By Sharon Robb
WELLINGTON, Fla., November 12, 2018----Whitehall Ranch, making its Grand Champions Polo Club fall debut, won the 10th annual Polo Gear Challenge Cup in an exciting finish.
In front of a good local crowd, the talented foursome (Bill Lane, 0, Sugar Erskine, 6, Whistle Uys, 4, Pablo Dorignac, 5), defeated Sebucan in the final seconds with a thrilling 11-10 victory on Sunday.
With 12 seconds left in regulation time, Erskine converted a 60-yard penalty to clinch the win and end Sebucan's hopes of winning its fourth consecutive tournament of the season.
Sebucan (Pablo Pulido, 2, Mariano Gracida, 4, Julio Gracida, 4, Tito Gaudenzi, 2) led 10-8 with 4:45 left in the sixth chukker before costly penalties enabled Whitehall Ranch to rally with three clutch penalty conversions.
Dorignac, the most dominant player on the field, was selected Most Valuable Player. Dorignac scored a game-high five goals including a 30-yard penalty conversion in the sixth chukker.
"We were always the optimists," Dorignac said. "We had a really good time and that was the idea. We had good chances in the last chukker and we didn't miss.
"It was a good game, they played well and we had fun," Dorignac said. "In the last chukker we didn't even think about the score. To us it was 0-0. We just said let's go and play and try not to make mistakes. For me it's not the end until I hear the last horn."
Daphne, a bay mare played by Lane and owned by Wellington-based Santa Rita Polo Farm, was named Best Playing Pony.
Texas-based Whitehall Ranch escaped the heavy rains in Houston to compete at Grand Champions. Lane plans to return to Texas this week.
"I was invited to come and play by Marc and Melissa Ganzi and really enjoyed it," Lane said. "I appreciate them inviting me to come.
"I'm happy to be here, no rain," Lane said with a smile. "It sprinkled a little bit on the way to the game today and I went oh my goodness it's going to rain, but it turned out great.
"I've had such nice hospitality here, all the games and the organization have been so nice," Lane said. "We had some good horses, we played some good polo and we won."
Lane has played with South Africans Sugar Erskine and Whistle Uys, but never on the same team. It was the first time he had Dorignac in his team lineup.
"Pablo is great," Lane said. "I'd play with those three guys again any time."
In addition to Dorignac's five goals, Erskine scored four goals and Lane and Uys each had one.
For Sebucan, Mariano Gracida led scoring with a team-high four goals and Julio Gracida added three goals. Sebucan, a 12-goal rated team, picked up three goals on handicap.
The lead changed hands nine times. Sebucan started off with a 3-0 lead on handicap but was shut out by Whitehall Ranch, 1-0, and 2-0, in the first two chukkers to begin the third chukker tied at 3-3.
Whitehall Ranch outscored Sebucan, 3-1, with goals from Dorignac, Lane and Uys for a 6-4 halftime lead.
Sebucan came out hot in the fourth chukker dominating the throw-ins to outscore Whitehall Ranch, 3-1, to end the chukker tied at 7-7.
Julio Gracida scored off the throw-in to open the fifth chukker and scored again on a 100-yarder in the air to put Sebucan up 9-7 with 3:07 left in the chukker.
After the teams exchanged goals, Sebucan led 10-8. Dorignac hit the post on one goal attempt and Mariano Gracida stopped Erskine's goal attempt with 3:58 left. The momentum shifted when Sebucan started committing costly penalties paving the way for a 30-yard conversion by Erskine to trail 10-9; another 30-yard conversion by Dorignac to tie the game at 10-10 followed by Erskine's big game-winner.
"We started well and Pablo was playing really well playing and scoring two good goals in the first half," Uys said. "Then the fourth chukker we kind of went to sleep and Sebucan played very well. They had a couple long shots at goal that went through. When they got within reach they shot. They beat us on two throw-ins and we kind of got relaxed in the second half and we got down by two. We had to hustle a little bit and then got lucky and made the last penalty. Sugar kept us together in the last two chukkers."
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). In the other qualifier, Whitehall Ranch defeated Newport (Gene Goldstein, 1, Marquitos Alberdi, 4, Jeff Blake, 6, Adrian Wade, 4), 8-5.
Sebucan had won its last three tournaments with three different lineups: US Trust Cup, Fall Classic and Fall Plates. Three of its players, Pulido, Uys and Julio Gracida earned MVP honors.
Polo Gear USA, 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 USA and to order products, visit www.pologearusa.com.
Polo Gear USA co-owners Gary Fellers and Jeanette Sassoon were awards presenters and were pleased with another successful tournament and "to support grass roots polo and the polo community," Sassoon said.
"It's a wonderful tournament," Fellers said. "It's great to see the generations of people who have been involved in it and the sport coming back. Hopefully, this will be the strongest year we have ever had in South Florida so that's really exciting. The economy is good and more players are coming in. It was a wonderful game, close all the way and a win in the last few seconds. It can't get any better than that."
The Polo Gear Challenge Cup was the fifth of six medium-goal touraments in addition to 20-goal action during the season and the Triple Crown of Polo on Wednesday afternoon 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 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.
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.