By Sharon Robb
WELLINGTON, FL—Nov. 16, 2017---The United States has assembled an impressive lineup of experience and up-and-coming players for the Nov. 24 International Cup at Grand Champions Polo Club.
The U.S. is led by 6-goaler Jeff Blake and will be joined by father and son Marc and Grant Ganzi and Juancito Bollini, who will represent the U.S. for the first time since becoming a U.S. citizen two weeks ago.
The U.S. will face Azerbaijan for the first time in international play in the seventh annual game at 3 p.m., part of a doubleheader that also features the Carlos Gracida Legends of Polo Memorial at 1 p.m. Gates open 12:30 p.m.
It is the seventh time Grand Champions Polo Club will host a major international men’s game. The U.S. team is rated at 14 goals and Azerbaijan is 13 goals.
Blake, the highest rated member of the team, is the winningest American-born Floridian of all time.
Blake has won the U.S. Open three times, twice with Tim Gannon's Outback Polo Team in 1996 and 1999 and in 2008 with Crab Orchard consisting of Nachi Heguy, Adolfo Cambiaso, patron George Rawlings and Hall, who was named MVP. He also won the USPA Gold Cup in 1998, 1999 and 2003.
Ganzi, one of the world's top-rated amateurs and rated at 2 goals, has won or competed in every major polo tournament including the Westchester Cup. The 2009 U.S. Open champion is also a co-founder of the 26-goal World Polo League which makes its debut during the 2019 winter season at Grand Champions and Valiente Polo Farm.
Grant Ganzi, at 20 the youngest member of the team, is a third generation polo player following in the footsteps of his grandfather Wally and parents Melissa and Marc Ganzi. He is a member of Team USPA and rated at 2 goals.
Ganzi, a junior at Lynn University, will be making his third consecutive appearance in the International Cup. He was recently named MVP of the Bentley Scottsdale Polo Championship playing in front of a record crowd of more than 14,000.
Ganzi won his international debut and scored five goals to lead Team USA to a 10-9 victory over Canada in the Nov. 10, 2016 Royal Polo Match in Toronto. Two weeks later, the Team USA member defeated Uruguay, 6-3, in the International Cup. Last season he was a member of Team USA's winning team against Brazil.
Ganzi, a two-time USPA NYTS champion has won the 20-goal Herbie Pennell Cup and competed in the Joe Barry, Ylvisaker and Iglehart tournaments among others. Last year his U.S. Polo Assn. team was runner-up in the 26-goal U.S. Open.
Bollini, at 22 the second youngest player on the team, is the Brand Ambassador for U.S. Polo Assn. He was a 2015 USPA East Coast Open champion with Audi at age 19 and was a runner-up in last year's U.S. Open for U.S. Polo Assn.
The son of former 8-goal player Juan Bollini of Argentina is rated at 4 goals. He has played every level of polo. In 2013, he played for Audi during the 20- and 26-goal seasons as a substitute for team captain and patron Marc Ganzi. He is a two-time national champion and was MVP in the 2014 USPA National Youth Tournament Series.
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.
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.
The Azerbaijan team features Andres (LaLa) Laplacette, one of the team's most recognizable players who competed at Grand Champions last year. He is rated at 5 goals.
Joining him are Lala's cousin Adrian Laplacette at 6 goals; Elcin Jamalli at 2 goals and Amil Namazov at 0 goals. Tarlan Gurbanaliyev and Rashad Hasanov are reserves. All are members of the country's military.
Since 2012 in front of sellout crowds and worldwide ChukkerTV audience, Team USA has defeated England, Chile, Mexico, South Africa, Uruguay and Brazil for the coveted cup.
Other past U.S. team victories and rosters were: 2016, U.S. 6, Uruguay, 3, Marc Ganzi, Grant Ganzi, Julio Arellano, Nic Roldan; 2015, U.S. 12, South Africa 7, Marc Ganzi, Jeff Hall, Nic Roldan, Julio Arellano; 2014, U.S. 3, Mexico 2.5 and USA 2, Team USPA 1.5, Marc Ganzi, Wes Finlayson, Nic Roldan, Mason Wroe; MVP Roldan; 2013, U.S. 13, Chile 8, Marc Ganzi, Nic Roldan, Jeff Hall, Carlitos Gracida; MVP: Roldan; and 2012, U.S. 8.5, England 6, Marc Ganzi, Carlitos Gracida, Jeff Hall, Nic Roldan; MVP: Roldan.
The USPA International Cup is a holiday tradition that ends the biggest week of fall polo and season at Grand Champions.
The opening game of the doubleheader is the Carlos Gracida Legends of Polo Memorial, continuing the Hall of Famer’s legacy by honoring one of the sport’s all-time greats, who died tragically in February, 2014 at age 53. Among those expected to play are Gracida's sons Carlitos and Mariano; Julio Gracida, Weston Gracida and Juan Bollini.
Proceeds from the doubleheader benefit The Museum of Polo and Hall of Fame, a non-profit educational organization, dedicated to fostering an appreciation of the development, history and tradition of the sport of polo by collecting, preserving, exhibiting and interpreting its collections as well as honoring those who have made outstanding contributions to the sport.
Tickets and various sponsorships are still available. Tickets, ranging from $20 to $1500, are still on sale. They are:
$1,500 VIP Sponsor: Includes one reserved table for eight in the VIP tent, corporate partner signage and parking.
$250 Grand Champions Tailgate Package: Includes a reserved tailgate spot with parking for one car, a tent and one table with 4 chairs.
$200 VIP Pavilion Tickets: Includes one VIP admission ticket to the VIP tent with a field side view of the game. Enjoy specialty cocktails and food. There is also an early bird VIP Pavilion package available at $150.
$20 General Admission. Field side parking not included.
For tickets, tailgates and sponsorships call 561-644-5050.
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.
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 International Cup doubleheader. 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.