By Sharon Robb
WELLINGTON, Fla., November 10, 2018----Sebucan, the hottest team this fall at Grand Champions Polo Club, will try and make it four in a row Sunday in the tenth annual Polo Gear Challenge Cup.
Sebucan (Pablo Pulido, 2, Mariano Gracida, 4, Julio Gracida, 4, Tito Gaudenzi, 2), a 12-goal rated team, will play Whitehall Ranch (Bill Lane, 0, Sugar Erskine, 6, Whistle Uys, 4, Pablo Dorignac, 5), a 15-goal rated team, in the final at 11:30 a.m. at Grand Champions Polo Club.
On Friday, Sebucan advanced into the final of one of the club's oldest tournaments with a thrilling 12-11 victory over Travieso (Justin Daniels, 2, Jason Crowder, 6, Tommy Biddle, 4/Dominic State, 2, Tony Calle, 3).
Texas-based Whitehall Ranch, making its fall debut at Grand Champions, defeated Newport (Gene Goldstein, 1, Marquitos Alberdi, 4, Jeff Blake, 6, Adrian Wade, 4), 8-5.
On Sunday and Veterans Day, the "Just For The Fun Of It" subsidiary final between Newport and Travieso is 10 a.m. followed by the championship final at 11:30 a.m.
In the opening qualifying game on Friday, Whitehall Ranch and Newport played defensively while trying to find their offenses and cut down on fouling in the first half. After a scoreless opening chukker, Whitehall Ranch took a 2-0 lead in the second chukker behind Dorignac's two goals. Newport scored its first goal with 2:49 left in the third chukker when Alberdi converted a 30-yard penalty shot. Dorignac added another goal in the third chukker to give Whitehall Ranch a 3-1 halftime lead.
Newport started to claw its way back late in the fourth chukker, trailing 4-2. Early in the fifth chukker Blake connected with Wade at the 5:53 mark to trail, 4-3. Two minutes later Blake scored to tie the game at 4-4. Erskine and Alberdi each scored a goal for another tie, 5-5, to end the chukker.
Whitehall Ranch broke the tie in the sixth chukker outscoring Newport, 3-0, with two goals from Uys and one penalty conversion by Erskine.
"Whistle seems to be on fire out there," said Erskine, a 6-goaler and two-time U.S. Open champion playing with Whitehall Ranch for the first season. "I read nothing but MVP weekend after weekend so I just fed him the ball and let him do his thing."
Erskine said the final chukker was the key in turning the game around.
"We kept fouling, silly fouls instead of forcing them to work the ball through. We were giving them some goals that made it tight to where we had to work and then we put pressure on them and had that awesome near side goal by Whistle to go up by two."
Dorignac and Uys shared high scoring honors with three goals each. Erskine added two goals.
For Newport, Alberdi, making his fall debut, led scoring with three goals. Blake and Wade, new Director of Polo at Port Mayaca Polo Club in Okeechobee, each had one.
Erskine and Lane had been playing in Houston until heavy rain washed out the season.
"Lots of rain in Houston," Erskine said. "You're working horses all day in the rain expecting to play the next day and then you never play."
Sebucan has won the last three tournaments with three different lineups: US Trust Cup, Fall Classic and Fall Plates. Three of its players, Pulido, Uys and Julio Gracida have earned MVP honors
Travieso gave Sebucan all it could handle in its qualifying game. The lead changed hands eleven times before Sebucan, leading by only one goal (9-8) took control in the fifth chukker, winning the throw-ins and outscoring Travieso, 3-1, and then holding on the final chukker despite getting shut out, 2-0.
Sebucan started out with a three-goal lead on handicap and led 4-2 after the opening chukker. Travieso roared back behind big-hitting Tommy Biddle, making his Grand Champions fall debut. Travieso outscored Sebucan, 3-0, in the second chukker to take a 5-4 lead.
The teams battled back and forth in the third chukker before settling for a 7-7 halftime. In the fourth and fifth chukkers, Sebucan outscored Travieso, 5-2 to lead 12-9 going into the final chukker. Goals from Calle and Daniels enabled Travieso to come within one goal, 12-11.
Both teams had scoring opportunities until Julio Gracida hit a great defensive back shot to prevent the tying Travieso goal. Dorignac took the ball with 45 seconds left and raced downfield along the sideboards as time ran out.
Mariano Gracida and cousin Julio Gracida each had four goals for Sebucan. Pulido added one goal. Calle scored a game-high five goals for Travieso. Biddle scored three goals in the first half, Daniels had two and Crowder added one goal.
In last year's Polo Gear Challenge Cup, Dutta Corp (Carlitos Gracida, Kris Kampsen, Carlucho Arellano, Tim Dutta) defeated Sebucan (Pablo Pulido, MVP Benjamin Avendano, Pablo Dorignac, Guille Aguero), 8-6, to win its fall debut. Trailing most of the game, Dutta Corp outscored Sebucan, 3-0, in the final two chukkers to win.
Polo Gear, one of the sport's top sponsors and supporters of polo established in 1993 and incorporated in Florida, manufactures, distributes and sells polo products to players, teams and polo events worldwide. For more information on Polo Gear and to order products, visit www.pologearusa.com.
The Polo Gear Challenge is the fifth of six medium-goal touraments in addition to 20-goal action during the season and the Triple Crown of Polo on Wednesday, Nov. 14 at 4 p.m. at Santa Rita Polo Farm.
Casablanca (MVP Mariano Gracida, Juancito Bollini, Julio Gracida, Grant Ganzi) won the season-opening Tackeria Invitational; Sebucan (Pablo Pulido, Juancito Bollini, MVP Whistle Uys, Carlitos Gracida) won the US Trust Cup; Sebucan (MVP Pablo Pulido, Whistle Uys, Mariano Gracida, Julio Gracida) won the Fall Classic; and Sebucan (Pablo Pulido, Pablo Dorignac, Whistle Uys, MVP Julio Gracida) won the Fall Plates Tournament 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 featuring the World Polo League 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. Franck is also a polo player, HPA instructor, La Martina ambassador and polo columnist. He was recently the featured cover story in POLO+10 magazine.
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.
Among fall season highlights are the USPA National 20-Goal Championship; Triple Crown of Polo Tournament and Romero Britto Celebration; and doubleheader featuring the Legends of Polo Carlos Gracida Memorial and International Cup on Thanksgiving weekend.
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 Azerbaijan, 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 is live streaming most of the 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 thriving 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.