By Sharon Robb
WELLINGTON, Fl., March 4, 2018---Defending champion Travieso began its title defense and Valiente won its opener on Day Two of the Sterling Cup Saturday at windswept Grand Champions Polo Club.
TRAVIESO 13, U.S. POLO ASSN 8
In the Saturday Polo featured game, defending champion Travieso (Teo Calle, Tony Calle, Sebastian Merlos, Tomas Garcia del Rio), playing with a new lineup this season, needed two chukkers to settle into its game against U.S. Polo Assn (Juan Bollini, Juancito Bollini, Jesse Bray, Mike Azzaro).
"We played a team where there's four very good players, it was really tough," Teo Calle said. "There was a lot of marking and a lot of contact. I think we were ready. We made a big effort practicing and preparing our horses even though at the beginning we were not doing well. It was hard for us, the lower handicap players, to get use to marking the higher handicap. It took us a couple of chukkers to get there, but I guess we finally did it."
U.S. Polo Assn jumped out to a 3-1 lead in the opening chukker and 5-3 after two before Ecuador-based Travieso turned the game around.
"There was no pressure being defending champion and having a new lineup, we tried a little bit too hard at the very beginning in the first two chukkers," Merlos said. "Then in the third we scored four goals in a row. They wanted to win as much as we did."
After trailing 5-1 early in the second chukker, Travieso reeled off four unanswered goals to tie the game at 5-5 with 3:18 left. U.S. Polo Assn regained the lead on Bray's nice scoring run off the throw-in to lead 6-5 at the half.
"Halftime was good for us," Merlos said. "We talked over a few things. We changed the throw-ins and our knock-ins and it then came out well. They are four guys, very tough, all control the ball very well and all can score."
The second half was all Travieso outscoring U.S. Polo Assn, 3-0, 2-1 and 3-1.
"I think we were in a rush early in the game," Merlos said. "We were winning the balls but we were not finishing the plays. We were getting to their goal, couldn't finish and they were running all the way to goal. They were very accurate on short goals and scored a couple of penalties."
Merlos scored a game-high six goals and was named Most Valuable Player.
Also for Travieso, Teo Calle scored three goals and Tony Calle and del Rio each had two goals. For U.S. Polo Assn, Bray led scoring with five goals and Azzaro had three.
"We were a little bit nervous," Tony Calle said. "We were fast but not thinking through what we were doing. We had to simplify what we were doing and have more confidence in what we were doing and in each other and start playing polo.
"We were focusing too much on them and we needed to start playing our game instead of theirs," said Calle, a senior at Lynn University. "We started playing solid in the fourth and felt comfortable after that."
Both father and son agreed there is no clear-cut favorite for the eight-team tournament.
"You have your name on the trophy from last year but this year is a whole different ballgame, it's a different team," the younger Calle said.
Kate, a 7-year-old mare owned and ridden by Tomas Garcia del Rio, was named American Polo Horse Association Best registered horse for the game. Kate was born, raised and trained at Silver Stone Farms in Aiken, S.C. by Moses and out of Gringa. Her groom was awarded $250 by American Polo Horse Association executive director Tiana Smicklas.
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 Grand Champions Polo Club Best Playing Pony was Bacall, 9, ridden by Juancito Bollini.
In the club's first-ever Fan Appreciation Award presentation for the featured game, Cecilia Bollini and Rosario Novillo Astrada were presented with gifts as two of the club's most supportive fans.
VALIENTE 9, AUDI 8
Valiente (Poroto Cambiaso, Bob Jornayvaz, Juan Britos, Adolfo Cambiaso) jumped out to 5-2 halftime and 9-3 fourth chukker leads over Audi (Nico Pieres, Marc Ganzi, Carlitos Gracida, Hector Guerrero) and held off a late surge to win its tournament-opener.
Audi shut out Valiente in the fifth and sixth chukkers and scored five unanswered goals in the last two chukkers, all by Ganzi.
Ganzi finished with six goals. Poroto Cambiaso, at 12, the youngest player in the field, led scoring with four goals. Britos and Adolfo Cambiaso each had two goals and Jornayvaz added one.
The tournament resumes on Tuesday with four games: U.S. Polo Assn vs. Flexjet 10 a.m.; Dutta Corp vs. Valiente, noon; Travieso vs. Tonkawa, 2 p.m.; SD Farms vs. Audi, 4 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 fan