WELLINGTON, Fl., February 26, 2017---In a wild finish, Casablanca won its Sterling Cup opener Sunday in front of a packed house at Grand Champions Polo Club and worldwide ChukkerTV audience.
Early in the seventh chukker, teenager Grant Ganzi scored the winning goal at the 7:07 mark to lead Casablanca to a hardfought 8-7 victory over Audi.
Casablanca’s Harrison Azzaro, Ganzi, Gonzalito Pieres and Rodrigo Andrade dominated most of the game forcing Audi (Marc Ganzi, Juancito Bollini, Nic Roldan, Inaki Laprida) to play catch up.
The crowd was treated to a wide open, fast-paced physical battle featuring some of the world’s top players in the Sterling Cup’s return after a 16-year hiatus.
Casablanca had a two goal lead in the second (3-1), third (4-2), fourth (5-3) and fifth chukkers (7-5) until Audi, shook off its mental errors and missed scoring opportunities, to tie the game at 7-7 with3:44 left on Roldan’s lofted 60-goal penalty shot.
Casablanca got balanced scoring out of its attack. Ganzi led with three goals, Andrade and Azzaro had two goals, and Pieres added one goal.
“I scored the goal and I was really happy, especially since I think I stopped Rodrigo’s goal that was going in,” said Ganzi, 18, a freshman at Lynn University. “Rodrigo hit it and I put my mallet up because I knew it was going to go in. But then my horse stopped it. When I saw it kicked forward I knew I had to go for it.
“This was a really good win for our team, winning in overtime is never easy,” Ganzi said. “It was a hardfought game and it was fun. It was nice to beat them. I knew they would come out a little stronger. They are a good team and played really well. They changed a lot.”
Ganzi, a 2-goaler, played well when marking Roldan, an 8-goaler and top-ranked American. On one play Ganzi rode Roldan out of the way to open up a scoring opportunity for Pieres.
Pieres and Andrade, both nine-goalers, are using the Sterling Cup as a tuneup for the 26-goal Gold Cup and U.S. Open tournaments.
“It was good fun, maybe it would have been better to win before the overtime,” said Pieres, whose legendary father Gonzalo, competed and won several Sterling Cups. “It was a tough game, but it was good.
“It’s always good to win the first game and get the confidence going for the young players,” Pieres said. “It was quite good Grant ended up scoring the winning goal. He had two chances to win it before and he missed it. He had a third chance and he put it in.”
At 16, it was Harrison Azzaro’s 20-goal debut. Azzaro is the son of former 10-goaler Mike Azzaro, one of the top American players of all-time. Azzaro and his family watched from the sidelines. After the game his son rushed off to play a low goal game at a nearby field.
“He played great, it was his first 20-goal game,” said his father. “He looked awesome out there. He is doing great. It was fun. He is going to learn a lot playing with Gonzalito and Rodrigo. Most important thing is God kept him safe.”
Two games are scheduled for Monday. Travieso (Tony Calle, Torito Ruiz, Hugo Barabucci, Sebastian Merlos) plays Valiente (Rob Jornayvaz, Roberto Zedda, Diego Cavanah, Pablo Spinacci) at Valiente at 11 a.m. Dutta Corp (Timmy Dutta, Carlitos Gracida, Matias Magrini, Piki Diaz Alberdi) faces Flexjet (Benjamin Avendano, Jesse Bray, Lucas Lalor, Alejandro Novillo Astrada) at 4 p.m. at Grand Champions’ Field One.
The Sterling Cup is one of two classic and prestigious tournaments that the nation’s busiest and most innovative polo club has revived thanks to generosity of Glenn Straub of Palm Beach Polo, where the tournaments were last played.
Club owners Melissa and Marc Ganzi hope to recapture the legacy and prestige of polo’s hey days. If Sunday’s game is any indication of the seven-team tournament caliber of play, polo fans are in for a treat over the next two weeks.
The Sterling Cup was the second tournament of the 22-goal season at Palm Beach Polo after the January Challenge Cup. It was considered the 22-goal championship and attracted as many as 18 teams. It was first played in 1989 at the 18-22 handicap.
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.
The Polo School at Grand Champions, 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.
2017 STERLING CUP SCHEDULE
Feb. 27, Monday, Travieso at Valiente, 11 a.m., Dutta Corp vs. Flexjet at GC Field One, 4 p.m.; March 2, Thursday, Flexjet vs. Audi, 10 a.m., Palm Beach Equine vs. Travieso, 12:30 p.m., Dutta Corp vs. Casablanca, 3 p.m.; March 5, Sunday, Flexjet vs. Casablanca, 10 a.m.; Valiente vs. Palm Beach Equine, 10 a.m., Dutta Corp vs. Audi, noon; March 8, Mini-Quarters, noon and 3 p.m.; March 11, Saturday, Semifinals,noon and 3 p.m.; March 14, Monday, One Game, 3 p.m.;Wednesday, March 15, Finals, 3 p.m.; Thursday, March 16, Santa Rita Final, 3 p.m.
GRAND CHAMPIONS POLO CLUB
WHERE: 13444 Southfields Road, on the corner of South Shore Boulevard and Lake Worth Road, Wellington, 33414.
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, Flexjet and Casablanca. 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.