Team USA Captures International Cup To Remain Undefeated; Julio Arellano Three-Peats MVP Honors

Team USA players Mike Azzaro, MVP Julio Arellano, Carlitos Gracida and Grant Ganzi with International Cup.  Photo by Sheryel Aschfort

Team USA players Mike Azzaro, MVP Julio Arellano, Carlitos Gracida and Grant Ganzi with International Cup.  Photo by Sheryel Aschfort

WELLINGTON, FL—Nov. 27, 2017---Team USA remained undefeated with a hardfought 9-7 victory over Brazil in the sixth annual USPA International Cup Saturday at Grand Champions Polo Club.

In front of a packed house and worldwide ChukkerTV audience, the team of Grant Ganzi, 2, Carlitos Gracida, 4, Julio Arellano, 8, and Mike Azzaro, 6, led from start-to-finish to turn back the upset-minded Brazilian team of Flavio Castilho, 5, Gustavo Toledo, 5, Guilherme Lins, 5, and Calao Mello, 4.

It was the U.S. team's sixth consecutive victory in the international game and closest margin of victory in a regulation game. Since 2012, the U.S. has defeated England, Chile, Mexico, South Africa and Uruguay. Brazil was playing together for the first time in its U.S. debut.

Nicaragua-born Julio Arellano, rated at 8 goals, has now been a member of three winning lineups for Team USA including 2016 against Uruguay and 2015 against South Africa. The Cardinal Newman and Florida Atlantic University alum and one of America's top-rated polo players won his third consecutive Most Valuable Player award. Arellano scored a game-high five goals.

"This was a great win," Arellano said. "Brazil played really well. It was a great game right to the end. We stayed disciplined. This U.S. team was a lot of fun. I am always honored to represent the U.S. When Marc Ganzi asks me to participate it's always an easy yes. It's always awesome to represent the U.S. That's something that we are all very proud of."

Legendary Hall of Famer and former 10-goaler Mike Azzaro, made his International Cup debut and scored two goals. It was the first time he represented the U.S. since the Westchester Cup four years ago.

"Those guys were tough, they came to win for themselves and their country," Azzaro said. "They are all very good with the ball and strong, physical players. They come to you really hard. They played well. We controlled the game pretty comfortably throughout the whole game and did basically what we needed to do to win."

The youngest members of the team, Gracida, 26, making his third appearance in the International Cup, and Ganzi, 19, a sophomore at Lynn University making his second appearance, each added one goal. 

"It was a good win and I am happy for the U.S.," Ganzi said. "These guys are the face of American polo. To play with three guys like this is as American as it gets."

Two Santa Rita Polo Farm-owned horses were named American Polo Horse Association Best Playing Pony for Brazil and the U.S.--Poker Face, a 9-year-old mare ridden by Lins, and Girl Power, a 7-year-old mare ridden by Ganzi. 

Girl Power's groom Horacio Godoy and Poker Face's groom Augustin Mauhum were each awarded $250 by American Polo Horse Association executive director Tiana Smicklas. The APHA was created in 2006 by the legendary Sunny Hale to recognize polo ponies in America and encourages events that showcase them and hard-working dedication of grooms. 

The game was action-packed from the opening chukker. After a 3-3 first chukker, the U.S. took control outscoring Brazil, 2-0, in the second chukker. After a scoreless third chukker, the U.S. led 5-3 at the half and 8-5 in the fourth and never relinquished its lead going into the fifth and final chukker. The U.S. added another goal for a 9-5 lead early in the final chukker before Brazil tried to rally but fell short.

"We came so close, so close," said Brazil coach Jose Mirelles. 

In the opening game, the Future Legends (Will Jacobs, Santos Bollini, Juancito Bollini, Mariano Gracida) won the Carlos Gracida Legends of Polo Memorial with a 6-5 victory over Team Legends (Charlie Armstrong, Stewart Armstrong, Marc Ganzi, Juan Bollini). Juancito Bollini scored the winning goal with 37 seconds left in the game. Mariano Gracida, 24, was named MVP. His older brother Carlitos Gracida, 26, threw in the first ball of the game.

The doubleheader is a holiday tradition that highlights the biggest week of the fall polo season at Grand Champions Polo Club.  Adding to the flavor of the event was the festive atmosphere provided by a colorful Brazilian troupe of four dancers, two drummers, capoeira and Brazilian national anthem solo and music. Popular local singer and guitarist Tom Blake sang a moving rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner.

The tournament awards for the International Cup designed by Brazilian-born renowned artist Romero Britto were a big hit with players and two lucky auction winners, Kim Jacobs and Olexa Celine, who also went home with the signed prints that featured a polo player in full swing on a polo pony surrounded by a palm tree, heart and whimsical designs of color.

Suri West, one of the most popular restaurants in Palm Beach County, provided finger food including award-winning Italian meatballs to VIP guests including U.S. Polo Assn. President and CEO David Cummings, Steve Orthwein, Dr. Scott Swerdlin, Wellington Mayor Anne Gerwig and award-winning 33-year veteran anchorman Jim Sackett. Joining Suri West was event sponsors Tito's, the official VIP liquor, and Alta Palla flavored sparkling mixers for the VIP bar.

Two artistic attention-grabbers in the VIP tent was the beautifully-designed 3-D ice sculpture with an etched drawing of the International Cup trophy by Styled Ice, Inc. of West Palm Beach and four-tier cake featuring a 2-D design of the trophy by Jennifer Johnson of Johnson's Custom Cakes in Wellington.

Proceeds from the doubleheader and auction benefitted The Museum of Polo and Hall of Fame, a non-profit educational organization, dedicated to fostering an appreciation of the development, history and tradition of the sport of polo by collecting, preserving, exhibiting and interpreting its collections as well as honoring those who have made outstanding contributions to the sport.

During fall, winter and spring seasons, Grand Champions Polo Club, the nation's largest club with 11 well-manicured fields, hosts polo tournaments ranging from six to 26-goal in addition to special events.

Grand Champions Polo Cup attracted a record 72 teams during its 2017 winter season that featured the $100,000 World Cup, $50,000 National 12-Goal, 20-Goal Sterling Cup and 20-Goal Molina Cup, and another 18 teams during the spring season.

Grand Champions Polo Club 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 unique program.