WELLINGTON, Fl., April 4, 2017---Coca-Cola held off Flexjet in the final chukker to capture the USPA Butler Handicap Cup with a 12-9 victory Sunday at International Polo Club Palm Beach.
Flexjet made its high goal season debut with a makeshift lineup. Regulars Melissa Ganzi, Rodrigo Andrade and Gonzalito Pieres were joined by substitute Nic Roldan, who was playing for Nico Pieres, who arrived from Dubai on Saturday.
The foursome played well against the veteran Coca-Cola team of Gillian Johnston, Julian de Lusarreta, Julio Arellano and Miguel Novillo Astrada but missed key scoring opportunities down the stretch.
Coca-Cola was coming off last Sunday’s USPA Gold Cup final loss to Valiente. It was Coca-Cola’s first 26-goal tournament win of the season.
Johnston was named Most Valuable Player after scoring five goals and rallying her team. Johnston’s horse Luna, owned by G-String Polo Ponies, was named Best Playing Pony.
Coca-Cola broke open a close game against Flexjet in the fifth chukker on Engel and Volkers Field.
Flexjet, led by Pieres and Andrade, came within one goal in the third chukker and tied Coca-Cola in the fourth chukker before Coca-Cola got hot in the fifth chukker.
“This Flexjet team today was a very strong combination,” Arellano said. “Our plan going in was to mark up very tight, man-on-man, and move the ball a lot. We wanted to open it up, and we did in some spurts but they stayed on us. In the last chukker, we were able to pull ahead. Gillian did great and was very deserving of MVP.”
Astrada added four goals and Arellano had three goals for Coca-Cola while de Lusaretta was outstanding on defense turning back three Flexjet scoring attempts in the second half.
It was the first win for legendary Hall of Famer and former 10-goaler Memo Gracida, who is coaching Coca-Cola.
Pieres scored a game-high seven goals for Flexjet and Andrade added two.
Coca-Cola dominated the throw-ins, 18-12. Coca-Cola converted 10-of-15 shots from the field while Flexjet could manage only 5-of-10. Flexjet converted 4-of-5 penalties with Pieres converting four penalty-two shots.
The game pitted the only two women, Ganzi and Johnston, playing high goal polo this season.
The game served as a tune-up for Flexjet for this week’s U.S. Open opening game against Audi on Thursday at 11 a.m. at IPC. Both pro teams are based at Grand Champions Polo Club. Audi’s lineup is Marc Ganzi, Nic Roldan, Magoo Laprida and Alejandro Novillo Astrada.
Defending champion Orchard Hill, Valiente, Coca-Cola and Travieso round out the six-team field.
The U.S. Open begins on Wednesday with Orchard Hill playing Valiente at 5 p.m. in a rematch of last year’s final.
Orchard Hill is led by 10-goalers Facundo Pieres and his cousin Polito Pieres, Juan Chavanne and Steve Van Andel.
Valiente, after winning the first two jewels of the Triple Crown, the C.V. Whitney and USPA Gold Cup, is hoping to win the organization’s first Triple Crown. The team is led by Cambiaso, Diego Cavanagh, Matias Torres Zavaleta and Bob Jornayvaz.
Travieso is one of the winningest teams at Grand Champions Polo Club. The Ecuador-based team started two years ago in medium goal and quickly worked its way to 20-goal.
More recently, Travieso, led by Argentine 9-goaler and MVP Sebastian Merlos, won both the prestigious Sterling Cup and Molina Cup, both 20-goal tournaments at Grand Champions.
“I think this is a great opportunity for the organization and I think we are ready,” Merlos said. The only question remains whether father Teo or son Tony, 22, a junior at Lynn University, will play. Teo Calle missed the Molina Cup final with a back injury.
The U.S. Open will be live streamed on USPA Polo Network with content provided by Wellington-based ChukkerTV, worldwide leaders in polo broadcasting. The U.S. Open Polo final will be re-broadcast on CBS, April 30 at 2 p.m.
The Butler Handicap Cup was a late addition to the schedule this season. Only two teams entered the tournament.
The Butler Handicap Cup, a USPA national tournament, was played last year at Greenwich Polo Club during its 20-goal season and won by White Birch (Santino Magrini, Hilario Ulloa, MVP Mariano Aguerre, Peter Brant).
The Cup, established in 1954, is named in honor of Paul Butler, in his early 60s at the time, as a subsidiary for the U.S. Open held at Oak Brook Polo Club in Illinois. In the late 90s and early 2000s, the Butler was played only a handful of times (1995, 2006, 2007) and in more recent times (2008-2014) served as a subsidiary to the USPA Gold Cup. In 2014 it was named an official national USPA event. This season the Cup returns to 26-goal status.
Flexjet has been a member of the Directional Aviation family of companies since 2013. They are committed to creating premium travel experiences and providing access to the most modern, technologically-advanced aircraft in the industry on a daily basis, going above and beyond world-class private travel experiences and unlike anything else in the sky.
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 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 4-15: $100,000 World Cup Tournament (0-26 Goals, single-elimination), Tuesday, 10 a.m., Audi at Valiente; 4 p.m., Flexjet at Valiente; Wednesday, 10 a.m., IPC vs. Villa del Lago; noon, La Dalila vs. Equuleus at Santa Rita; 3 p.m., Sebucan vs. The Polo School at Santa Rita; Thursday, 10 a.m., Casa Dio vs. GSA; Friday, 4:30 p.m., Orchard Hill vs. Travieso; Saturday, 4 p.m., San Saba vs. Deerridge; Second round, April 9-10.
APRIL 5-25: 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.
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 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.