By Sharon Robb
WELLINGTON, Fl., April 11, 2018---Defending champion Palm Beach Illustrated and tournament favorite GSA held off upset-minded teams on Tuesday to advance into their semifinal showdown of the $100,000 World Cup presented by Audi at Grand Champions Polo Club.
GSA (Henry Porter, 2, Santino Magrini, 3, Toro Ruiz, 5, Matias Magrini, 7) defeated Flexjet (Dawn Jones, 1, Peke Gonzalez, 5, Mariano Gonzalez, 7, Miguel Novillo Astrada, 9), 11-9, at Grand Champions Polo Club.
Palm Beach Illustrated (Carlitos Gracida, 4, Juan Monteverde, 5, Peco Polledo, 6, Tommy Collingwood, 5) won a hardfought game against Coca Cola (Hope Arellano, A, Mia Cambiaso, 1, Gillian Johnston, 2, Nina Clarkin, 3) with a 17-16 victory at Patagones.
GSA 11, FLEXJET 9
GSA was greeted with a new Flexjet lineup and needed time to adjust.
Flexjet's Dawn Jones, Peke Gonzalez, Mariano Gonzalez and Miguel Novillo Astrada filled in nicely for Melissa Ganzi, Nico Pieres, Gonzalito Pieres and Rodrigo Andrade, who were preparing for Wednesday's U.S. Open game against Daily Racing Form.
GSA, a 17-goal rated team, started out with a 5-0 lead against Flexjet, a 22-goal rated team. Had the game been played on the flat, Flexjet would have won, 9-6.
"When we heard about the new roster we didn't want to burn any horses because we are at the end of the season and our horses are feeling it," Matias Magrini said. "We tried to do our best."
Flexjet brought out the worse in GSA which played well enough to make it into the semifinals. GSA led 8-5 at the half, managing to score only three goals in the first three chukkers after several missed scoring opportunities.
GSA shut out Flexjet, 1-0, in the fourth and Flexjet turned around and shut out GSA, 1-0, in the fifth. Flexjet outscored GSA, 3-2, in the final chukker but ran out of time to rally.
"We probably should have played better, we didn't play good at all," Matias Magrini said. "When we needed it, we played well. Another thing, you have Miguel Novillo Astrada sitting back there and he's like a wall, he is very difficult to go through. And Mariano and Peke are amazing and so is Dawn."
Porter led GSA with three goals, Santino Magrini had two goals and Ruiz was held to one goal. Jones scored a game-high four goals. Mariano Gonzalez had three goals and his 19-year-old son, Peke, added two goals.
"Dawn is a really good player, she played amazing," Matias Magrini said. "I underestimated her three times and three times she scored on me."
Jones got the call to play the night before the game.
"It was fun to play," Jones said. "It was a nice group of players on the field. We have all been friends for years. I was very happy the way the team played. It was fun seeing them all and seeing the kids play. When I first started to play for fun and Tommy (husband Tommy Lee Jones) was playing high goal, these kids were running around with little foot mallets.
"I like this format," Jones said. "It's getting friends together but there's also a little competitive edge. Some people can really get serious about it and go for the prize. And some people can participate and have fun and watch the other teams play. That's what it's about. That's what Grand Champions is trying to build, something positive and festive for the community and this sets that tone. I love it."
PALM BEACH ILLUSTRATED 17, COCA COLA 16
Coca Cola's all-woman team gave the defending champion all it could handle in the tournament's most exciting game to date.
Coca Cola, a 6-goal rated team, started out with a 14-0 lead over the 20-goal team. Palm Beach Illustrated, playing well in the first half, managed to score 11 goals to trail 14-11 at halftime.
Coca Cola adjusted its game and started playing its own game. Cambiaso scored the team's first goal from the field with 35 seconds left in the fourth chukker for a 15-12 lead. In the fifth chukker, Clarkin scored on a back shot off Cambiaso's pass to make it 16-12 with 2:49 left. Polledo scored just before the chukker to trail only 16-13.
The teams tied 1-1 in both the fourth and fifth chukkers.
"I thought in the fourth and fifth chukkers we actually played really good polo," Clarkin said. "We looked like a team to be reckoned with. To come out, I think we were pretty impressive and held our own. They are a pretty good polo team."
Palm Beach Illustrated rallied in the final chukker with Gracida converting back-to-back 30-yard penalty shots and 65-yard shot from the field to tie the game at 16-16 with 2:12 left. Palm Beach Illustrated was awarded a penalty one on Polledo's attempt with 1:40 left to clinch the win.
The loss was bittersweet for Clarkin, rated at 10 goals in the women's ratings.
"First off, I am really just pleased and proud of what we did and how close we came," Clarkin said. "Second, I am actually irritated because we were there.
"I don't think we had the right game plan to start with. We tried to compete with them and they were obviously going to be faster and better and we were running with them. Once we tried to slow the game down a bit and disrupt them and hold on to the ball more, it became a bit easier for us."
Clarkin has been a member of two winning all-women's teams against male teams in the national 8-goal tournaments (42 and 37 teams) in England, a first in English polo history. "But never with a 6-goal team against a 20-goal team," Clarkin said with a smile.
"I am disappointed because I had a couple chances at the end and I made silly mistakes," Clarkin said. "But I think when you are playing a team like that you are constantly working and fighting and chasing. I was a bit rushed. I had more time and I didn't always take it so I am a little disappointed in how I played but I am super proud of the team and our achievement. That's quite exciting."
Coca Cola was rated 6 goals based on the men's ratings. The team is a 25-goal team based on women's ratings.
"They should have given us goals," said Collingwood after admitting his team was lucky to escape with the win.
"I felt we controlled the game very well in the first half," Collingwood said. "We weren't rushing and hitting the ball clean. Going into the second half, we were missing a lot of goals and very light with the man, watching too much and playing for the foul. They were very impressive and very well-mounted."
Palm Beach Illustrated got balanced scoring. Gracida, Monteverde and Collingwood each had four goals. Polledo added three goals. They also received two penalty-one automatic goals.
Collingwood is the only returning player off last year's winner.
"We are just playing game by game, chukker by chukker," Collingwood said. "This is a completely different team from last year. Today luckily we won. We didn't win the way we wanted to win but we won. GSA is a very good team. We got to be on our "A" game with them. Today we were not on our "A" game."
VALIENTE 4, GRAND CHAMPIONS 2, SUSPENDED RAIN
Deeridge (Will Jacobs, 0, Juanse Olivera, 1, Santos Bollini, 1, Juan Bollini, 5), which knocked off Aspen Valley Polo Club, 10-8, in the tournament's first quarterfinal game on Saturday, will have to wait a little longer to find out its opponent.
The game was suspended because of lightning and rain with 3:18 left in the second chukker with Valiente leading, 4-2, at its home field.
Valiente (Pablo Spinacci, 6, Mariano Gracida, 4, Juan Britos, 7, Roberto Zedda, 4), a 21-goal rated team, started out with a 3-0 lead over Grand Champions (Grant Ganzi, 2, Juancito Bollini, 4, Juan Martin Nero, 10, Alejandro Novillo Astrada, 9).
Spinacci's goal in the opening chukker made it 4-0 before Grand Champions started to close the gap behind goals by Bollini and Nero in the second chukker before the torrential downpour. The game will resume where it left off. It is tentatively scheduled for Wednesday afternoon. The hotline will be updated with the start time.
The much-anticipated tournament is showcasing the sport and its players at every level competing for the winner-take-all richest prize purse in the nation.
One of the sport's most prestigious tournaments attracted 12 teams from 0-to-26 goal rating. The inaugural champion was Palm Beach Illustrated, a 21-goal underdog with players Jared Zenni, Santi Torres, Agustin Obregon and Collingwood, all young, talented rising stars.
The tournament was resurrected by Grand Champions owners and polo players Melissa and Marc Ganzi thanks to the generosity of Glenn Straub of Palm Beach Polo, where it was last played in the late 1990s.
What makes the tournament so unique is the fact it's open to teams 0-26 goal on handicap, similar to the Copa Republica in Argentina where teams of any handicap from 0-to-40 can compete. Last year the lowest rated team was Equuleus at four goals and highest ranked teams were Orchard Hill, Audi, Valiente and Flexjet at 26 goals. The tournament also featured 10-goaler Adolfo Cambiaso playing with his son Poroto in a U.S. tournament for the first time.
In last year's final, Palm Beach Illustrated won the eight-day tournament with an impressive 13-7 victory over Valiente I.
The prestigious World Cup is a tournament steeped in tradition. American businessman and polo player Bill Ylvisaker, then CEO of a Fortune 200 battery company in Chicago, created the Gould World Polo Championship with a prize purse of $150,000.
It was first held in 1976 at the Butler Polo Grounds in Oak Brook, Illinois. Ylvisaker's staff sent out invitations to countries all over the world known to have top-ranked pro polo teams.
Three teams from the United States were recruited and joined Mexico, India, England and Argentina in the field. The inaugural event was won by Argentina, attracted great crowds and was deemed a success.
In 1977, Ylvisaker bought 2,000 acres to develop a polo resort. The Palm Beach Polo and Country Club was built with 14 polo fields and soon became the polo capital of the world.
The first season at the new club featured the $150,000 Michelob World Cup Polo Championship. Held April 3-15, it was the highlight of the season attracting top players and sponsors from around the world. It was the world's richest and most premier polo event and one of the most significant polo championships.
In 1988, Landmark purchased the club for $25 million and continued the club's growth until it was sold at auction in 1993 to Straub.
The tournament is being live-streamed by Wellington-based ChukkerTV.
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, Sunny Hale's Legacy WCT Final 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.