when we had to," said Mannix, who credited Audi coach Hector Guerrero for making adjustments to the game plan. "It showed, we scored off the adjustments.
"We haven't been playing our style of game and we know that, we really haven't been clicking," Mannix said. "But today I think all four of us can leave the field and know that we played well together. I am very proud of everyone in the barn and it feels good. This was one of our best games of the season, no doubt. We wanted to be back here defending the title on Sunday. We have one more to go."
The physical, hotly-contested game was close until the final four minutes of the last chukker. The lead changed hands eleven times before Gonzalito Pieres scored three goals in the sixth chukker to give Audi the win.
Pieres tied the game at 10-10 converting a 40-yard penalty shot to open the chukker. With 3:23 left, Pieres scored on an incredible reverse neck shot. Two minutes later, Pieres scored an insurance goal after Ulloa missed a back shot and Pieres took advantage of the broken play with another goal.
Gonzalito Pieres scored a game-high seven goals including four on penalty shots. Andrade had three goals and Mannix added two goals.
"It's great to make it to another final," Gonzalito Pieres said. "Today we played a lot better as a team. I'm very happy. We have a good team. It's good to make it to another final."
Audi rebounded from its only tournament loss, an 11-9 decision to Flexjet. Both pro teams are based at Grand Champions Polo Club
"I think the Flexjet game was a huge wakeup call," Ganzi said. "We took a long look at what we were doing and how lazy we were in the marking.
"We had a really good team practice game against Dubai on Sunday where I think we regained a little bit of an edge in our confidence. We talked last night about being super physical, clean physical on top of the man."
Ulloa scored a team-high six goals bringing his tournament total to 26 goals and 108 overall for the IPC season.
"The whole game flowed through Hilario," Ganzi said. "It was interesting, it didn't flow through Facundo. Hilario wants the energy to flow through him and he's a hell of a player."
Orchard Hill 10-goaler Facundo Pieres was held to one goal. De Lussareta had two goals.
The USPA Gold Cup is the second 26-goal tournament of America's Triple Crown in polo.
"Every game is really tough," Ganzi said. "Last year I think we surprised people. I think this year we don't surprise people. We went from being the hunter to the hunted this year."
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.
The Audi-Orchard Hill was livestreamed 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 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 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 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 24, Thursday, Smithfield vs. Horseware, 2 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, email@example.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.