By Sharon Robb
WELLINGTON, Fla., October 25, 2018----The stage is set for what could be one of the most exciting championship finals in USPA North American Cup history.
Audi will meet Travieso for the coveted silver trophy on Saturday at 11:45 a.m. at Grand Champions Polo Club in front of an anticipated packed house and worldwide USPA Polo Network audience.
In the opening semifinal on Thursday, Travieso (Tony Calle, 3, Grant Ganzi, 2, Juan Cruz Merlos, 5, Pite Merlos, 8) advanced into the final with an impressive 14-9 victory over Flexjet (Melissa Ganzi, 0, Pablo Dorignac, 5, Kris Kampsen, 6/Dominic State, 2, Juan Bollini, 5).
In the second semifinal, Audi (Juancito Bollini, 4, Justin Daniels, 2, Brandon Phillips, 4, Pablo Spinacci, 6) won a 9-7 thriller against Gracida Wines (Carlitos Gracida, 4, Whistle Uys, 4, Mariano Gracida, 4, Julio Gracida, 4).
In the first game, 16-goal Flexjet started with a 2-0 lead on handicap and built leads of 4-3 and 5-4 in the first two chukkers. In the third chukker, Travieso outscored Flexjet, 2-0, with goals from Calle and Pite Merlos for a 6-5 halftime advantage.
Early in the fourth chukker, Flexjet was dealt a severe blow when 6-goaler Kris Kampsen strained his knee and was unable to continue. He was replaced by 2-goaler Dominic State.
"The momentum of the game changed when Kris got hurt," Calle said. "More than anything, we had a lot more space inside the field. We were able to take our time and do nice, consistent plays.
"It was nice being out there with Pite," said Calle, who played with Pite and his son Juan Cruz twice in Argentina. "He manages the field well. Playing with both of them here is a lot of fun. I'm excited to be back here on the field and getting back into shape."
Travieso pulled away scoring three consecutive goals for a 9-5 lead with 3:05 left in the fourth chukker. Travieso ended up outscoring Flexjet, 8-4, in the second half.
Team USPA teammates Grant Ganzi and Tony Calle and Juan Cruz Merlos shared high-scoring honors each with four goals. Pite Merlos, a former 10-goaler now rated at 8 goals, added two goals.
For Flexjet, Melissa Ganzi and State each had two goals. Dorignac, Kampsen and Bollini added one goal apiece and two goals were awarded on handicap.
Despite playing together for the first time in a tournament, Travieso had instant chemistry.
"This is a fun tournament and it's a great way to get ready for the season," said Grant Ganzi, a three-time winner of the USPA North American Cup. "I like playing this kind of polo this time of the year.
"It was a shame Kris got hurt," Ganzi said. "We capitalized more in the second half. We had some bad luck in the first half, hitting the goal post twice. After Kris got hurt, we jumped out quick and wanted to keep the rhythm going."
Ganzi, who has played with Sebastian and Tincho Merlos, enjoyed playing with Pite Merlos for the first time.
"Pite is so smart the way he plays, it's like playing with one of those special players," Ganzi said. "You know where he is going to be and he tells you little things during the game like Juan Martin Nero does. He helps you improve your game."
In the second semifinal, Audi and Gracida Wines, two evenly-matched teams, battled down to the wire. The lead changed hands 13 times before Pablo Spinacci hit two long back-to-back goals in the final three minutes of the game to clinch the victory.
Phillips led Audi with a team-high four goals. Spinacci and Daniels each had two goals and Bollini added one. For Gracida Wines, Uys had a team-high four goals. Carlitos Gracida added two goals and Julio Gracida had one.
Before Saturday's final, the subsidiary game will feature Flexjet against Gracida Wines at 10 a.m.
The second tournament of the week at Grand Champions, the Fall Classic gets under way on Friday at 5 p.m. with Audi (Marc Ganzi, Justin Daniels, Kris Kampsen, Brandon Phillips) playing Sebucan (Pablo Pulido, Whistle Uys, Julio Gracida, Juancito Bollini). The final is Sunday at 10 a.m.
Before each USPA North American Cup semifinal game, a moment of silence was observed for Lauren Biddle, 22, of Team USPA, who tragically died Monday morning in New Zealand.
The USPA North American Cup is the club's first of two 20-goal tournaments of the fall season.
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.
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.
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 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.
Grand Champions is one of the nation's busiest and most innovative polo clubs, hosting both medium and high goal polo in the fall. 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.