By Sharon Robb
WELLINGTON, Fl., March 30, 2018--On a windy day for polo, two exciting fast-paced semifinal games on Thursday determined the finalists for the coveted John T. Oxley Memorial Cup.
Travieso (Teo Calle, 1, Tony Calle, 3, Sebastian Merlos, 9, Tomas Garcia del Rio, 7), the most experienced team of the two week, six-team tournament, defeated previously undefeated Grand Champions/U.S. Polo Assn. (Grant Ganzi, 2, Carlitos Gracida, 4, Juancito Bollini 4, Alejandro Novillo Astrada, 8), 12-11, with 2:28left in overtime at Grand Champions.
Palm Beach Polo/Palm Beach Equine (Henry Porter, 2, Santino Magrini, 3, Magoo Laprida, 8, Gringo Colombres, 7) knocked off Valiente (Roberto Zedda, 4, Pablo Spinacci, 6, Jesse Bray, 5, Juan Bollini, 5), 11-9, at Valiente's home field and earned a rematch with Travieso, who they lost to 13-10 in the tournament opener.
The final begins at 4 p.m. but not before a visit from the Easter Bunny and Easter Egg Hunt at 3 p.m. Face painting for kids will be on site all day.
Fans, family and friends will be treated to VIP treatment with finger food including empanadas, sandwiches and pastries, Perfect Vodka with HiBall and Alta Palla mixers and holiday-themed cake by Jennifer Johnson of Johnson's Custom Cakes in Wellington.
The Wellington Rotary Club will be VIP guests of club owners Melissa and Marc Ganzi on Wellington Rotary Day that will feature music and world renown polo announcer Jan-Erik Franck, the voice of polo.
TRAVIESO 12, GRAND CHAMPIONS/U.S. POLO ASSN. 11
Travieso continues to find ways to win.
"Thank God," Merlos said with a smile after scoring the game-winning 30-yard penalty conversion with 2:28 left in overtime.
"We are happy about being back in a final," Merlos said. "We had some very good moments and some others where we lost concentration, but we won and we are happy about that. We don't have much time to recover the horses so we have our work cut out for us."
The physical game was a close hardfought battle with the lead changing hands seven times. Travieso had a two-goal cushion twice (5-3 in the second chukker and 9-7 in the fourth) but Bollini's hot mallet in the fifth gave Grand Champions/U.S. Polo Assn. a 10-9 lead after the fifth chukker. Merlos' big goal to open the sixth tied the game and Teo Calle's even bigger goal gave them an 11-10 lead until Novillo Astrada's heroics in the final seconds.
"Teo had that shot to goal and he was marking very well opening up spaces for me," Merlos said. "We are a four-man team. We have no stars, we are all working. We all try to give time and space to whoever has the ball."
Both teams had their chances to win in regulation time
"We play together a season and we know each other well," Del Rio said. "We have been in this kind of situation a lot. We have won some, we have lost some. We always are close and find a way to get back one of the goals."
Del Rio escaped serious injury when he was hit above his left eye with a ball and toppled off his horse at the 6:36 mark of overtime. He was treated by the club trainer and returned to the game.
"I was dizzy for a bit, but I am okay," Del Rio said.
Merlos scored a game-high nine goals. Del Rio had two goals and Teo Calle added one incredible 60-yard goal out of a crowd of players with 6:19 left in the sixth chukker to give Travieso an 11-10 lead.
Novillo Astrada led Grand Champions/U.S. Polo Assn. with a team-high five goals including a 30-yard penalty conversion with 35 seconds left to send the game into overtime. Gracida added two and Ganzi and Bollini each had one goal. The 18-goal team also picked up two goals on handicap.
The Calles are playing together on the same 20-goal team for the first time at Grand Champions. The father-son combination have played in the 8-, 12- and 16-goal leagues at Grand Champions where the team started four years ago.
PALM BEACH POLO/PALM BEACH EQUINE 11, VALIENTE 9
In another close, penalty-fest game, Palm Beach Polo/Palm Beach Equine led for most of the first four chukkers before Spinacci's cut shot gave them a 7-6 advantage going into the fifth.
The lead changed hands three more times before Palm Beach Polo/Palm Beach Equine took a two-goal lead for good with back-to-back penalty conversions from Colombres.
It was the first time Colombres had ever won a game at Valiente Farm. It's also the first time he has been teammates with teenagers Santino Magrini and Henry Porter. Dr. Scott Swerdlin coached the team from the players' tent.
"Travieso is a really, really good team with good players and good horses," Colombres said. "It will be a tough game. Let's see on Saturday.
"Today I don't think we played our best game," Colombres said. "There were a lot of penalties, we made a lot of fouls. I know we can play much better. Let's see if we can play better on Saturday."
Colombres led Palm Beach Polo/Palm Beach Equine with a game-high six goals. Laprida and Porter each had two goals and Magrini added one.
Zedda led Valiente with five goals. Bollini had two goals and Bray and Spinacci each had one goal.
The last John T. Oxley Memorial tournament winner was Postage Stamp Farm in March 2016. The foursome of Annabelle Gundlach, Tommy Collingwood, Brandon Phillips and MVP Jeff Blake defeated Dutta Corp (Timmy Dutta, Mariano Gracida, Carlitos Gracida, Piki Diaz Alberdi), 7-5. It was the new team's first 16-20 goal tournament win.
John T. Oxley was a pioneer in polo. The founder of the now-defunct Royal Palm Polo Sports Club in Boca Raton played polo well into his 80s. He started playing at age 46 and won the U.S. Open twice, Sunshine League, Rolex Gold Cup, Monty Waterbury and Silver Cup.
At age 83, Oxley became the oldest player ever to win a major polo event when his team won the International Gold Cup. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1994. Oxley died of a heart attack at his summer home in Tulsa, Okla. in 1996. He was 87.
Oxley saw his first polo match as a youth in Tulsa while courting Mary, the woman who became his wife. The two often rode horseback together and were married in 1935. Mrs. Oxley, known locally as the "first lady of polo," died in 1987 of a stroke.
"[Polo) requires 100 percent concentration and keeps you fit physically and mentally," Oxley said in a 1992 interview. "There's no sport that requires the timing this sport requires. It's an anticipation type of game. You don't wait till the play's made, then try to make it."
Wellington-based ChukkerTV, leaders in polo broadcasting, is live streaming the entire John T. Oxley Memorial.
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.