United States, Azerbaijan Ready For International Cup Showdown Saturday At Grand Champions

Azerbaijan players and coach pose du.jpg

By Sharon Robb

WELLINGTON, Fla., November 23, 2018---The United States will field one of its most experienced teams for the International Cup Saturday at Grand Champions Polo Club.

The team of three-time U.S. Open winner Jeff Blake, father and son Marc and Grant Ganzi and Juan Bollini will represent the U.S. against Azerbaijan for the first time in international play at 1 p.m. Gates open at noon.

"There is a lot of pressure representing the U.S.," Blake said. "Six-game winning streak is special. It's always an honor to represent the U.S."

Blake, at six goals is the highest rated member of the team and winningest American-born Floridian of all time in polo. 

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.

The second game of the doubleheader will feature the Legends of Polo Carlos Gracida Memorial at 3:30 p.m. The game honors the Hall of Famer and former 10-goaler who died in a polo accident February, 2014 at age 53. Several family members including his sons Carlitos and Mariano will compete.

"At first it is all new and you don't really know how to take it," said 27-year-old Carlitos Gracida. "As time goes on you definitely appreciate it more and everyone that comes out to support it. Anyone who plays any role in making that happen is very important to Mariano and I and our sistr and everyone in our family and my polo family here."

The International Cup is a holiday tradition that ends the biggest week of fall polo and season at Grand Champions.

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.

Since 2012 in front of sellout crowds and ChukkerTV worldwide audience, Team USA has defeated England, Chile, Mexico, South Africa, Uruguay and Brazil for the coveted cup. 

Last year the team of Grant Ganzi, Carlitos Gracida, Julio Arellano and Mike Azzaro defeated Brazil, 9-7. Arellano was named Most Valuable Player for the third consecutive year.  

Other past U.S. team victories and rosters  featuring a Who's Who of polo players are: 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 Azerbaijan team features Andres (LaLa) Laplacette, one of the team's most recognizable players who competed at Grand Champions last year. Joining him are Lala's cousin Adrian Laplacette, Elcin Jamalli  Amil Namazov and Rashad Hasanov. All are members of the country's military. 

"It's a new experience to be in America,"   said Andres Laplacette. "We love it here. They received us very well. This is something new and different. Our plan to have a great team started six years ago. The idea is to improve, develop our players and take it forward. We are ready to go, we want to put on a good show."

At 20, Grant Ganzi is the youngest member of Team USA. Ganzi, a junior at Lynn University and third generation polo player is going for a three-peat. In 2016, Ganzi played alongside his father Marc, a 2009 U.S. Open champion, and won his first International Cup against Uruguay.

"It means everything to me to represent the U.S.," said Ganzi, a member of Team USPA. "I am really proud of being an American. I really want to represent my country and do well."

Bollini, a former 8-goaler, will replace his son Juancito, 22, in the lineup. Juancito Bollini was hit in the face with a mallet during the USPA National 20-Goal Tournament. He underwent surgery for facial injuries at St. Mary's Medical Center and will have his jaw wired shut for three weeks. Bollini became a U.S. citizen two weeks ago and was going to represent the U.S. for the first time.

Marc Ganzi, one of the world's top-rated amateurs, has won or competed in every major polo tournament including the Westchester Cup. The 2009 U.S. Open champion is also a co-founder along with his wife Melissa Ganzi and Robert Jornayvaz of Valiente of the 26-goal World Polo League which makes its debut in February during the 2019 winter season at Grand Champions and Valiente Polo Farm.

It is the seventh time Grand Champions, the nation's largest polo club with 11 fields, has hosted a major international men's game in its 11-year history. Both games will be televised by Wellington-based ChukkerTV.

Award-winning Ken-Rose Catering and Event Planning, serving clients for 25 years from the Treasure Coast to Miami-Dade, will cater the VIP tent. Also joining Ken-Rose Catering and Event Planning as event sponsors are Alta Palla, which will supply the flavored sparkling mixers for the VIP bar and Perfect Vodka, the official VIP liquor.

Tickets and various sponsorships are still available. Tickets, ranging from $20 to $1500, are still on sale.

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.

World reknown polo announcer Jan-Erik Franck will call the action. The club announcer is also calling the action during the St. Regis World Snow Polo Championship in Aspen in December and winter season featuring the debut of 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 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.

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 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.