By Sharon Robb
WELLINGTON, Fla., November 15, 2018---Playing together for the first time as a team, American Polo Horse won the coveted Triple Crown of Polo's third and final leg of the 2018 polo series Wednesday at Grand Champions Polo Club.
Playing in the dark, Justin Daniels converted a 30-yard penalty shot with 5:05 left to give American Polo Horse (Justin Daniels, 2, Tony Calle, 3, Whistle Uys, 4, Jeff Hall, 7) a thrilling 7-6 sudden death overtime victory over Flexjet (Grant Ganzi, 2, Juancito Bollini, 4, Julio Gracida, 4, Jeff Blake, 6) in front of a soldout VIP tent and good local crowd.
Hall, the team's field general, was named Most Valuable Player. The playmaker led the team defensively from the back, fed the ball consistently to the team's two youngest players and scored one goal.
"I had never ridden all those horses and was getting the hang of them early in the game," said Hall, playing horses from Kris Kampsen and Uys. "We started off good and they came back and it went back and forth. They got a few penalties and it got kind of close. Flexjet was a good team."
Hall was coming off outstanding seasons in California and Texas, making six tournament finals and winning five. His sixth tournament final was rained out in Houston.
Hall will also compete in the USPA National 20-Goal tournament that begins Friday at Grand Champions. Hall will join Marc Ganzi, Juancito Bollini and Pablo Dorignac on Audi. In the first game at 10 a.m., Travieso plays Flexjet and Audi plays Casablanca at 3:30 p.m.
For American Polo Horse, Daniels scored a game-high four goals including the game-winner. Calle added two goals. Both are also members of Team USPA.
"I've played in the dark before, it was fun," Daniels said. "It was great to win."
Added Calle, "Justin played great, he came back nicely on that last penalty and got his confidence up and put it right through the middle of the goal posts. He did a great job.
"This is the first time we have all played together. I played against Jeff Hall a bunch, he's a great player. I like playing with him more."
Calle was impressed with the stunning trophy and series concept.
"I think it's a great way to promote polo and try to make it more of a spectator game," Calle said. "We gave a nice competitive show out there with the guys and showed what American players can do out there on the field.
"This is the first time I played in the dark and it's pretty cool, actually," Calle said. "Could I see the ball? You kind of have an idea where it is but not really."
For Flexjet, Gracida and Bollini each had two goals. Ganzi and Blake each added one goal.
The evenly-matched 16-goal teams exchanged the lead seven times before Daniels converted a 30-yard penalty to tie the game at 6-6 with 2:42 left in regulation. Both teams had scoring opportunities before the game went into sudden death overtime.
American Polo Horse led 2-1 after the opening chukker and 4-1 midway through the second chukker before Flexjet battled back to shut out American Polo Horse, 2-0, in the third chukker and went into halftime tied at 4-4. The game was tied twice, 5-5 in the fifth and 6-6 in the sixth before Daniels' heroics.
The American Polo Horse Association Best Playing Pony blanket was awarded to Garinche, a 4-year-old bay gelding played by Gracida in the fourth chukker.
The American Polo Horse Association was created in 2006 by Hall of Famer Sunny Hale to recognize polo ponies in America and encourages events that showcase them and hard-working dedication of grooms.
World-reknown Brazilian artist Ramiro Britto was on hand to present his one-of-a-kind polo prints to the finalists. After the game he was honored in a private ceremony at Santa Rita Polo Farm, where two homebred geldings, Ramiro and Britto, were introduced to him. Pablo Dorignac has been playing the talented horses during the fall season. Britto also unveiled two horses he designed for Grand Champions Polo Club president Melissa Ganzi.
Designed by Tiffany & Co., the magnificent Triple Crown of Polo trophy is comprised of three separate trophies that fit perfectly together to create an entire polo scene that is breathtaking in sterling silver.
American Polo Horse and its players' names will be inscribed on the trophy and added to an impressive list of teams that feature several top players including Sebastian Merlos, Mike Azzaro, Tommy Biddle, Adam Snow, Nic Roldan, Matias Magrini, Jeff Hall, Mariano Gonzalez, Michel Dorignac and Kris Kampsen.
The Triple Crown of Polo, an ESPN2 television series, was created in 2005 by David McLane, known for Pro Beach Hockey, Women of Wrestling and Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, to help promote polo in the U.S. The show was seen in 129 countries.
The spectacular trophy was created for the event that had stops at the Sarasota Polo Club, Las Colinas Polo Club in Dallas and Santa Barbara Polo Club the first year in 2006 and Sarasota and New Bridge Polo and Country Club in Aiken, South Carolina in 2007 during its heyday before it went on hiatus.
The first leg of the Triple Crown of Polo was held at Denver Polo Club during the summer and won by Scone (David Paradice, Agustin Nero, Agusto Gomez Romero, Guillermo Terrera).
The second leg held at Grand Champions' sister club Aspen Valley Polo Club in Colorado was won by first-year team Mandarina. The foursome of Sarah Magness, Melissa Ganzi, Alejandro Novillo Astrada and Juan Bollini defeated Woodrow Farm (Leigh Brecheen, Marc Ganzi, Nic Roldan, Tano Vial), 7-6, to win the biggest prize of the club's summer polo season.
World-reknown 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 has been 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 highlighted by the Triple Crown of Polo and Nov. 24 Carlos Gracida Legends of Polo and International Cup doubleheader on Thanksgiving weekend.
This year's 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 is the only club in the nation to stage two USPA-sanctioned 20-goal fall tournaments.
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 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 the fall season including the Triple Crown of Polo. 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 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.