By Sharon Robb
WELLINGTON, Fl., March 9, 2018---Defending champion GSA opened its title defense Thursday in the $50,000 National 12-Goal Tournament with an impressive win at windswept Grand Champions Polo Club.
The talented GSA foursome (Henry Porter, 2, Santino Magrini, 3, Nachi Viana, 2, Toro Ruiz, 5) needed three chukkers to settle in before overtaking Deeridge (Santos Bollini, 1, Alex Webb, 0, Jesse Bray, 5, Juan Bollini, 5) for an impressive 13-8 victory in front of a good crowd and worldwide ChukkerTV audience.
Three of the four players return off last year's tournament champion with Porter, 18, Magrini, 16, and Ruiz, 19. Nachi Viana, 19, the younger brother of Team USPA's Felipe Viana, made his GSA debut. Tournament MVP Juan Martin Zubia, now in college, is not competing.
Last year GSA defeated Casablanca (Matias Gonzalez, Grant Ganzi, Juancito Bollini, Jesse Bray), 13-6, and became the youngest team in tournament history to win. Zubia scored a game-high six goals, Ruiz had five and Magrini scored two.
The new GSA team is taking up where it left off last year where it was the most dominant 12-goal team at Grand Champions.
"We came back as the old GSA in the second half," Porter said. "We obviously have more pressure than the other teams and we are the youngest team."
Deeridge looked like world beaters in the first half, jumping out to a 3-0 lead in the first chukker. Magrini scored back-to-back goals late in the chukker to trail by one, 3-2. Bray's third goal gave Deeridge a 4-2 advantage before Ruiz scored back-to-back goals to tie the game at 4-4. The teams exchanged goals to finish 5-5 at halftime.
"The first three chukkers we just couldn't make any goals," Porter said. "In the second half we changed some of the tactics and Santino managed to get the ball more and we opened it up to score the goals."
GSA took the lead, 6-5, for the first time on Viana's goal. Bray came right back converting a 30-yard penalty shot to tie the game, 6-6. That was the closest Deeridge would get.
GSA looked like its old self for the rest of the game, reeling off six goals in the fourth and fifth chukkers for a 12-6 lead early in the sixth chukker before Deeridge scored another goal with 5:45 left in the game.
"Don't count the other team out, they had Jesse Bray and Juan Bollini, and Alex Webb and Tato Bollini were playing really well, they were a good team, also," said 7-goaler Matias Magrini of 20-goal Dutta Corp, who also coaches the GSA team.
"I thought it was a great game, the first three chukkers," Magrini said. "I told them from the very beginning I was expecting a very tight game and luckily they scored a couple goals later and could take advantage.
"I think they played good, they need a lot of improvement. They are four young kids. Obviously, they all run for the ball and it's hard to make them play as a team but I think they finished the way I like it. They finished like a team and they finished well. I don't think there is pressure as defending champion. I think they enjoy every second of every game they play."
Magrini also praised La Indiana team sponsor Michael Bickford for allowing Ruiz to play with his team. "This is a thank you for Michael because he had a deal where his players could play nothing else. But he understood they were defending champion and the boys wanted to play together and do it for fun."
GSA had a balanced scoring attack with Ruiz scoring a team-high five goals.
"It took us three chukkers to get used to each other, but I think we played good," Ruiz said. "We were missing a lot of goals but then we started making them. We got better and better. I think we played well and the horses were good.
"You have to win all of them, if not you are out. It's always nice to start with a win."
Porter and Magrini each had three goals and Viana added two goals.
"It's always good to win," Magrini said. "I think we did pretty good with the team. I don't think we had to adjust, we just missed some goals early. We have our next game on Monday so we have to concentrate for that game."
Viana showed no sign of first-game jitters with his new team and had chemistry with his new teammates who he grew up playing with in Argentina.
"It was amazing playing with this team," Viana said. "They have been playing together and I was the new one. I was anxious to play. The team played really good. My first three chukkers weren't that good but then I started playing better after knowing how they played and my level went up."
Bray scored all seven of his team's goal. Deeridge, an 11-goal team, started off with one goal on handicap.
The tournament continues on Friday with two games. At 10 a.m., Gracida Wines plays Wildcat at Grand Champions Field 5 and at 4 p.m., Beverly Equestrian plays Work To Ride at Valiente Field 1.
The fifth annual eight-team, winner-take-all, single-elimination tournament is the only tournament to offer major prize money at the 12-goal level.
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