By Sharon Robb
WELLINGTON, Fla., November 15, 2018----The stage is set for an exciting end of the fall polo season at Grand Champions Polo Club.
One of the biggest weeks of the season got under way Wednesday with the much-anticipated Triple Crown of Polo, won by American Polo Horse, 7-6, over Flexjet in sudden death overtime when Justin Daniels converted a 30-yard penalty in the dark.
The action continues this weekend with three tournaments featuring eight teams from around the world. The USPA National 20-Goal, Reto's Birthday Cup and eighth annual Pedro Morrison Memorial will be held.
A tripleheader is scheduled for Friday with games at 10 a.m., 2 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.
The USPA National 20-Goal tournament opens at 10 a.m. on Field One with Flexjet playing Travieso. The second game pits Audi against Casablanca is 3:30 p.m. on Field Two.
The 20-goal team lineups are:
Audi (18): Marc Ganzi, Juancito Bollini, Pablo Dorignac, Jeff Hall.
Casablanca (16): Grant Ganzi, Whistle Uys, Pablo Spinacci, Julio Gracida.
Flexjet (16): Melissa Ganzi, Jason Crowder, Jeff Blake, Juan Bollini.
Travieso (16): Tony Calle, Guille Aguero, Carlitos Gracida, Tommy Biddle.
In last year's National 20-Goal, Casablanca, one of the winningest teams in club history, won the title. The talented foursome of Grant Ganzi, Juancito Bollini, Mike Azzaro and Jeff Blake defeated defending champion Flexjet (Melissa Ganzi, Jason Crowder, Pablo Dorignac, Juan Bollini), 13-6, to sweep the fall 20-goal tournaments. Casablanca ended the fall season with six finals appearances and four tournament victories. Blake, a 21-year veteran of the sport, was named MVP.
The first National 20-Goal tournament was held in 2007 at the now-defunct Royal Palm Polo Sports Club in Boca Raton. Houston-based BTA (Chrys Beal, Francisco Lanusse, Mariano Gonzalez, Santiago Trotz) won the inaugural event.
After a four-year hiatus, the next six tournaments were hosted by Grand Champions. The winners were: 2011, KIG (Bash Kazi, Hector Galindo, Jeff Blake, Tommy Biddle) defeated Piaget, 12-8; 2012, Audi (Marc Ganzi, Carlitos Gracida, Nic Roldan, Carlos Gracida) defeated Piaget, 10-9; 2013, Audi (Marc Ganzi, Carlitos Gracida, Nic Roldan, Carlos Gracida) defeated ELG, 13-7; 2014, Flight Options (Melissa Ganzi, Kris Kampsen, Nic Roldan, Juan Bollini) defeated Team USPA, 14-11; 2015, Audi (Marc Ganzi, Sugar Erskine, Jeff Blake, Carlucho Arellano) defeated Flexjet, 11-8; and 2016, Flexjet (Melissa Ganzi, Jason Crowder, Nic Roldan, Jared Sheldon) defeated Casablanca, 11-8.
Between 20-goal games is the special Reto's Birthday Cup honoring the "godfather of snow polo," Reto Gaudenzi of Switzerland. Gaudenzi has been a polo visionary for more than four decades. He founded the Snow Polo World Cup on the frozen lake of St. Moritz in 1985, the first polo game on snow in the history of the sport.
Gaudenzi organized the world's first FIP tournaments outside Argentina, invented the modern-day version of beach polo in Miami Beach and established another milestone in the history of the sport in form of the Grass Arena Polo World Cup Azerbaijan. Gaudenzi started playing polo in 1978, reached three goals and founded the Swiss national team and polo association.
"In 1978, I was running hotels in Spain and was introduced to polo by a friend," Gaudenzi said. "And then in 1980, I won the Gold Cup with my team in Sotogrande.”
The 2 p.m. Reto's Birthday Cup will feature Aspen Valley Polo Club (Sebastien Le Page, Tito Gaudenzi, James Rogerson, Juan Bollini) against St. Moritz (Morgan van Overbroek, Daniel Crasemann/Reto Gaudenzi, Mariano Gracida, TBA).
The eighth annual Pedro Morrison Memorial is the final six medium-goal tournament of the fall season. Last year's event was rained out. In the 2016 final, Flexjet defeated Audi 7-6 in overtime. Juan Bollini took advantage of an Audi broken play to shake loose from defenders and scored the winning goal with 4:58 remaining.
The tournament is named in honor of Pedro Morrison, born in Spain and University of Miami alum, died Dec. 11, 2003 in Wellington at age 49. He was an avid polo player, patron of The Sympatico Polo team and helped develop Wellington into a thriving community.
Morrison was active in several local and area charities and businesses and touched countless lives. He remains an inspiration. His work on behalf of the YMCA of the Palm Beaches continues on through Polo with Pedro. The tournament is played in honor of Morrison in a casual, laid-back and fun atmosphere and is a celebration of his life among his friends every year.
"This tournament is always very special," Grand Champions President Melissa Ganzi said. "When we bought our first barn at South 40 we played polo with Pedro at Palm Beach Polo.
"He had one of the most contagious laughs. I just think of Pedro laughing, smoking his cigars and sitting on the boards. It was one of my wonderful polo memories."
The Pedro Morrison Memorial teams will be announced after Friday's polo action and will be using teams from Reto's Birthday Cup and 20-goal teams not participating in the final.
Rated No. 1 by Consumer Reports as the best auto brand overall, Audi is a valued sponsor with a rich winning tradition in polo. The German automobile manufacturer designs, engineers, produces, markets and distributes luxury automobiles throughout the world including West Palm Beach.
Casablanca, founded by polo players who understand the needs of today's polo players, supplies a wide variety of polo products, equipment and apparel through superior quality, value and service around the world. Behind the Casablanca brand is a serious pledge to quality, excellence and elegance.
Flexjet has been a member of the Directional Aviation family of companies since 2013. They are committed to creating premium travel experiences and providing access to the most modern, technologically-advanced aircraft in the industry on a daily basis, going above and beyond world-class private travel experiences.
Grand Champions is finishing up one of its most successful fall medium goal seasons. 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 Doirgnac, Whistle Uys, MVP Julio Gracida) won the Fall Plates Tournament; and Whitehall Ranch (Bill Lane, Sugar Erskine, Pablo Dorignac, Whistle Uys) won the Polo Gear Challenge Cup.
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.
"I think it’s great that polo is making itself known and gaining awareness in more and more places all over the world which will hopefully also encourage a greater following and contribute in cultivating an even bigger generation of future polo players," Franck said.
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.
In addition to this week's USPA National 20-Goal, the season-ending marquis event is next week's 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 is the only club in the nation to stage two USPA-sanctioned 20-goal fall tournaments.
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.