By Sharon Robb
WELLINGTON, Fla., October 24, 2018----Two tournaments over four days highlight polo action this week at Grand Champions Polo Club.
The USPA North American Cup, the club's first of two 20-goal tournaments of the fall season, begins Thursday with two semifinal games. The winners advance to the championship game on Saturday.
On Thursday in the first semifinal at 10 a.m., Flexjet plays Travieso on Field 3. In the second semifinal at 4:30 p.m. on either Field 4 or 5, Audi plays Gracida Wines. On Saturday, the final and subsidiary games are 10 a.m. and 11:45 a.m. With father and son Pite and Juan Cruz Merlos playing together for the first time at Grand Champions, Travieso looks to be the team to beat.
The team rosters and handicaps are:
Flexjet (16): Melissa Ganzi, Pablo Dorignac, Kris Kampsen, Juan Bollini.
Travieso (18): Grant Ganzi, Juan Cruz Merlos, Juan Ignacio (Pite) Merlos, Tony Calle.
Audi (16): Marc Ganzi, Wes Finlayson, Pablo Spinacci, Brandon Phillips.
Gracida Wines (16): Whistle Uys, Carlitos Gracida, Julio Gracida, Mariano Gracida.
In last year's USPA North American Cup, Casablanca (Grant Ganzi, Juancito Bollini, MVP Mike Azzaro, Julio Arellano) defeated Audi (Guille Aguero, Brandon Phillips, Marc Ganzi, Carlucho Arellano), 11-9, in a wild game to the finish. It was Casablanca's second USPA North American Cup title in tournament history.
Team USPA member Grant Ganzi has won the tournament three times. He also won with Flexjet and Casablanca with a different lineup.
"Everybody wanted to win and that's what happens," MVP Julio Arellano said after last year's final. "Winning one of the 20-goal tournaments here is always awesome."
The USPA North American Cup has a rich tradition in history dating back to 1974. The tournament has been a mainstay in American and Canadian polo for decades at the 16 and 20-goal level.
The inaugural winner was Tulsa with Hall of Famers John T. Oxley and Billy Linfoot, Corky Linfoot and Jim MacGinley. During the late 1990s and early 2000s Calgary Polo Club hosted the tournament. The tournament has been held at Grand Champions since 2011.
The Fall Classic will be held Friday and Sunday. On Friday, Audi (Marc Ganzi, Justin Daniels, Kris Kampsen, Brandon Phillips) plays Sebucan (Pablo Pulido, Whistle Uys, Julio Gracida, TBA) at 5 p.m. The final is Sunday at 10 a.m.
In last year's Fall Classic, Casablanca (Cacho Galindo, Grant Ganzi, Juancito Bollini, MVP Mike Azzaro) also won with a 9-8 victory over Team USPA (Matias Gonzalez, Jesse Bray, Felipe Viana, Jimmy Wright).
The Fall Classic is the third of six medium-goal touraments in addition to 20-goal action during the season. Casablanca (MVP Mariano Gracida, Juancito Bollini, Julio Gracida, Grant Ganzi) won the season-opening Tackeria Invitational and Sebucan (Pablo Pulido, Juancito Bollini, MVP Whistle Uys, Carlitos Gracida) won the US Trust Cup last weekend.
World-renown polo announcer Jan-Erik Franck is calling the action during the fall season, St. Regis World Snow Polo Championship in Aspen in December and winter season at Grand Champions. Franck, popular among fans, makes it both entertaining and educational. He has been a polo announcer at various tournaments around the world for more than 20 years.
Grand Champions is one of the few USPA-sanctioned clubs that offers fall polo. The fall season is a good tuneup for the winter season for players and green horses. The winter season features 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 fall season is important to us because it is a continuation of the sport and shows the world you can play polo twelve months a year," said Grand Champions Director of Operations Juan Bollini. "It's good, competitive polo and the best time of the year with great weather and great fields in October and November after five months of rest."
Grand Champions is one of the nation's busiest and most innovative polo clubs, hosting both medium and high goal polo in the fall highlighted by the Triple Crown of Polo Tournament and International Cup.
Among season highlights are the 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.
This year's Nov. 24 International Cup will feature defending champion Team USA against Azerbaijan. This year the U.S. team will put its six-year winning streak on the line against Azerbaijan, known as the Land of Fire and Ice, and one of the most improved polo teams in the world. Recently, Azerbaijan finished runner-up to Italy in the FIP European Championship.
Last year Team USA ( Grant Ganzi, Carlitos Gracida, Julio Arellano, Mike Azzaro) defeated Brazil, 9-7, to capture the sixth annual International Cup event. Arellano was named Most Valuable Player for the third consecutive year. Since 2012, Team USA has defeated England, Chile, Mexico, South Africa and Uruguay in International Cup history.
The well-organized fall tournaments attract 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.
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 hosts polo tournaments ranging from six to 26-goal during the winter season 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.
The Polo School, a 501c3 organization and stand-alone USPA club, is also open at Grand Champions and Santa Rita Polo Farm. It 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.