Grand Champions Rally Falls Short In C.V. Whitney Cup 26-Goal Opener

Grand Champions teammates Grant Ganzi.JPG

By Sharon Robb

WELLINGTON, Fl., March 2, 2018--Trailing by two goals with 3:47 left in the game, Grand Champions lost a heartbreaking 14-13 decision to Colorado Thursday in its 26-goal C.V. Whitney semifinal opener at International Polo Club.

With 39 seconds left in the game, the foursome of Grant Ganzi, 2, Nic Roldan, 8, Nico Pieres, 8, and Alejandro Novillo Astrada, 8, had one final opportunity to tie the game against Colorado (Bob Jornayvaz, 2, Santi Torres, 6, Magoo Laprida, 8, Diego Cavanagh, 9) and send it into overtime.

After Roldan converted a 30-yard penalty to cut his team's deficit to one goal with 1:07 remaining, he had a chance to tie the game with a 60-yard penalty shot but the attempt sailed wide right.

In the first C.V. Whitney semifinal on Wednesday, defending champion Valiente (Rob Jornayvaz, 1, Tommy Beresford, 4, Facundo Pieres, 10, Adolfo Cambiaso, 10) defeated The Daily Racing Form (Jared Zenni, 5, Agustin Obregon, 5, Hilario Ulloa, 10, Mariano Obregon, 6), 13-10.

Grand Champions will play The Daily Racing Form in the subsidiary at noon. Valiente will meet Colorado in the championship at 3 p.m.

"We're very excited to be in the final," said Torres, coming off winning Sunday's Ylvisaker Cup with Valiente teammates Bob Jornayvaz, Bautisa Panelo and Adolfo Cambiaso.

"We got more organized in the second half and made the goals we missed in the first half," Torres said. "That team is a solid team. They made all their goals in the beginning and we missed all of ours. They missed some chances at the end and we made ours. They missed a run at the end and the last penalty to tie which is bad luck. That team was tough. It was anybody's day."

The championship final will pit father against son.

"What fun to play against your son," Jornayvaz said. "I can't wait. It will be a great day. You're going to see a lot of great horses and some great polo on both sides. We've got our work cut out for us but it will be fun." 

Cavanagh, a 9-goaler, scored a game-high ten goals, including seven penalty conversions. Torres added two goals and Laprida had one.

Roldan had a team-high nine goals including seven on penalty shots. Pieres scored three goals and Astrada had one.

Grand Champions converted 6-of-9 shots from the field and Colorado converted 6-of-10. The teams were even in penalty conversions with 7-of-8. Grand Champions led in throw-ins won, 15-14. Colorado led in fouls 16-11.

Grand Champions controlled most of the first half and built a 7-4 lead with 5:40 left in the third chukker. Cavanagh's three goals cut Grand Champions lead to 8-7 at the half.

Torres' goal with 4:54 left in the fourth chukker gave Colorado its first lead of the game at 9-8. Colorado maintained its momentum and kept Grand Champions off-balance for three consecutive goals and 11-8 advantage early in the fifth chukker.

"We changed things up in the second half," Jornayvaz said. "It was a good, hard physical game. Nic is so good at the penalty line, I can't believe he missed it."

Grand Champions regained its momentum the remainder of the chukker with a goal from the field by Astrada and two penalty conversions by Roldan to tie the game at 11-11.

The teams continued the tight battle in the sixth chukker with Cavanagh converting a penalty for a 12-11 lead. Roldan countered with his own penalty conversion to tie the game at 12-12. Back-to-back penalty conversions by Cavanagh gave Colorado a 14-12 lead with 3:47 left. Roldan's penalty shot cut the lead to one but Grand Champions could get no closer.

"Since it's single-elimination, every game is so important and so it was an important game today," Jornayvaz said. "You got to win it to get to the finals."

Ganzi, Pieres and Novillo Astrada were coming off a 14-9 victory over Travieso in the George Haas Cup subsidiary tournament. 

The C.V. Whitney Cup is the first of the Triple Crown 26-goal tournaments, the highest-rated polo tournaments played in North America. It is a single-elimination format. Other 26-goal tournaments are the March 8-25 USPA Gold Cup and April 4-22 U.S. Open.

The winner of the 2017 C.V. Whitney Cup was Valiente (Bob Jornayvaz, Matias Torres Zavaleta, Diego Cavanagh, Adolfo Cambiaso). Valiente defeated Orchard Hill, 14-11, in the final. Zavaleta was Most Valuable Player and Valiente's horse Sugar played by Cambiaso was Best Playing Pony. Orchard Hill had won in 2015 defeating Alegria, 16-13, the tournament's highest-scoring final ever, and 2016, defeating Audi, 11-9.

The C.V. Whitney Cup, originally known as the U.S. Handicap, was created in 1979 and first played at the Retama Polo Center in San Antonio, Texas where it was the handicap counterpart to the U.S. Open Championship. It was moved to IPC in 2003 and has been held every year.

In 1988 and 1989 the Fort Lauderdale team of Jack Oxley, Joey Casey, Ernesto Trotz and Bart Evans won the title. Other notable past winners were Valiente (2012, 2014, 2017), Lechuza Caracas (1999, 2002, 2011), and White Birch (1995, 1996, 2000, 2001 and 2005).

Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney, the son of 10-goal Hall of Famer Payne Whitney, was an American businessman, film producer, writer, government official and owner of a leading stable of thoroughbred horses. He followed in his father's footsteps as an avid polo player and won the U.S. Open three times.

USPA Polo Network will livestream the entire C.V. Whitney Cup with content provided by ChukkerTV.

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