WELLINGTON, Fl., February 11, 2018---Patagones opened the Sieber Memorial 12-Goal Tournament with an impressive 13-9 victory over Sebucan during Saturday Polo at Grand Champions Polo Club.
By Sharon Robb
On a perfect day in front of a good local crowd and worldwide ChukkerTV audience, Patagones (Joaquin Avendano, 1, Robi Bilbao, 4, Benjamin Avendano, 2, Santi Wulff, 5) dominated the featured game against Sebucan (Pablo Pulido, 2, Marc Ganzi/Grant Ganzi, 2, Jesse Bray, 5, Stewart Armstrong, 3).
Patagones, playing well and taking advantage of Sebucan unforced errors, led for most of the game. After taking 2-1 and 3-2 leads in the first two chukkers, Patagones broke away for a 5-2 halftime lead and led by as many as nine goals (11-2) in the fifth chukker before Sebucan tried to reel them in.
Benjamin Avendano, 19, was named Most Valuable Player. Avendano scored three goals.
"We wanted to start off strong," Avendano said. "We want to make the finals again. They raised me and my little brother so now we have Robi instead of Tavi Usandizaga. We have a lot of fun with him. I am really happy with my progress, the horses and the organization."
It was the third MVP honor for the Lynn University sophomore this season including two at Grand Champions and one at Port Mayaca.
"He is young, he is growing up and getting stronger," Wulff said. "He is really well-mounted."
Wulff scored a team-high five goals, Joaquin Avendano had two and Bilbao added one. Bray scored a game high seven goals, including five in the second half. Grant Ganzi added two goals.
"I am very happy with the win," said Joaquin Avendano, at 17, the youngest player on the field. "The field was perfect, the ball didn't bounce and the horses were good. We had a plan from the beginning."
Pulido's horse, Burbuja, a 9-year-old chestnut gelding, was named American Polo Horse Association Best registered horse for the game. His groom, Marcial Torreyes was awarded $250 by American Polo Horse Association executive director Tiana Smicklas.
The APHA was created in 2006 by the legendary Sunny Hale to recognize polo ponies in America and encourages events that showcase them and hard-working dedication of grooms. Hale will be inducted posthumously on Friday into the Polo Hall of Fame in front of an expected sellout crowd.
The Grand Champions Polo Club Best Playing Pony was awarded Armstrong's second chukker horse, Almond Joy.
Patagones was coming off its runner-up finish last month to Palm Beach Equine in the Limited Edition 12-Goal Series. Patagones led for most of that game until the sixth chukker when Palm Beach Equine rallied for five goals to win 13-12 in the final minute of the game.
At 25, Robi Bilbao is the newest addition to the Patagones lineup replacing Tavi Usandizaga, who played last season.
"I met them four years ago and played two years in Argentina with these kids so I know them well," Bilbao said. "They are older and play excellent. They are like me. We make all the plays thinking we are all the same. It is easy to play with them. They are great kids and this is a great organization.
"We lost the final last month so we had a week to think about how we lost the final and can play better," Bilbao said. "I was a little nervous before the game but it worked out for us."
Wulff, the veteran and team leader, would like to see his team return to this month's 12-goal final.
"We had a good game today, Joaquin and Benjamin played amazing and understood the strategy," Wulff said. "The plan was to build the team from the back. We had Benjamin and Joaquin closer to me this time and we started from there, instead of spreading so much and having to hit long balls.
"I hope this team makes the final again, that is the idea, we are here to make it to the finals," Wulff said. "We have three more in the bracket and semifinals."
In addition to food and refreshments, fans were treated to guest announcer Tito Gaudenzi calling the play-by-play and DJ Tony Mirenda playing music in the VIP tent.
The Sieber Memorial 12-Goal Tournament features nine teams. Patagones' next game is Friday against Mayer Ranch (Clark Mayer, 0, Brendan Stenzel, 2, Matt Coppola, 4, Nacho Badiola, 6) at 4 p.m. Both teams are 1-0.
GSA, youngest and one of the most talented teams in club history, won last year's Sieber Memorial 12-Goal title. The foursome of Henry Porter, Santino Magrini, Juan Martin Zubia and Torito Ruiz defeated Patagones (Joaquin Avendano, Tavi Usandizaga, Benjamin Avendano, Santi Wulff, Santiago Avendano), 11-4 in the final. Porter was named Most Valuable Player.
The tournament is named in honor of polo player Rob Sieber, who died in a polo-related accident 32 years ago at Oak Brook, Ill. Members of the Sieber family annually attend the tournament and participate in the awards ceremony.
In the Margaret Sieber Memorial Handicap final, Cria Yatay (Bill Ballhaus, Hilario Figueras, Inaki Laprida, Marcos Garcia del Rio) defeated Audi, 12-10, (Teo Calle, Pablo Pulido, Tomas Pieres, Stewart Armstrong). Laprida was MVP.
Grand Champions Polo Club and Santa Rita Polo Farm is the largest and most unique 100-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.
During fall, winter and spring seasons, Grand Champions Polo Club, the nation's largest club with 11 well-manicured fields, hosts polo tournaments ranging from six to 26-goal in addition to special events.
The club features monthly 6, 8 and 12-goal tournaments and women's weekly league play during the winter season in addition to two 16-20 tournaments, $50,000 National 12 Goal, $100,000 World Cup winner-take-all 0-40-goal tournament, WCT Tournament and USPA National President's Cup.
During the 2017 winter season Grand Champions attracted a record 72 teams and another 18 teams during the spring season.
Grand Champions caters 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, the only polo club in the U.S. to offer the unique program.
The Club Hotline is 561-644-5050. It will be updated every day at 8 a.m. for both players and fans.