By Sharon Robb
WELLINGTON, Fla., November 3, 2018----After a marathon afternoon of polo that ended in darkness with a nail-biting sudden death shootout, Audi and Sebucan will meet Sunday in the final of the Fall Plates Tournament at Grand Champions Polo Club.
Defending champion Sebucan (Pablo Pulido, 2, Pablo Dorignac, 5, Whistle Uys, 4, Julio Gracida, 4) outlasted Casablanca (Mariano Gracida, 4, Grant Ganzi, 2, Juancito Bollini, 4, Jeff Blake, 6) in darkness for a 12-11 sudden death shootout victory on Friday.
After one shootout round and score tied 11-11 in sudden death, Pablo Dorignac was the hero converting a 60-yard penalty shot to clinch the hardfought win.
Audi (Marc Ganzi, 2, Tony Calle, 3, Brandon Phillips, 4, Carlitos Gracida, 4), leading by only one goal going into the final chukker, scored three goals and shut out Flexjet (Santos Bollini, 1, Dominic State, 2, Guille Aguero, 5, Juan Bollini, 5) in the final chukker for an 11-7 victory.
On Sunday, the first day Daylight Saving Time comes to an end (set your clocks back one hour before you go to bed Saturday night for more daylight in the morning hours), the Audi-Sebucan championship is 10 a.m. followed by the Just For The Fun Of It subsidiary between Casablanca and Flexjet at 11:30 a.m.
In the second late afternoon qualifying game, Pablo Dorignac and Whistle Uys shared scoring honors each with four goals for Sebucan. Pablo Pulido had two goals and Julio Gracida added one goal. Sebucan picked up another goal on handicap.
Juancito Bollini led Casablanca with four goals. Ganzi had three goals, all on penalty conversions and Blake and Mariano Gracida each had two goals.
The lead changed hands six times during regulation. Casablanca had the momentum early for a 4-2 lead in the first half before Sebucan rallied to tie the game at halftime, 4-4.
Early in the second half, Sebucan took control of the game for a 6-4 lead in the fourth chukker before Casablanca tied the game at 6-6 on Mariano Gracida's goal at the end of the fifth chukker.
Casablanca took a 7-6 lead early in the sixth chukker but two minutes later Uys converted a 30-yard penalty to tie the game at 7-7 at the 4:25 mark. Both teams had scoring opportunities but ran out of time.
Because of darkness falling and thunder in the background, tournament officials decided to play a shootout. With the game tied 10-10, the final player from each team missed the penalty shot forcing a sudden death round. Bollini and Uys both converted for an 11-11 tie. After Casablanca missed its shot, Dorignac came up with the game-winner.
In addition to trying to defend its title, Sebucan will try and win its third tournament of the fall season after winning the US Trust Cup and Fall Classic but it won't be easy against Audi, another upset-minded team.
"We hope we can beat Sebucan," said Calle, who scored a game-high five goals. "Of course, they are beatable. We just need to watch the video and see how they play and play the same way we did today."
Also for Audi, Marc Ganzi scored four goals and Brandon Phillips added two goals. For Flexjet, Aguero, making his fall debut, led with three goals. Dominic State had two and father and son Juan and Santos Bollini each had one goal.
In the opening game, Grand Champions-based Audi and Flexjet were evenly matched. Audi led 3-1, 5-3 and 7-5 in the first three chukkers. Flexjet rallied in a defensive fourth chukker to shut out Audi, 1-0, and tie 1-1 in the fifth chukker to trail by only one, 8-7, going into the final chukker. Audi came up big in the final chukker behind Ganzi and Calle, outscoring Flexjet 3-0.
"In the final chukker we decided to regroup and be a little more patient," Calle said. "We were doing a lot of dumb fouls. After that we started opening up the field and taking a little more time with the ball. When we had the clear shots we took advantage.
"Flexjet is a tough team," Calle said. "Dominic State is a good player and stretched the team out a lot. It was a four-man team on both sides. We were fortunate enough to mark them well and have some opportunities. I was lucky with the goals. It was nice, it was a fun game."
In last year's Fall Plates final, the talented foursome of Pablo Pulido, Guille Aguero, Luis Escobar and Carlitos Gracida knocked off Casablanca (Benjamin Avendano, Grant Ganzi, Juancito Bollini, Mike Azzaro), 11-7, to win at Santa Rita Polo Farm. Pulido was named MVP.
The Fall Plates is the fourth of six medium-goal touraments in addition to 20-goal action during the season.
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 and Sebucan (MVP Pablo Pulido, Whistle Uys, Mariano Gracida, Julio Gracida) won the Fall Classic last weekend.
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 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.
Grand Champions is one of the nation's busiest and most innovative polo clubs, hosting both medium and high goal polo in the fall highlighted by the Triple Crown of Polo Tournament and International Cup.
Among season highlights are the USPA National 20-Goal Championship; Triple Crown of Polo Tournament and Romero Britto Celebration; and 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 had its finest fall season in club history last year. Grand Champions was the only club in the nation to stage two USPA-sanctioned 20-goal fall tournaments and again is hosting two 20-goal tournament this season.
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 the entire 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.