WELLINGTON, Fl., April 14, 2017----In what promises to be one of the best finals of the season at Grand Champions Polo Club, the $100,000 World Cup will pit underdog Palm Beach Illustrated against powerhouse Valiente I on Saturday at 4 p.m.
Valiente I (Bautista Panelo, Robertito Zedda, Pablo Spinacci, Gringo Colombres), a 16-goal rated team, advanced into the final with a lopsided 16-9 victory over Orchard Hill in the opening semifinal on Thursday.
In the second semifinal, Palm Beach Illustrated (Jared Zenni, Santi Torres, Agustin Obregon, Tommy Collingwood), a 21-goal rated team, stunned Valiente II, 17-12, in the second semifinal to spoil what was expected to be an all-Valiente final.
Both semifinals were hosted at windswept Valiente Polo Farm.
Valiente patron Bob Jornayvaz was one of the first to congratulate the Palm Beach Illustrated players in the players’ tent after the game.
“We have to come up with a team now,” smiled Jornayvaz while shaking every players’ hand.
While Palm Beach Illustrated will stay with the talented roster that has brought it to the dance, Valiente I is expected to increase the team’s goal-rating for the winner-take-all final.
VALIENTE I 16, ORCHARD HILL 9
The charmed path ended one game shy of the final for Orchard Hill (Frank Evans, Max Secunda, Felipe Vercellino, Lucas Criado), a 15-goal team.
Valiente I, led by Colombres’ 10-goal barrage, had too much horsepower and chemistry to allow Orchard Hill to challenge.
Orchard Hill opened with a one-goal advantage but that was shortlived when Colombres started pounding away at the goal.
Panelo, 20, the youngest member of the team, added three goals, Spinacci had two and Zedda had one. Criado led Orchard Hill with seven goals and Vercillino added two.
Valiente I led 4-2, 8-4 and 10-6 at the half. While Criado and Vercellino continued to be a formidable one-two combination, Valiente I had too much firepower to overtake and continued to pull away in the second half.
It was Colombres’ debut with the team.
“This was an important game to win,” Colombres said. “This is my first time with this team. I know them but we never played together. It was really fun, it was a great game.
“We had the horses,” Colombres said. “The organization is the best I have seen in the world. It is a pleasure to be here and play those horses.”
Zedda’s horse, Silicona, an 8-year-old Bay mare, was named the game’s Best Playing Pony.
PALM BEACH ILLUSTRATED 17, VALIENTE II 12
With two members of Valiente’s U.S. Open team, Matias Torres Zavaleta and Diego Cavanagh in the lineup along with Rob Jornayvaz and Tomas Garcia del Rio, Valiente II was favored to make it an all-Valiente final.
Palm Beach Illustrated, despite impressive wins over International Polo Club (14-8) and GSA (9-8, OT) may have been the underdog going into the game but didn’t play that way.
“We’re really happy, we knew this was going to be tough going into it,” Zenni said. “It was a big challenge for us to overcome and luckily we got it done. We had a good day.
“It’s a big win. It’s always big to beat Valiente and the organization. It’s one of the best in the world.”
After feeling each other out in the first half, Valiente II took an 8-7 lead. Palm Beach Illustrated, too amped up in the second and third chukkers, settled down in the second half and started playing its game.
“We were just rushing, rushing, rushing,” Collingwood said. “We had to take a breather, take a step back and just regroup.”
Palm Beach Illustrated, with a swarming defense while backing each other up offensively, overwhelmed Valiente II, outscoring them 3-1 in the fourth chukker for a 10-9 advantage after Collingwood won the throw-in and sent a big hit towards Zenni in front of the goal for the score.
Palm Beach Illustrated kicked it into another gear in the fifth chukker scoring four consecutive goals for a 4-1 advantage and 14-10 lead after five chukkers.
“The fifth chukker is always the most important chukker,” Obregon said. “We started playing our game and they started following our game. We thought it was going to be a close game. It was really tough. The score doesn’t show that.
"The first half we were a little nervous and then we stopped being nervous and started playing our game. We are really happy to be in the final, this was one of my biggest wins. Now we play Valiente again.”
Obregon scored on back-to-back penalty shots from 30 and 60 yards out. Collingwood won another throw-in and found Torres for the pass who took it the length of the field for another goal. In what was probably the shot of the day, Torres scored on an incredible neck shot with very little angle between two defenders.
“We just stuck to our game plan,” Zenni said. “We came out in the second half saying that we needed to be a little quicker on the man and hit it more on the first time. It worked a lot more in the fifth chukker.”
The sixth chukker was just as impressive with Obregon finding Zenni open for a goal at the 6:52 mark, Collingwood converting a 40-yard penalty and Torres scoring off another big pass from Collingwood.
“I’m very happy,” Collingwood said. “I remember before the fifth chukker talking about being patient and hit the ball to goal. It was something very simple we kept in our heads. Then all of a sudden goal, goal, goal. We started making a little bit of a gap.
“We never thought we would get to the final, this is a tough tournament,” Collingwood said. “We were just hoping to get past the first game. Just to be on the field with all those guys was awesome. To play against two quarters of their U.S. Open and great horses and beat them is just icing on the cake.”
Zenni led the team with six goals. Torres and Obregon each had four and Collingwood added one. Cavanagh scored a game-high eight goals including one in the final seconds of the game and six on penalty conversions.
The four teammates and friends grew up through the Wellington-based Polo Training Foundation.
“We play for each other and respect each other,” Torres said of the team’s chemistry.
Torres’ horse Mini Watt, an 8-year-old thoroughbred was named the game’s Best Playing Pony. Torres played him three times including the fifth chukker.
“This was an amazing win for the team, we have one more to go, which is going to be even tougher,” Torres said. “We were too jacked up in the first half. We needed to calm down a little bit and play a little smarter.”
In each World Cup game, an American Polo Horse Association Best Playing Pony is selected by a committee. The horse’s groom is awarded $250.
Created in 2006 by legendary polo pioneer Sunny Hale, the association recognizes polo ponies in America and encourages events that showcase them.
In each World Cup game, a horse that is registered with the APHA, will be selected BPP and its groom given $250. For the final, a BPP for the final, BPP for the overall tournament and third BPP, even if not registered with the APHA, will be selected. Each groom will earn $2,500, according to executive director Tiana Smicklas.
The World Cup is the second of two classic and prestigious tournaments that Grand Champions owners and high goal polo players Melissa and Marc Ganzi are reviving thanks to the generosity of Glenn Straub of Palm Beach Polo, where they were last played in the late 1990s. The first tournament they revived was the Sterling Cup.
The prestigious World Cup is a tournament steeped in history. American businessman and polo player Bill Ylvisaker, then CEO of a Fortune 200 battery company in Chicago, created the Gould World Polo Championship with a prize purse of $150,000.
It was first held in 1976 at the Butler Polo Grounds in Oak Brook, Illinois.
Ylvisaker's staff sent out invitations to countries all over the world known to have top-ranked pro polo teams.Three teams from the United States were recruited and joined Mexico, India, England and Argentina in the field. The inaugural event was won by Argentina, attracted great crowds and was deemed a success.
In 1977, Ylvisaker bought 2,000 acres to develop a polo resort. The Palm Beach Polo and Country Club was built with 14 polo fields and soon became the polo capital of the world.
The first season at the new club featured the $150,000 Michelob World Cup Polo Championship. Held April 3-15, it was the highlight of the season attracting top players and sponsors from around the world. Back then it was the world’s richest and one of the most significant polo championships.
In 1988, Landmark purchased the club for $25 million and continued the club’s growth until it was sold at auction in 1993 to Straub.
The tournament is being live-streamed on Wellington-based ChukkerTV, worldwide leaders in polo broadcasting.
Grand Champions Polo Club, with 11 well-manicured polo fields, 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 in all walks of life opportunities in polo. The Polo School operates in Wellington January through June and September through November.
2017 GRAND CHAMPIONS WINTER SCHEDULE
(Subject to change because of weather and scheduling conflicts).
APRIL: $100,000 World Cup Tournament (0-26 Goals, winner take all), Saturday Final, Valiente I vs. Palm Beach Illustrated, 4 p.m. at Grand Champions Polo Club, Field 2.
APRIL: Las Acacias (4-8 Goals).
APRIL 21-23: GCPC Abierto.
APRIL 28-30: USPA Eastern Challenge.
MAY 5-7: USPA Sun Cup
MAY 12-14: The Spring Challenge Cup.
MAY 19-21: Polo Gear Invitational.
MAY 26-29: The Memorial.
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 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.