Audi, Tonkawa, Travieso, Valiente Advance Into Sterling Cup Semifinals Tuesday At Grand Champions Polo Club

 Sapo Caset of Tonkawa hits the ball out of the air with Mike Azzaro defending. Photo by Chiarofoto

Sapo Caset of Tonkawa hits the ball out of the air with Mike Azzaro defending. Photo by Chiarofoto

By Sharon Robb

WELLINGTON, Fl., March 12, 2018---Audi will play undefeated Tonkawa and Travieso will meet Valiente in Tuesday's much-anticipated semifinals of the Sterling Cup at Grand Champions Polo Club.

AUDI 13, DUTTA CORP 5

In the Saturday Polo featured game, Audi (Marc Ganzi, 2, Henry Porter, 2, Nic Roldan, 8, Nico Pieres, 8) finished strong for the lopsided victory against Dutta Corp (Timmy Dutta, 1, Lucas Diaz Alberdi, 5, Piki Diaz Alberdi, 7, Matias Magrini, 7).

Dutta Corp took a 2-1 lead in the opening chukker but Audi came back with a 3-0 second chukker for a 4-2 lead and never relinquished it.

Audi led 6-3 at the half and got stronger as the game progressed including a 4-0 fifth chukker. Audi scored six unanswered goals before Dutta Corp got its fifth goal early in the sixth chukker.

"I didn't expect this score, they are a very tough team, four strong players," Roldan said. "I knew it was going to be tough. We had a little trouble breaking through in the first two chukkers but once we broke them we felt like we were in control the rest of the game."

Roldan scored a game-high six goals and was named Most Valuable Player.

"We are jelling," Roldan said. "We have had good momentum. The horses feel great. The four of us are playing as a team and playing well. Today was a good day for us. Now we are going to the semis against a very good team that's had an amazing season. It's going to be super tough but we are happy to be in the semis."

Porter had four goals, Ganzi two and Pieres one. Magrini led Dutta Corp with three goals.

The American Polo Horse Association best registered horse of the game was Rosinanta, owned and played by Porter. The APHA was created in 2006 by the legendary Polo Hall of Famer Sunny Hale to recognize polo ponies in America and encourages events that showcase them and hard-working dedication of grooms. The APHA horse's groom receive $250.

The Grand Champions Polo Club Best Playing Pony was Rumbera, played by Timmy Dutta.

After the Saturday Polo featured game, the Audi players were awarded original prints designed by Brazilian-born renowned artist Romero Britto of Miami Beach. The signed prints feature a polo player in full swing on a polo pony surrounded by a palm tree, heart and whimsical designs of color.

TRAVIESO 10, FLEXJET 8

In a hotly-contested game, the lead changed hands eight times before defending champion Travieso (Teo Calle, 1, Tony Calle, 3, Sebastian Merlos, 9, Tomas Garcia del Rio, 7) broke a 7-7 tie in the fifth chukker. 

Travieso scored three straight goals for a 10-7 lead early in the sixth chukker and never trailed. Flexjet (Melissa Ganzi, 0, Salvador Lockey, 2, Rodrigo Andrade, 9, Alejandro Novillo Astrada, 8) tried to rally after Novillo Astrada converted his seventh penalty of the game but ran out of time.

"Tommy and I started out playing too far back, we were having the chances but were missing the goals and they were on fire," Merlos said. "Then we got more position with the ball and I started attacking a bit more. Teo had a great game and opened a lot of spaces for me. And the ball, instead of going out, they started going in. That made a big difference.

"I think we were a little bit looking at them and not doing much," Merlos said. "Then we started winning the throw-ins which I think was one of the keys I think. The second half we came out with the better horses and it made a difference."

Travieso had balanced scoring. Merlos led with four goals, Del Rio three, Tony Calle two and Teo Calle one goal. 

"It was a good win and now we are in the semis and now we have to get ready for Valiente," Merlos said. "Teams play a defending champion in a different way, they all want to beat you. In a way there is a little bit of pressure, but personally I like pressure. It makes you play better."

Novillo Astrada scored all seven of his team's goals on penalty conversions. Flexjet, a 19-goal team, also received one goal on handicap.

TONKAWA 16, U.S. POLO ASSN. 12

Tonkawa (Jeff Hildebrand, 0, Sterling Giannico, 3, Sapo Caset, 10, Julian de Lusaretta, 7) enters the semifinal round as the only undefeated team after an impressive comeback win over U.S. Polo Assn. (Juanse Olivera, 1, Juan Bollini, 5, Jesse Bray, 5, Mike Azzaro, 6).

Hildebrand and de Lusaretta were in the lineup for the first time in the tournament and needed a few chukkers to adjust and find their rhythm with Giannico and Caset.

"I think they played well, they scored every time they went to the goal," Caset said. "I think we started a bit relaxed. At the end we started playing better, hitting the ball and making the goals that we missed in the first half."

U.S. Polo Assn. led for the first five chukkers, 5-2, 7-4, 9-7, 11-8 and 12-10 before Tonkawa clawed its way back to shut out U.S. Polo Assn., 6-0, in the final chukker. Hildebrand sparked the rally with three goals. Giannico added two and Caset had one.

"We played with this team in January," Caset said. "Jeff couldn't make it for our first two games so it was good for him to play this game before the Gold Cup and get ready.

"It's nice to be undefeated," Caset said. "This tournament is important to us. When we started out I thought we had a great team and could win the tournament. Here we are in the semifinals."

Giannico finished with six goals, Caset had five and Hildebrand scored a season-high five goals. De Lusaretta added one goal.

For U.S. Polo Assn., Azzaro and Bray each had three goals, Olivera had two and Bollini one goal.

SD FARMS 10, VALIENTE 9

SD Farms (Sayyu Dantata, Costi Caset, Inaki Laprida, Peco Polledo), led by Dantata's back-to-back goals in the sixth chukker, handed Valiente (Bob Jornayvaz, Poroto Cambiaso, Juan Britos, Adolfo Cambiaso/Diego Cavanagh) its first loss of the tournament.

Dantata, playing one of his finest games of the season, scored a game-high six goals. Polledo added two goals and Caset and Laprida each had one.

For Valiente, Britos led with four goals. Poroto Cambiaso and Diego Cavanagh each scored two goals. Adolfo Cambiaso added one goal.

The Sterling Cup is one of two historical tournaments that the nation’s busiest and most innovative polo club resurrected last year after a 22-year absence.

Travieso is defending Sterling Cup champion. In one of the most exciting games in Grand Champions history, Travieso staged an incredible comeback to win the Cup. Travieso (Tony Calle, Torito Ruiz, Sebastian Merlos, Hugo Barabucci) rallied from a 6-2 halftime deficit for a thrilling 13-8 victory over Casablanca (Harrison Azzaro, Grant Ganzi, Gonzalito Pieres, Rodrigo Andrade).

It was Travieso's first 20-goal tournament victory of the 2017 winter season and second in team history since the team's debut in 2015 at Grand Champions, where it was the winningest team in low and medium goal polo before stepping up to high goal. Travieso also won the 2015 USPA North American 20-Goal Cup and 2017 20-Goal Molina Cup and went on to make its debut at the 2017 U.S. Open.

The Sterling Cup was resurrected by Grand Champions owners Melissa and Marc Ganzi in hopes of recapturing polo's glory days.

The Sterling Cup was the second tournament of the 22-goal season at Palm Beach Polo after the January Challenge Cup and last played in 1995. It was considered the 22-goal championship and attracted as many as eighteen teams. 

It was first played in 1989 with Saniva B.G.K. winning the title. Other past winners include Pegasus, C.S. Brook, Grant’s Farm Manor, Revlon, Calumet Farm, Pony Express, Palm Beach Polo, Isla Carroll and White Birch.

Wellington-based ChukkerTV, leaders in polo broadcasting, is live streaming the Sterling Cup.

Grand Champions Polo Club and Santa Rita Polo Farm is the largest and most unique private 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