By Sharon Robb
WELLINGTON, Fl., April 13, 2018---With three new players, defending champion Palm Beach Illustrated will return to the championship final of the $100,000 World Cup presented by Audi Saturday at 4 p.m. at Grand Champions Polo Club.
The defending champion knocked off tournament favorite GSA (Henry Porter, 2, Santino Magrini, 3, Toro Ruiz, 5, Matias Magrini, 7), 9-7, in the opening semifinal on Thursday at Grand Champions.
Palm Beach Illustrated (Carlitos Gracida, 4, Juan Monteverde, 5, Peco Polledo, 6, Tommy Collingwood, 5) will meet Grand Champions (Grant Ganzi, 2, Juancito Bollini, 4, Juan Martin Nero, 10, Alejandro Novillo Astrada, 9), 22-20 winners over Deeridge (Will Jacobs, 0, Juanse Olivera, 1, Santos Bollini, 1, Juan Bollini, 5) in the other semifinal at Santa Rita Polo Farm.
"I am so happy with how the team played today," Collingwood said. "Both years are different. Both are super sweet so I am just enjoying the moment right now.
"We played against a super tough team. We knew they were going to be really tough. They have been playing together the whole season. We just knew we had to be really quick and really strong with our marks, tight on the man and hitting the ball clean and hard."
GSA, a 17-goal rated team, started with a 3-0 lead over 20-goal rated Palm Beach Illustrated. The game was choppy and defensive from the onset.
It took Palm Beach Illustrated a little more than a chukker to even the score 3-3 on Gracida's 30-yard penalty conversion with 7:12 left in the second chukker.
The teams battled back and forth with GSA leading twice and tied twice before Palm Beach Illustrated took the lead (6-5) for the first time with Gracida scoring the go-ahead goal with 35 seconds left in the fourth chukker for the lead which they never relinquished.
After Gracida missed a 40-yard penalty shot, Monteverde took off on a breakaway with 3:29 to give Palm Beach Illustrated a two-goal lead at 7-5 in the fifth chukker.
Palm Beach Illustrated continued its attack throughout the fifth. After Ruiz' 40-yard penalty cut the lead to one goal (7-6), Collingwood came right back with back-to-back goals including a huge 60-yard penalty shot for a 9-6 advantage at the end of the fifth.
"The fifth chukker was huge," Collingwood said. "We were up by one and I got lucky with the long shots at goal including at the end of the chukker with a safety that took us up by three. We went into the last chukker knowing that these guys were going to come in with everything. They came right away, first throw-in they scored a quick goal. We we were able then to get our head back into the game and focus, not rush, hit the ball clean and we did it."
Magrini scored off the throw-in to open the sixth chukker at the 7:03 mark to trail by two but it was the closest GSA got as Palm Beach Illustrated continued its relentless attack. GSA had its share of scoring opportunities in the final four minutes but squandered them away with fouls and unforced errors.
"The plan was to be tight on the man because if these kids are loose they score goals very easily," Monteverde said. "We were on the man all the time and then we try to hit the ball and put it in the front so we could score so that was good."
With three games under its belt, Palm Beach Illustrated has developed chemistry.
"We are coming together at the right time," Monteverde said. "We talk when we need to talk now. It was a good thing to be able to play more games."
Collingwood is the only returning player off last year's champion.
"This is an amazing feeling, everything just happened so quick," Collingwood said. "The team is so much fun. There's a lot of fire in the team. We scream at each other, we are happy with each other, we are mad at each other. It's kind of like a girlfriend-boyfriend relationship.
"It really felt like a final today," Collingwood said. "We knew if we lost we were out. Win and you are in the final. We had to play the game and not lose our head."
The horses also played a huge role in the outcome.
"I think everybody's horses today were great," Collingwood said. "Carlitos' horses were flying up front. I was very happy with my string as well as Peco and Juan were happy with their horses. We presented ourselves the best way possible and luckily the result came to our side."
Grand Champions, rated at 24 goals, is expected to be just as tough with 10-goaler Juan Martin Nero and 8-goaler Alejandro Novillo Astrada.
"The only thing that changes is we get to start with some goals," Collingwood said. "Juan Martin Nero, for me he is one of the top three players in the world. He is the best back, so cool, calm and collected. Negro Novillo is a great player and Grant and Juancito have been playing together for the last ten years. They know each other like the back of their hands so it's going to be super tough but we are going to come in hot."
Collingwood scored a game-high four goals. Gracida and Polledo each scored two goals and Monteverde added one. Ruiz led GSA with three goals and Santino Magrini had one goal. Porter and Matias Magrini were scoreless.
GRAND CHAMPIONS 22, DEERIDGE 20
For nearly five chukkers, Deeridge, a 7-goal rated team, was living the dream leading a 24-goal rated team including 10-goaler Juan Martin Nero.
Grand Champions chipped away at their 17-goal lead 5-1, 4-0, 5-0, 5-0, 2-1 and 1-1. With the game tied at 18-18, Nero scored the go-ahead goal with 16 seconds left in the fourth chukker for Grand Champions' first lead (19-18) of the game. Grand Champions never lost the lead after that. Leading 21-20 late in the game, Nero scored an insurance goal with 21 seconds left.
"This is my first final of the season," Ganzi said. "I've had ups and downs this season. I thought I had good games and bad games. I've had an opportunity to play with a lot of great players and Juan Martin is definitely at the top of the list. He is just the best teammate I've ever had. It's fun to play with a group of these guys who are just so cool and calm and just positive."
It was the first game Ganzi, a third generation player, had ever started trailing by 17 goals.
"It's the craziest thing to ever happen in my life," Ganzi said. "I've never had this happen. It was a weird feeling but I knew once we got off to a good start when we scored five goals and they scored one that we were going to be all right.
"We did the math in our heads before the game and it was three goals a chukker and after the first we were already above average so we thought it's not going to be that bad. By halftime we were already pretty close. The fourth, fifth and sixth we played well but we didn't score as much."
Ganzi said his team was trying to save horses looking ahead to Saturday's World Cup final and Sunday's U.S. Open quarterfinal (U.S. Polo Assn. vs. Colorado at 3 p.m.).
"Palm Beach Illustrated is beatable but a very tough team," Ganzi said. "They are very good players, a little cheap on their handicaps. They are four good guys. I am used to playing against guys who are better than me. I am ready to take a challenge and make some space for the two big guns."
Novillo Astrada scored a game-high eight goals. Juancito Bollini added seven goals, Ganzi had four and Nero scored three goals. Santos Bollini, Juanse Olivera and Juan Bollini each scored one goal.
The club's Saturday Polo featured game will feature amenities including valet parking for the convenience of spectators. Wellington National Golf Club is catering the Audi and Grand Champions VIP tents. Wellington's Jennifer Johnson of Johnson Custom Cakes is also creating a World Cup polo-themed cake. Audi will have cars on display at the red carpet entrance to the Audi VIP tent. Perfect Vodka is supplying the alcohol and HighBall and Alta Palla providing mixers. Fans will also be entertained by a troupe of dancers, provided by Palm Springs-based Doug Verga Entertainment performing salsa dancing.
The much-anticipated World Cup 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.
2018 Winter Schedule
(Subject to change because of weather and scheduling conflicts).
Halo Polo 6-Goal Trophy Final, Friday, 3p.m., Team Kampsen vs. Shamrock, Grand Champions.
$100,000 World Cup presented by Audi: Saturday, Championship Final, Palm Beach Illustrated vs. Grand Champions, 4 p.m.
Other tournaments: Las Acacias 4-8 Goal; USPA National President's Cup.