Casablanca, Flexjet Play Sunday In USPA National 20-Goal Final At Grand Champions

  Jason Crowder of Flexjet and Carlitos Gracida of Travieso chase down the ball.

Jason Crowder of Flexjet and Carlitos Gracida of Travieso chase down the ball.

By Sharon Robb

WELLINGTON, Fla., November 17, 2018----In a repeat of last year's final, defending champion Casablanca will play Flexjet for the USPA National 20-Goal Tournament title Sunday at Grand Champions Polo Club.

The championship final, part of a  doubleheader, begins 10 a.m. and will be live streamed by USPA Polo Network.

The second game will feature the eighth annual Pedro Morrison Memorial at 11:45 a.m. in the final six medium-goal tournament of the fall season. The game will be live streamed by ChukkerTV.

In Friday's qualifying games for the USPA National 20-Goal final, Flexjet (Melissa Ganzi, 0, Jason Crowder, 6, Jeff Blake, 6, Juan Bollini, 4) advanced with an impressive 12-8 victory over Travieso (Tony Calle, 3, Carlitos Gracida, 4, Pablo Dorignac, 5, Tommy Biddle, 4). 

"You go into every game wanting to win," Blake said. "I think we had a good day."

Melissa Ganzi scored a game-high five goals including a beautiful cut shot with 48 seconds left in the game. Blake added four goals, Bollini had two and Crowder added one goal.

For Travieso, Dorignac led scoring with four goals. Biddle had three and Calle scored one goal.

Both teams were rated 16 goals. Flexjet controlled most of the game jumping out to a 3-2 lead in the opening chukker with goals from Blake, Bollini and Ganzi. 

Travieso briefly had the momentum in the second chukker, outcoring Flexjet, 1-0, to tie 2-2. Flexjet turned it around and outscored Travieso, 1-0, with a 40-yard penalty conversion from Ganzi to lead 4-3 at the half.

Flexjet never relinquished the lead in the second half, outscoring Travieso 3-2 in the fourth chukker for a 7-5 lead and 3-1 in the fifth chukker for a 10-6 advantage after five. 

"The game plan was to play a solid defense," Blake said. "Melissa did a great job playing her position. I think the one who was spectacular today was Juan. He constantly had two men coming at him in the back and he played like the old days, like he was eight goals again."

In the second game, Casablanca (Grant Ganzi, 2, Whistle Uys, 4, Julio Gracida, 4, Pablo Spinacci, 6) won a physical, hardfought game with a thrilling 10-9 victory over Audi (Marc Ganzi, 2, Mariano Gracida, 4, Juancito Bollini/Carlitos Gracida, 4, Jeff Hall, 7).

Spinacci scored the winning goal with 50 seconds left. Uys and Spinacci came up with defensive plays to stall Audi's final scoring drive with 17 seconds remaining.


Spinacci finished with a game-high four goals. Julio Gracida had three goals and Grant Ganzi and Uys each had one goal.

Mariano Gracida and Hall shared team scoring honors each with three goals. Bollini scored two goals before leaving the game with 2:59 in the sixth chukker after getting hit in the face with a mallet. Marc Ganzi had one goal.

The lead changed hands 12 times in the hotly-contested game. Casablanca led 2-1 after the first chukker and Audi led 4-2 after the second chukker before the teams tied 4-4 at the half.

Casablanca took a 6-5 lead on Julio Gracida's goal late in the fourth chukker. Hall took control in the fifth chuker as Audi reeled off three consecutive goals including a 60-yard penalty conversion and goal run off the throw-in by Hall. Mariano Gracida scored the other goal for an 8-6 lead.

Spinacci was relentless late in the fifth chukker scoring off a long hit with 50 seconds left to cut Audi's lead to one. Spinacci scored on another long goal to open the sixth chukker to tie 8-8. Two minutes later, Mariano Gracida scored to give Audi back the lead, 9-8. Julio Gracida scored with 4:10 left to tie 9-9.

The game was stopped at the 2:59 mark when Bollini was injured. After a 15-minute injury timeout, Bollini was replaced by Carlitos Gracida. Both teams missed penalty conversions before Spinacci came up with the game-winner.

Bollini underwent surgery at St. Mary's Medical Center in West Palm Beach late Friday for facial injuries and is resting comfortably.

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.

Last year's Pedro Morrison Memorial  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.

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-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 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 Sunday'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 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.