Pilot Wins Ylvisaker Cup Opener; Audi Rally Falls Short

 Brothers Nico Pieres of Audi and Gonzalito Pieres of Pilot battle for the ball.

Brothers Nico Pieres of Audi and Gonzalito Pieres of Pilot battle for the ball.

WELLINGTON, FL., February 2, 2018---Pilot won its fourth game in a row with an exciting 13-11 victory over Audi Thursday in the Ylvisaker Cup opener in front of a packed house at International Polo Club Palm Beach.

After a slow start in the 20-goal Joe Barry Cup dropping its first three bracket games, Pilot (Curtis Pilot, A, Timmy Dutta, 1, Gonzalito Pieres, 9, Facundo Pieres, 10) has found its team chemistry.

"For an opener, this gives us the right rhythm to keep on going, to keep on climbing as a team with each other and the horses, like a building block going on up," Dutta said.

Audi (Grant Ganzi, 2, Nic Roldan, 8, Nico Pieres, 8, Marc Ganzi, 2) making its 20-goal season debut and playing its first game together as a new team, rallied late in the second half after being down by as many as six goals, 13-7, with 4:58 left in the fifth chukker.

Audi missed 3-of-7 shots from the field in the first half despite leading in throw-ins, 9-5. Pilot converted 8-of-9 first-half shots from the field including one long booming goal by 16-year-old Dutta to lead 9-5 at the half. 

"For me coming in as a 1-goaler on their team I am finally understanding their system, how they play, how they want me to play and what they want me to do, " Dutta said. "It took a couple of changes for me but finally I am beginning to understand and click with these guys.

"Facundo and Gonzalito have played so many Argentine Opens together. They are brothers, they know each other perfectly. They don't even have to talk on the field, they are in sync and Curtis is improving every day at high goal. It's a different speed and rhythm than the 12, 16 and 18-goal. 

"For Audi, I am heartbroken because I played for Audi at Grand Champions with Marc and Grant. They are friends of mine. I know they are going to take this game as a learning curve and push on forward."

Audi outscored Pilot, 6-4, in the second half, with all but one goal scored on penalty conversions. Roldan kept Audi in the game with six goals, including five penalty shots. Nico Pieres had four goals and Grant Ganzi added one.

Audi scored the first two goals of the sixth chukker to dig itself out of a hole and trailed, 13-11, but was unable to mount an offensive attack against Pilot's stingy defense. Despite Audi leading in throw-ins, 16-10, Audi managed to convert only 5-of-13 shots from the field. Pilot was near perfect, hitting 12-of-14.

"We played very good, I am very happy, especially that we started with a win, that's what you always need," Gonzalito Pieres said. "We learned from the losses. Luckily we can do better now. Audi looks strong and competitive, but this was their first game and we have played more together. They will get better as the tournament goes on."

Facundo Pieres led Pilot with eight goals, Gonzalito Pieres had three and Dutta added two. 

"We started well this time and that was good for us because we always had the advantage the whole game and were a little bit up," Facundo Pieres said. "But the truth is every time we were winning by three or four goals we made a few mistakes but luckily we were up on the scoreboard.

"The team is working better together," Pieres said. "The first game of the Joe Barry was really bad. After that we started playing much better and the horses started going much better so no more excuses."

After finishing 1-3 in its bracket of the Joe Barry Cup, Pilot defeated Postage Stamp Farm in the semifinals and Goose Creek in the final to win the Bobby Barry Subsidiary Cup and finished their 20-goal tournament debut at 3-3. 

"Facu and Gonzalito came up with a great plan and we came out with it,"  said team sponsor Curtis Pilot. "They saw the momentum was changing and told Timmy and I to do a couple little things different and we were able to keep the lead and keep going. They all had a great game, I'm still trying to learn. I'm just trying to keep the back door closed."

Pilot has been playing polo for seven years and is playing high goal for the second year. He started riding nine years ago.

"I told everybody every game we have been behind the first two chukkers, let's do something different and be ahead in the first two chukkers," Pilot said. "It felt better to be ahead by a few points than behind. Audi is a good team. It's not all about winning and losing. It's about the horses, the pros and just making sure we play a good, safe game and have a lot of fun."

It was Roldan's first game since November, 2017 in Argentina. Roldan had broken his fibia in his leg while playing in Sotogrande, Spain and underwent surgery in August. He was sidelined for two months. "It's been a long time," Roldan said. "It's good to be back."

Grant Ganzi and Nico Pieres were coming off the Joe Barry Cup playing for Grand Champions Polo Club.

"Pilot was always going to click, they are a very good team, super well-organized and have two of the best polo players in the world on their team," Roldan said. 

"We knew it was going to be tough. It was our first game. There's a lot of good teams out there. We had some good moments and some not-so-good moments. That was our first real test as a team after two practices. Obviously, there's things we need to improve but I like the team. Playing with them is fun."

Audi's next game is Wednesday at 10 a.m. against Prestige Worldwide Prestige (Will Johnston, 2, Stevie Orthwein, 4, Miguel Novillo Astrada, 9, Carlucho Arellano, 5).

Five games are scheduled this weekend. On Saturday at noon SD Farms plays La Indiana and 3 p.m. Prestige Worldwide plays Carillon Miami (formerly Modere). On Sunday, Tonkawa plays GSA at 10 a.m. followed by Valiente and Coca-Cola at noon and Postage Stamp Farm against Travieso at 3 p.m.

Thirteen teams are competing in the month-long tournament. The tournament features four 10-goal players: Hilario Ulloa, Facundo Pieres, Sapo Caset and Adolfo Cambiaso, making his season debut.

In last year's Ylvisaker Cup final, Coca-Cola rallied for a 9-8 victory over Tonkawa. Coca-Cola (Wes Finlayson, Julian de Lussareta, Julio Arellano, Gillian Johnston) dedicated the game to 17-year-old Donovan Strateman, tragically killed in a polo accident. Mt. Brilliant defeated Goose Creek, 11-10, to win the George Haas Cup subsidiary.

The prestigious Ylvisaker Cup, established in 2003, is named after visionary business leader and lifelong polo enthusiast Bill Ylvisaker. Ylvisaker, a former captain of the Yale polo team, founded the Palm Beach Polo and Country Club. He created the Polo Training Foundation to teach and develop young polo players.

Ylvisaker was a 7-goal rated player and won three U.S. Opens, two Coronation Cups against England and Australia, Gold Cup and four national 20-goal championships. He was chairman of the U.S. Polo Association (1970-75) and inducted into the Polo Hall of Fame in 1994. He died February 5, 2010 at age 85.

USPA Polo Network is live streaming the IPC winter season, including the entire Ylvisaker Cup with content from Wellington-based ChukkerTV.

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.

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.

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