By Sharon Robb
WELLINGTON, Fla., October 14, 2018---Casablanca captured the fall season-opening Tackeria Invitational Sunday at Grand Champions Polo Club, but it wasn't easy.
In front of a good crowd on an unseasonably hot day, Casablanca (Grant Ganzi, Juancito Bollini, Julio Gracida, Mariano Gracida) won a hardfought 10-9 overtime decison over Flexjet (Santos Bollini, Lucas Escobar, Kris Kampsen, Juan Bollini).
Flexjet controlled most of the game until the sixth chukker when the game was tied twice, 8-8 and 9-9, before Mariano Gracida scored the winning goal in a crowd of players around the goal mouth to clinch the victory.
Gracida, the youngest son of Hall of Famer and former 10-goaler Carlos Gracida, was named Most Valuable Player. He scored four goals including one in the sixth chukker to tie the game and game-winner in overtime.
The game-winner materialized when Gracida hit a good knock-in to Bollini who hit to Ganzi. All four players pushed toward the goal mouth and Gracida came up with the ball and goal.
"I knew I had the line and no one could go for it so I just got there quick, took my time and tapped it in," Mariano Gracida said. "It feels great to win. I was just worried about playing well. I know it's the first week and everyone is going at their own pace. It's always good to win the first tournament of the season.
"Today was the hottest day for both the horses and players," Gracida said. "I think we had a lot of confidence off our first game which took away from our second game. I think today we started off with too much confidence. We weren't playing as a team in the first half. At halftime we decided to be calmer when hitting the ball and let them make the mistakes. We played our positions a little bit more, took our time and relied on each other."
Cupid, a 6-year-old gelding owned and played by Julio Gracida, was selected Best Playing Pony for the second time this year. In April, Cupid was Best Playing Pony in the USPA Eastern Challenge at Santa Rita Polo Farm.
Ganzi also scored four goals for Casablanca. Juancito Bollini added two goals and Julio Gracida was the big-hitting playmaker and anchor on defense.
"It was a good game, it was two strong teams playing up in polo," said Julio Gracida, son of Hall of Famer and former 10-goal polo great Memo Gracida. "We are just exhausted, it was a hot day but we played great polo. It was hitting and running. Both teams played at a higher level. We're just not ready for that right now, it's just the beginning of the season."
Despite both horses and players being exhausted and soaked in sweat, Casablanca came out poised in the overtime period.
"We just wanted to simplify things and not rush," Julio Gracida said. "We didn't want to overdo things, just hit it forward and hit it backwards and respect your teammates. It was a good team effort. We just rotated really well. I'm very happy to win, it's good to be back."
Sixteen-year-old Lucas Escobar led Flexjet with three goals. Kris Kampsen and Juan Bollini each had two goals and Santos Bollini added one goal.
Casablanca was the youngest team in the tournament averaging 22 years in age. The foursome are childhood friends who have played with and against each other for years.
Added Juancito Bollini, "We couldn't score goals. It was really hard for us to score today. We couldn't make the penalties either. It was tougher on the horses and it was very hot today. I feel fortunate to come out with a win especially how many goals we missed. We felt like we deserved it so we are happy. It wasn't the prettiest goal but it was a goal anyways."
In Friday's qualifying games, Flexjet advanced into the final with an 11-9 win over Santa Clara and Casablanca dominated Sebucan for a 9-5 victory.
In the tournament's subsidiary game on Saturday, Santa Clara (Fernando Chavarria, Whistle Uys, Brandon Phillips, Luis Escobar), trailing by as many as four goals, rallied in the sixth chukker against Sebucan (Carlitos Gracida, Pablo Pulido, Marc Ganzi, Pablo Dorignac).
In the final minutes of the game Marc Ganzi broke a 9-9 tie with a 60-yard penalty conversion. With less than a minute left, Brandon Phillips worked the ball out of a crowd of players to tie and end the game at 10-10.
Santa Clara's Whistle Uys was named Most Valuable Player. He scored three goals and gave Sebucan fits on defense. Ganzi finished with a game-high four goals including two penalty conversions.
The 12th annual Tackeria Invitational is the first of six medium-goal tournaments in addition to 20-goal action during the fall season. The tournament has always had a special place in club history as the inaugural tournament when the club first opened in 2007.
"This was a great way to start the season," said Tackeria owner, USPA President and longtime Wellington resident Tony Coppola. "It was a really exciting final going into overtime. Glad to see so many people out here supporting Grand Champions in the fall season.
"I'm looking forward to the season here with the culmination of the International Cup on Thanksgiving weekend."
The much-anticipated fall season is a tuneup for the winter season for players and green horses. The winter season will feature the debut of the highly-anticipated 26-goal World Polo League at Grand Champions and Valiente Polo Farm featuring 10-goalers Adolfo Cambiaso, Pablo MacDonough, Pelon Sterling and Juan Martin Nero.
The Tackeria Invitational has a history of exciting finishes. In last year's tournament final, Audi (Marc Ganzi, Jason Crowder, Brandon Phillips, Carlitos Gracida) rallied in the final chukker to defeat Casablanca (Grant Ganzi, Andres LaPlacette, Pablo Dorignac, Juan Bollini), 11-10, in overtime at Santa Rita Polo Farm.
The Tackeria, a longtime supporter of polo and Grand Champions, has one of the most complete selections of equestrian equipment in the world, importing goods from all over Europe, the Far East and South America to create the best selection of quality items for its customers.
It is a go-to source for equipment, supplies, fashion and gifts for the hunter/jumper, dressage and polo disciplines. The Tackeria is located on the corner of Pierson Rd. and South Shore at 13501 South Shore Blvd.
Grand Champions is one of the nation's busiest and most innovative polo clubs, hosting both medium and high goal polo highlighted by the Triple Crown of Polo Tournament and International Cup.
Among the highlights of the season are the Oct. 15-27 USPA North American Cup, Nov. 3-17 USPA National 20-Goal Championship; Nov. 14 Triple Crown of Polo Tournament and Romero Britto Celebration; and Nov. 24 doubleheader featuring the Legends of Polo Carlos Gracida Memorial and International Cup.
The fall season attracts players from all over the United States and world including Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Ecuador, England, France, India, Mexico, New Zealand, Nigeria and South Africa.
Grand Champions had its finest fall season in club history last year. Grand Champions was the only club in the nation to stage two USPA-sanctioned 20-goal fall tournaments and again is hosting two 20-goal tournament this season
The Grand Champions Fall Invitational League is geared toward improving a player's polo skills at every level. Roster lineups change from tournament to tournament with evenly-matched teams featuring pro and amateur players.
Club owners Marc and Melissa Ganzi, both accomplished players, take pride in teaching and sharing the exciting sport of polo with anyone interested in learning. The husband and wife team are coming off a successful summer season at their Aspen Valley Polo Club which concluded over Labor Day Weekend.
The fall league features: stick-and-ball sessions during the week; two medium tournament games every weekend; ambulance and USPA umpires for all tournament games; world-class polo fields; club-sponsored social events every weekend for all players; and top-of-the-line trophies for all teams every weekend.
The Polo School, a 501c3 organization and stand-alone USPA club, is dedicated to teaching polo to all ages, particularly grass roots youth. Its mission is to provide individuals opportunities in polo at every economic and ability level. Scholarships are available. The Polo School operates in Wellington January through June and September through November. For more information on the Fall Leagues or Polo School contact Juan Bollini at 561-346-1099.
Wellington-based ChukkerTV will live stream the entire fall season. ChukkerTV's state-of-the art technology also features team challenges and instant replay which made their debut at Grand Champions in January, 2014.
Grand Champions and Santa Rita Polo Farm annually hosts polo tournaments ranging from six to 26-goal in addition to special events at its well-manicured fields during the fall, winter and spring seasons.
Grand Champions Polo Club and Santa Rita Polo Farm cater 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 at the turnkey facility.