By Sharon Robb
WELLINGTON, Fl., April 15, 2018---In one of the most exciting finishes in club history, Palm Beach Illustrated won the coveted $100,000 World Cup presented by Audi Saturday at Grand Champions Polo Club.
The defending champion and underdog going into the championship final won its' second consecutive title with a thrilling 10-9 victory over Grand Champions in front of a packed house and ESPN Latin American television worldwide audience.
"What just happened? Peco Polledo asked in a state of disbelief in the winning team's tent. "It was so close. The other team played so amazing. We did it. I am so happy."
Palm Beach Illustrated (Carlitos Gracida, 4, Juan Monteverde, 5, Peco Polledo, 6, Tommy Collingwood, 5) won the 12-team, winner-take-all tournament in the final minute of regulation time over Grand Champions (Grant Ganzi, 2, Juancito Bollini, 4, Juan Martin Nero, 10, Alejandro Novillo Astrada, 9).
With the game tied 9-9 with 1:10 left, Gracida, son of legendary Hall of Famer and former 10-goaler Carlos Gracida, slipped past a defender and crushed a neck shot through the air dead center through the goal posts.
"I was thinking this is a top horse and I knew I had a chance to pass him, that's one of our best horses and I know she's really fast so I just had to commit and go for it," Gracida said.
"I have never played with Juan or Peco but they are awesome and Tommy is great," Gracida said. "They know I get heated up. It's good though they understand that I need that. The goal was just one piece of this game, it was everybody."
In the closing seconds Monteverde came up with a clutch defensive back shot to stall a last-minute goal attempt by Grand Champions.
"I still don't know what happened, what an amazing game," Monteverde said. "The only good back shot I hit all day was that one. I am very happy for the team. This is a great team."
Wellington High School alum Tommy Collingwood, 26, the only returning player off last year's champion team, was named Most Valuable Player. Collingwood was outstanding at back with his blocked goals, steals, booming passes and back shots to teammates.
"It was unbelievable," said an emotional Collingwood. "This team was so much fun, so much everything. The guys were awesome. This tournament was a lot of heart, sweat and now tears...happy tears.
"This game means a lot," Collingwood said. "Personally, I had a really tough season and this just means everything to me. To just be on the same field as Juan Martin Nero and those guys is a privilege. And to beat him, this is a game that we will never forget."
Playing only its fourth game together as a team, the 20-goal rated Palm Beach Illustrated team started the game with a four-goal lead over 24-goal rated Grand Champions and stayed in the lead until the sixth chukker when Grand Champions mounted a rally behind its 10-goaler.
"At 9-9 they started slowing down the game a lot," Collingwood said. "Nobody got crazy. We were going back to the throw-in and Carlitos turns around and screams at me, 'let's go, we got this.' He won the throw-in, started taking it, had a crazy bounce, he saw the goal and hit an amazing neck shot down the middle of the goal. That just sealed the deal for us."
The fast-paced game was physical from the opening chukker with Palm Beach Illustrated marking the man closely while building on its lead. Palm Beach Illustrated led 4-1 after the first chukker and 7-2 after the second. With Ganzi and Bollini creating space, Nero and Novillo Astrada went to work trying to close the gap in the third, outscoring them 3-1 to trail 8-5 at halftime.
After a scoreless defensive battle in the fourth chukker, the teams tied 1-1 in the fifth with Palm Beach Illustrated still leading, 9-6.
In an impressive comeback, Grand Champions rallied behind Nero's three unanswered points to tie the game at 9-9 and give them new life until Gracida's heroics.
Chaja, played by Ganzi and owned by Santa Rita Polo Farm, was selected the American Polo Horse Association best registered horse of the game. The APHA was created in 2006 by Hall of Famer Sunny Hale to recognize polo ponies in America and encourages events that showcase them and hard-working dedication of grooms.
Orangina, played by Novillo Astrada and owned by Santa Rita Polo Farm, was the club's Best Playing Pony of the tournament.
Mica, played by Nero in the sixth chukker, was the club's Best Playing Pony of the game.
Palm Beach Illustrated is undefeated in three major money tournaments: the 2017 and 2018 $100,000 World Cup and 2016 $50,000 National 12-Goal, all hosted by Grand Champions.
"We made this team in less than a week, a week before the entries were due," Collingwood said. "(Palm Beach Illustrated Publisher) Terry Duffy came up and said we can put the team in, get some friends, play and call these guys up right away. They said yes, let's do it. We just focused and said let'sgo and win it."
Polledo led Palm Beach Illustrated scoring with three goals. Gracida had two and Monteverde added one goal. Nero scored a game-high eight goals including five penalty conversions for Grand Champions and Novillo Astrada added one.
On a spectacular day, the "Saturday Polo" featured game attracted one of the club's largest crowds of the winter season. Wellington National Golf Club catered the VIP tents with award-winning fare. Wellington's Jennifer Johnson of Johnson Custom Cakes created a World Cup polo-themed cake with decorative polo ponies, players and miniature trophy cup and birthday cake for Adolfo Cambiaso. Audi cars were on display at the red carpet entrance. Perfect Vodka, HighBall and Alta Palla mixers were drink sponsors.
Fans were entertained by a troupe of dancers, provided by Palm Springs-based Doug Verga Entertainment, performing salsa dancing. Fans took turns dancing and taking selfies with the dancers in a fun atmosphere and to great music mixes played by Miami-based DJ Troubles. Popular singer Tom Blake sang a beautiful rendition of the National Anthem to start off the day.
The tournament showcased the sport and its players at every level competing for the 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, another 21-goal underdog with players Jared Zenni, Santi Torres, Agustin Obregon and Collingwood. In last year's final, Palm Beach Illustrated won with an impressive 13-7 victory over Valiente I.
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. Straub watched the final and participated in the post-game awards presentation.
What made this tournament so unique was the fact it was open to teams 0-26 goal on handicap including an all-women's team for the first time, similar to the Copa Republica in Argentina where teams of any handicap from 0-to-40 can compete.
In addition to ESPN's coverage, the tournament was live-streamed by Wellington-based ChukkerTV.
Audi of America was the tournament’s presenting sponsor. Rated No. 1 by Consumer Reports as the best auto brand overall, Audi is a valued sponsor with a rich winning tradition in polo. The German automobile manufacturer designs, engineers, produces, markets and distributes luxury automobiles throughout the world including West Palm Beach.
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).
Las Acacias 4-8 Goal; USPA National President's Cup.