By Sharon Robb
WELLINGTON, Fla., November 19, 2018----Casablanca defended its title in the USPA National 20-Goal Tournament Sunday at windswept Grand Champions Polo Club.
In a tightly-contested game, Casablanca (Grant Ganzi, 2, Whistle Uys, 4, Julio Gracida, 4, Pablo Spinacci, 6) defeated Flexjet (Melissa Ganzi, 0, Jason Crowder, 6, Jeff Blake, 6, Juan Bollini, 5), 11-9.
In a repeat of last year's final, Casablanca broke open a close game in the sixth chukker, outscoring Flexjet, 3-1, to clinch the victory.
Pablo Spinacci, 41, was named Most Valuable Player. Playing from the back, Spinacci was the defensive leader and also scored three goals including a penalty conversion. He finished with seven goals for the tournament.
"I am very happy with the game and that we won," Spinacci said. "It was good game. I liked our team, they were easy to play with."
Said Grant Ganzi, "I have never played with Pablo before, a lot against him. He is a great player. He hit the ball really well today. He was a good drill sergeant for our team and led us well. I thought he was the best choice for MVP. He was the leader of our team, scored the goals when it mattered and put the ball where it needed to be at the most important part of the game. He was the most solid player on the team, no question."
Bliss, a 5-year-old mare bred and owned by Santa Rita Polo Farm, played by Spinacci, was named the game's Best Playing Pony.
Tornado, a 7-year-old chestnut gelding played by Uys and owned by Franklin, Tenn.-based Graymar Farm, was Best Playing Pony for the two-day tournament.
Cupid, a 7-year-old grey gelding owned and played by Julio Gracida, was selected the American Polo Horse Association Best Playing Pony.
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.
In addition to Spinacci's three goals, Grant Ganzi scored a team-high four goals and Uys added three goals. For Flexjet, Blake scored a game-high six goals. Melissa Ganzi, Crowder and Bollini each had one goal.
"I'm really happy with the win, we played really well," Grant Ganzi said. "We came out strong. We had our moments where we lost our men. All in all we played pretty well and were very disciplined. We had a pretty good game plan set and didn't really alter that."
As defending champion, the pressure was on Casablanca to repeat.
"I tried not to think about it," Ganzi said. "I just tried to think about this game. I didn't want to think about defending the title."
Playing together for the first time in the tournament, Casablanca opened with a one-goal lead on handicap and built a 3-1 lead after two chukkers outscoring Flexjet, 2-1 and 1-0. Behind Blake's three goals, Flexjet outscored Casablanca, 3-1, to even the score at 4-4 at the half.
Behind Spinacci's two goals and another goal from Ganzi, Casablanca regained the lead, 7-6, at the end of the fourth chukker. Spinacci scored with 28 seconds left in the chukker.
Flexjet bounced back to outscore Casablanca, 2-1, with goals from Crowder and Blake to take an 8-7 lead before another Grant Ganzi goal scored at the 2:15 mark tied the game, 8-8.
It was all Casablanca in the final chukker. Uys scored early with 7:11 on the clock to retake the lead, 9-8. Two minutes later, Uys scored again for a 10-8 advantage. Melissa Ganzi converted a 30-yard penalty to trail by only one with 3:48 left. After Flexjet missed two scoring opportunities, Julio Gracida scored the insurance goal with 18 seconds left.
Uys, making his final appearance of the fall, finished off an outstanding season. Uys was a member of four winning teams during the medium goal season, three titles with Sebucan and one with Whitehall Ranch. It was also his first USPA National 20-Goal career title.
"I am very happy with the win," Uys said. "I enjoyed it. It was a game that got a little heated and we got to play some good polo. It was fun.
"We wanted to win the 20-goal," Uys said. "My teammates were great and the guys we played against were great. They all played well.
"I am super happy with the season. The fields were good. The footing was incredible. The horses got confidence and finished well. I was really happy with that."
In Friday's qualifiers, Flexjet defeated Travieso, 12-8, and Casablanca edged Audi, 10-9.
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 MVP Jeff Blake defeated defending champion Flexjet (Melissa Ganzi, Jason Crowder, Pablo Dorignac, Juan Bollini), 13-6, to sweep the fall 20-goal tournaments.
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.
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 and two 20-goal tournaments. 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.
The fall season ends this weekend with the Nov. 24 Carlos Gracida Legends of Polo Memorial and International Cup, featuring 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.
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.
Wellington-based ChukkerTV is live streaming 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.