By Sharon Robb
WELLINGTON, Fl., April 1, 2018--In a wild finish, Palm Beach Polo/Palm Beach Equine won the coveted John T. Oxley Memorial Cup Saturday in front of a packed house at Grand Champions Polo Club.
The two-week, six-team 20-goal tournament far exceeded expectations with a marathon game where both teams had more than their fair share of chances to win in regulation and overtime.
Palm Beach Polo/Palm Beach Equine (Henry Porter, 2, Santino Magrini, 3, Gringo Colombres, 7, Magoo Laprida, 8) outlasted Travieso (Teo Calle, 1, Tony Calle, 3, Sebastian Merlos, 9, Tomas Garcia del Rio, 7) with a hardfought 8-7 overtime victory.
Eight-goaler Magoo Laprida was named Most Valuable Player. Laprida led Palm Beach Polo/Palm Beach Equine scoring with four goals including the game-winner with less than a minute left in overtime.
"It's always tough when it's a final," Laprida said. "The other team is tough. Both teams wanted to win. It is a great win for our team. I have great teammates. I'm very happy. We had fun."
The game was close from the opening chukker with the lead changing hands eleven times. Travieso led 1-0 and 2-1 after the first two chukkers. The third chukker was a defensive battle with neither team able to score.
In the second half, Palm Beach Polo/Palm Beach Equine outscored Travieso, 2-1, to tie the game at 3-3 after four. Travieso came back with a 3-2 fifth chukker to take a 6-5 lead.
The sixth chukker looked more like a prizefight with both teams coming up with big counter punches. With 2:54 Porter scored a great goal after Magrini came up with the ball defending Merlos to tie the game at 6-6.
Laprida then won the throw-in and scored on a great back shot to take a 7-6 lead with 2:10 left. A minute later, Merlos converted a 30-yard penalty to tie the game, 7-7. Del Rio had an opportunity to put his team in the lead with 1:05 but missed a penalty-four, sending the game into overtime.
After the game's third player injury timeout, Colombres, Porter and Laprida all had scoring opportunities. After Tony Calle missed a neck shot with 3:05 left and then stole the ball from Laprida, Merlos appeared to score what looked to be the winning goal and fans started folding their lawn chairs. But it was his mallet head that flew through the goal posts and the ball sailed wide left. The score remained 7-7 prompting announcer Jan-Erik Franck to ask "can somebody order pizzas?"
Teo Calle came up with his fourth goal stop of the game but it wasn't enough as Laprida managed to work his way through a crowd to score the game-winner in an emotionally-draining finish.
"We had seven chances to win this game and we missed goal after goal, we make stupid fouls and I missed penalties," said Colombres, who had two goals, both penalty conversions. "We were trying to score so many times.
"It was a really tough game," Colombres said. "The field was hard to score on. Amazing we finished in overtime. We were going to play chukker number eight. It was good to win a game like this, just amazing."
Magrini and Porter, both members of the winning GSA team in the $50,000 National 12-Goal at Grand Champions, each had one goal. It was Porter's first 20-goal tournament victory in the U.S.
"It was really difficult to score goals today," said Porter, enjoying his finest season. "Four goals in three chukkers. That says something when a 9-goaler and 8-goaler can't score goals, something's not right.
"This was huge for us, it was the first tournament we played together as a team," Porter said. "We didn't give up the whole game. We had so many chances. Every time we missed a goal we said this game is not meant for us. They missed one and then we missed like eight. When we saw Sebe miss like that we thought now we have another chance."
No one was happier than team sponsor Dr. Scott Swerdlin of Palm Beach Equine, who was unable to play and is scheduled for back surgery on Tuesday. It was Palm Beach Equine's second win of the winter season after rallying for five goals in the final chukker to win the January Limited Edition 12-Goal Series with a 13-12 win over Patagones.
"I have seen a game like this at Palm Beach Polo years ago with Geneva vs. White Birch, sudden death in the eighth chukker," Swerdlin said.
"This was an amazing game," Swerdlin said. "This team played great. It was really hard, the other team was really good. If I had to give an MVP, I would actually give it to Teo. He just got in front of Gringo and Magoo and would block great. It was fun to watch."
Merlos scored four goals including two penalty conversions. Del Rio had two goals and Teo Calle, who had an outstanding defensive game, added one goal.
In Thursday's semifinals, Travieso advanced with a 12-11 overtime win over Grand Champions/U.S. Polo Assn. and Palm Beach Equine defeated Valiente, 11-9.
The American Polo Horse Association best registered horse of the game was Marino, played by Del Rio in the fifth chukker.
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 for the game was Kate, also played by Del Rio in the third chukker.
The Grand Champions Polo Club Best Playing Pony for the tournament was Chamara, played by Porter.
It was a fun day for fans with a visit from the Easter Bunny and egg hunt before the game. The day was designated as Wellington Rotary Day. Fans and Rotary guests were treated to 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.
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.
Wellington-based ChukkerTV, leaders in polo broadcasting, live streamed 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 10 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.