WELLINGTON, Fl., March 12, 2017---It was only a matter of time before Travieso would find its chemistry to dominate an opponent by more than one goal in Sterling Cup action.
The foursome of Tony Calle, Torito Ruiz, Sebastian Merlos and Hugo Barabucci put together a total team effort to knock off previously unbeaten Dutta Corp, 11-6, in the opening semifinal of the Sterling Cup on Saturday at windswept Grand Champions Polo Club.
Travieso will meet the winner of Monday’s other semifinal between Casablanca and Valiente, set for4 p.m. at Valiente Farm. The winners will meet inWednesday’s final at Grand Champions at 3 p.m.
In front of a good crowd and worldwide ChukkerTV audience, Travieso led from start-to-finish with offensive firepower and swarming defense, never allowing Dutta Corp (Timmy Dutta, Carlitos Gracida, Piki Diaz Alberdi, Matias Magrini) to find its rhythm or offensive attack.
Argentine 9-goaler Sebastian Merlos was named Most Valuable Player. The team leader scored a game-high seven goals including four penalty conversions. Ruiz had two goals. Calle and Barabucci each had one goal.
Magrini led Dutta Corp, one of the hottest teams in the seven-team tournament, with four goals. Gracida added one goal and the 19-goal rated team picked up a goal on handicap.
Merlos’ homebred 9-year-old Guri mare Pipi was named Best Playing Pony.
Playing together for the first time as a team, Travieso’s charmed path to the final included a tournament-opening 9-8 loss to Valiente and victories over Palm Beach Equine, 9-8, and Audi, 12-11.
“We had a weak start against Valiente, but since then we have come together as a team and started playing better and better,” Merlos said. “We always play to win. We just needed to work on our confidence.
“We needed to play games together as a team, Every time you go to the field you have 50-50 chance. Our horses went very well. We outpowered them with horses. I think we had a good game. We didn’t let them maneuver the ball which they are really good at.”
After Dutta Corp took a 1-0 lead on handicap, Travieso jumped on them for a 3-1 advantage after the first chukker. Travieso continued to build its momentum in the first half and shut Dutta Corp out in the third chukker for a 6-3 halftime advantage.
Travieso maintained at least a two-goal advantage in the fourth and fifth chukkers before pulling way in the final chukker after scoring three unanswered points at the end of the fifth and beginning of the sixth.
“We wanted to have possession of the ball and open up the game to spread Alberdi and Magrini out,” Merlos said.
Travieso has a good blend of young up-and-coming players in Calle, 22, and Ruiz, 18 along with experienced players Barabucci and Merlos.
“The young kids are amazing and improving every game,” Merlos said. “They are understanding a bit more what we need. They had an awesome game.”
Calle, coming off three days sick in bed with a fever, said having Merlos and Barabucci as teammates has been an invaluable experience.
“It feels great going to the final,” Calle said. “Today it feels great to win playing here with all my friends. It is amazing.
“I feel we finally came up and scored the goals that we had to in the first chukker and maintained the lead. We were up by either two or three. It felt great to be winning the entire game, better than hoping to make a comeback.”
Calle said Travieso stuck to its gameplan, covering the man and taking advantage of Dutta Corp’s broken plays while remaining disciplined and listening to its field general.
“Sebe is amazing with the read that he gets from the field,” Calle said. “He knows where the ball is going to be and the men are going to be before the play develops. With him giving us instructions how to help him out just helps the team out.”
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 held.
Club owners Melissa and Marc Ganzi hope to recapture the legacy and prestige of polo’s hey days.
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
March 14, Monday, Semifinal: Casablanca vs. Valiente at Valiente, 4 p.m.; Wednesday, March 15, Final, 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.