By Sharon Robb
WELLINGTON, Fla., December 14, 2018---In what promises to be the biggest and best winter season in club history, Grand Champions Polo Club announced its highly-anticipated 2019 winter schedule.
The nation's largest and most innovative club will add another chapter in its successful history with the inaugural 26-goal World Polo League set to begin in February with the All-Star Challenge.
Co-founded by Grand Champions owners Marc and Melissa Ganzi and Valiente Polo Farm owner Bob Jornayvaz, the World Polo League will feature the world's top player Adolfo Cambiaso and other 10-goalers in the only 26-goal league in not only Wellington, but the U.S.
The exciting new league will run from Feb. 6 through April 15 and will not only fill the void but preserve the highest level of polo and its rich tradition in the U.S.
"The league is about the preservation of a level of play that is exclusive to America," said WPL Commissioner Dale Smicklas. "This league will be about team owners all working for the good of the sport. It will be about taking care of those owners, players, grooms and all participants as well."
The WPL will open with the Feb. 6-17 All-Star Challenge. A first-of-its-kind draw party will feature team owners drawing for all-star players at the league's kickoff draw party. The remaining WPL tournaments are the Feb. 20-March 3 Founders Cup, March 6-24 Palm Beach Open and March 27-April 14 Triple Crown of Polo.
The World Polo League tournaments are among several prize money tournaments that will be held during Grand Champions' four-month winter season featuring low, medium and high goal leagues, women's league, youth polo and special events at both Grand Champions and Santa Rita Polo Farm.
Other prize money tournaments are the $50,000 National 12-Goal and $100,000 World Cup.
Defending champion GSA (Henry Porter, Santino Magrini, Toro Ruiz, Nachi Viana) became the first team in tournament history to win back-to-back titles in the last season's $50,000 National 12-Goal Tournament defeating Beverly Equestrian, 12-5. Ruiz, who enjoyed his finest polo season in Wellington, was named Most Valuable Player after scoring a game-high nine goals. Ruiz was also awarded the inaugural Steve Orthwein Sportsmanship Award for his selfless act of sportsmanship. When Hilario Figueras Ruiz stopped playing to help him with his mallet and to make sure he was uninjured. Orthwein, a 2011 Hall of Famer, was a renowned polo player and visionary who died at age 72.
In one of the most exciting finishes in club history, Palm Beach Illustrated (Carlitos Gracida, Juan Monteverde, Peco Polledo, MVP Tommy Collingwood) won the coveted $100,000 World Cup presented by Audi. The defending champion and underdog going into the final won its second consecutive title with a thrilling 10-9 victory over Grand Champions (Grant Ganzi, Juancito Bollini, Juan Martin Nero, Alejandro Novillo Astrada).
The most popular and well-received tournament last year was the $100,000 World Cup. The tournament, open to teams 0-to-26 goal on handicap, is similar to the Copa Republica in Argentina where teams of any handicap from 0-to-40 can compete.
The winter season attracts a large international field of players from all corners of the world including India, Mexico, New Zealand, Costa Rica, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, Ecuador, Nigeria, Uruguay, Chile, Nicaragua, England, Azerbaijan and U.S.
Grand Champions and Santa Rita Polo Farm hosts polo tournaments ranging from zero to 26-goal during the winter season in addition to special events such as the Great Futures Celebrity Polo Charity Cup, at its eleven well-manicured fields. Because of the variety of polo offered for all ages at every level at Grand Champions there has been an increase in polo in Wellington's polo community.
"As in previous years, South Florida will offer polo from the lowest level all the way to 26 goal for the teams who want it," said Marc Ganzi, who moved with his family to Wellington 18 years ago and was part of polo's glory days.
"We just want to offer access," Ganzi said. "We love the sport and we want to play 26 goal, but we want to give access to other teams to play it, too, if they so choose."
Grand Champions has 6, 8, 12 and 20-goal tournaments including the prestigious Sterling Cup and John T. Oxley Memorial, both 20-goal tournaments and 12-Goal Sieber Memorial Trophy won by Patagones (Joaquin Avendano, Robi Bilbao, Benjamin Avendano, MVP Santi Wulff) last year and named in honor of Rob Sieber, who died in a polo-related accident 32 years ago in Oak Brook, Ill.
Last year Valiente captured the Sterling Cup in a historical game. For the first time, the world's No. 1-ranked polo player Adolfo Cambiaso, 42, and two of his children, Mia, then 15, and Poroto, then 12, won their first-ever high goal tournament together.
Valiente (Poroto Cambiaso, 1, Mia Cambiaso, 1, Magoo Laprida, 8, Adolfo Cambiaso, 10) knocked off pre-tournament favorites Audi (Marc Ganzi, 2, Henry Porter, 2, Nic Roldan, 8, Nico Pieres, 8), 10-4, in the 20-goal championship tournament.
"It was great fun," Adolfo Cambiaso said. "It was amazing. It's always the dream of a father to play with your kids as long as they enjoy it and have fun."
The weekly Women's Polo League, co-founded by Alina Carta and Melissa Ganzi and sponsored by The Polo School, a stand-alone USPA-sanctioned club, will return this season. The women's action will culminate with the popular Sunny Hale's Legacy WCT Final in April.
In last year's exciting women's final, 10-goaler Nina Clarkin of Great Britain and teenage teammates Mia Cambiaso, Mia Novillo Astrada and Riley Ganzi led Chateau D'esclans to a 7-3 victory over CrossFit El Cid (Paige McCabe, Cecelia Cochran, Tiffany Busch, Sarah Wiseman). Clarkin was tournament MVP and Cambiaso was Game MVP.
World reknown polo announcer Jan-Erik Franck will return to Grand Champions and call the action at most of the tournaments including the prestigious World Polo League.
Grand Champions Polo Club and Santa Rita Polo Farm's 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.
Grand Champions Polo Club and Santa Rita Polo Farm is the largest and most unique private 102-acre polo facility in Wellington with 120 stalls in five self-contained barns, exercise track, five climate-controlled tack rooms, vet room, staff quarters, guest house and polo fields with state-of-the-art underground irrigation and stick-and-ball fields.
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 and have been catalysts of the popularity of polo in both Wellington and Aspen, where their Aspen Valley Polo Club will host the St. Regis World Snow Polo Championship, Dec. 17-22.
The Polo School, a 501c3 organization, has been 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. Headed by Director of Operations Juan Bollini, The Polo School has nurtured several men and women polo players now playing in the pro and amateur ranks since its inception.