By Sharon Robb
WELLINGTON, Fl., March 2, 2018---The prestigious Sterling Cup opened Friday with two exciting games decided by two goals or less at Grand Champions Polo Club.
TONKAWA 9, FLEXJET 7
Flexjet (Melissa Ganzi, Salvador Lockey, Rodrigo Andrade, Alejandro Novillo Astrada) started off quickly with a 3-0 lead in the first chukker but shut down offensively in the next two chukkers with Tonkawa (Matt Coppola, Cody Ellis, Sapo Caset, Sterling Giannico) outscoring them 2-0 and 3-0 to take a 5-3 halftime lead.
After trailing 7-4 and 7-5 in the fourth and fifth chukkers, Flexjet came back to tie the game, 7-7, on Astrada's 120-yard goal with 2:45 left in the game. In the final two minutes, quick-footed Caset and Coppola got loose to score goals within 20 seconds.
"It was our first time playing together and we didn't get to play a practice," Caset said. "It took us a chukker and then we started playing well. They came back and scored some nice goals but luckily we won the throw-in quickly and scored a goal right away and that gave us the advantage.
"It's always important to win the first game," said the 10-goaler. "We are really excited to play here. The field was great. The tournament is going to be really competitive."
Coppola scored a game-high five goals for Tonkawa. Giannico and Caset each had two goals. For Flexjet, Ganzi, Andrade and Lockey each had two goals. Novillo Astrada added one.
"It just took us a chukker or two to get our rhythm all together and figure out how everybody was going to play," Coppola said. "Once we did that we all played well together and it was a lot of fun.
"This team is awesome," Coppola said. "It's fun to play with Sterling and Cody. And, obviously Sapo is one of the best players in the world so to play with him is an honor and a lot of fun. It's a great education, you can always learn something from these guys."
On Tuesday, Flexjet plays U.S. Polo Assn. at 10 a.m. and Tonkawa plays Travieso at 2 p.m.
DUTTA CORP 10, SD FARMS 9
In a wild game, Dutta Corp (Timmy Dutta, Juan Martin Obregon, Mariano Gonzalez, Matias Magrini), turned back upset-minded SD Farms (Sayyu Dantata, Costi Caset, Inaki Laprida, Peco Polledo) when Juan Martin Obregon scored the winning goal with 3:24 left in a hardfought game.
"This was a great team we played," said Magrini, coming off his Ylvisaker Sunday final with GSA. "Sayyu is a hell of a player, they were all amazing. It was fun.
Dutta Corp was playing with a makeshift lineup because of injuries and illness and needed two chukkers to adjust.
Gonzalez filled in for the injured Pike Diaz Alberdi and Obregon was contacted Thursday to play for Lucas Diaz Alberdi, who came down with a virus.
"This was the first time the four of us played together," Magrini said. "Winning is always nice. It was a tough win. I had never played with Juan Martin before and he plays amazing."
Behind a balanced scoring attack, SD Farms jumped out to a 4-1 lead in the opening chukker and led 5-3 after two chukkers.
Dutta Corp reeled SD Farms in to tie the game at 5-5 with 4:30 left in the third chukker and 6-6 at the half. Dutta Corp outscored SD Farms, 2-1 and 3-1 in the second and third chukkers.
The lead changed hands six times with SD Farms taking a 9-7 lead going into the sixth chukker. Dutta Corp rallied with back-to-back goals from Gonzalez before Obregon's heroics.
"This is a wide open tournament," Magrini said. "I haven't seen the other teams but I don't think there is a favorite."
Gonzalez finished with a game-high seven goals. Dutta, Obregon and Magrini each had one goal.
Laprida led SD Farms with four goals and Polledo had three goals. Dantata and Caset each had one goal.
"SD Farms has been playing 20-goal at IPC and doing well, they beat some good teams over there," said Dutta, coming off his Pilot team's Iglehart Cup Thursday win over La Indiana at IPC. "We knew they would be good because they have been playing all season together.
"It's good we pulled it out, the first win is always very important," Dutta said. "It helps with the rhythm of the horses and team. It helps the spirit and morale to get going."
On Tuesday, Dutta Corp plays Valiente at noon and SD Farms plays Audi at 4 p.m.
The marathon day of polo also marked the debut of new Grand Champions announcer Jan-Erik Franck. a favorite among players and fans, who called the Sterling Cup doubleheader and semifinals of the Sieber Memorial 12-Goal.
The tournament continues with a doubleheader on Saturday. Valiente (Poroto Cambiaso, Adolfo Cambiaso, Bautista Panelo, Juan Britos) hosts Audi (Marc Ganzi, Nic Roldan, Nico Pieres, Grant Ganzi) at 11 a.m. Defending champion Travieso (Teo Calle, Tony Calle, Sebastian Merlos, Tomas Garcia del Rio) takes on U.S. Polo Assn. (Juancito Bollini, Juan Bollini, Mike Azzaro, Jesse Bray) in the featured Saturday Polo game at 3 p.m.
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