By Sharon Robb
WELLINGTON, Fl., April 20, 2018---Flexjet and U.S. Polo Assn. ended their high goal season Wednesday in the semifinals of the 114th U.S. Open at International Polo Club Palm Beach.
U.S. Polo Assn. (Grant Ganzi, 2, Juancito Bollini, 4, Juan Martin Nero, 10, Alejandro Novillo Astrada, 8), making its U.S. Open debut, fell behind early but nearly rallied late in the game, dropping an 11-8 decision to Daily Racing Form (Agustin Obregon, 5, Mariano Obregon, 6, Hilario Ulloa, 10, Jared Zenni, 5).
Defending champion Valiente (Bob Jornayvaz, 2, Tommy Beresford, 4, Facundo Pieres, 10, Adolfo Cambiaso, 10) defeated Flexjet (Melissa Ganzi, A, Nico Pieres, 8, Gonzalito Pieres, 9, Rodrigo Andrade, 9), 17-9, in the other semifinal for its 17th victory in a row.
Both Valiente and Daily Racing Form, undefeated winners of their bracket, were coming off a week's rest after bypassing the quarterfinals and advancing directly into the semifinals.
Valiente (3-0), one victory away from winning its second consecutive Triple Crown, will play first-year team Daily Racing Form (3-0) in the championship Sundayat 3 p.m. It will be the final time for at least three years the U.S. Open will be contested at the 26-goal level.
Valiente won the 26-goal C.V. Whitney Cup and USPA Gold Cup 26-goal tournaments, the first two legs of North America's Triple Crown. Its' 17-game winning streak dates back to the Ylvisaker Cup.
Audi (Marc Ganzi, 2, Nic Roldan, 8, Polito Pieres, 10, Mike Azzaro, 6) will play Colorado (Rob Jornayvaz, 1, Juan Britos, 7, Magoo Laprida, 8, Diego Cavanagh, 9), Saturday in the USPA Hall of Fame Cup at 4:30 p.m.
It was the first time in U.S. Polo Assn. history, the official brand of the USPA, sponsored a high goal polo team in the U.S. Open. Bollini is one of U.S. Polo Assn. Brand Ambassadors.
Bollini, 22, a senior at Florida Atlantic University, and Ganzi, 19, a sophomore at Lynn University, made their U.S. Open debuts as regular starters on a high-goal team.
Daily Racing Form shut out U.S. Polo Assn. in the first two chukkers and jumped out to an 8-1 halftime lead behind goals by Mariano Obregon (three), Ulloa (three) and Zenni (two).
"We wanted to be really focused and I think that's what we did in the first three chukkers," Ulloa said. "The guy who had the ball had plenty of time and we used all our teammates really well to pass the ball. That's why we did amazing in the beginning. The first half gave us a good advantage."
Which is a good thing since the never-say-die U.S. Polo Assn. foursome nearly rallied in the second half. U.S. Polo Assn. outscored Daily Racing Form, 3-1, 3-2 and 1-0 in the second half but ran out of time.
"We knew they were going to come back quickly and definitely fight for it," Zenni said. "We knew they would make a run but we were ready for it. We tried to stay calm and stick to our game plan."
"It says a lot that we came back," Ganzi said. "We got in the tent and morale was not exactly the highest. We all talked to each other in between chukkers. When it was 9-4 in the fourth chukker, we started saying we can actually do this.
"We were confident that we could actually come back to a reasonable score," Ganzi said. "If we were going to lose, we were going to lose with respect and integrity, and knowing that we gave it our all in the second half. We didn't give up."
Childhood friends Ganzi and Bollini were living a lifelong dream playing in the U.S. Open.
"When I found out we were having a team and when it all came together, it was a dream come true," Ganzi said. "It was a dream to play the U.S. Open and gain experience. It was a fun team. It wasn't a team we thought had a chance to get in the final but once we got into the quarters we played our hearts out and won.
"We exceeded our expectations making semis. We had a chance to make the final. Thinking back I don't know a 24-goal team that's been in the U.S. Open for a long time."
Ganzi said playing with 10-goaler Juan Martin Nero for the first time was an invaluable experience.
"This was definitely the biggest game of my life by far and playing this tournament is definitely the biggest tournament I played in my life," Ganzi said. "I am grateful for the opportunity. I am happy with the way I played and the team played. I think we complemented each other well. We all played for each other. Juanma is unbelievable, one of the best players I've ever played with."
Daily Racing Form is being coached by Cardinal Newman and Florida Atlantic University alum Julio Arellano, recently named to the U.S. team along with Jeff Hall, Nic Roldan and Costi Caset for the July 28 Westchester Cup against England in Berkshire.
In the final game statistics, Daily Racing Form converted 9-of-13 from the field and U.S. Polo Assn. 3-of-8. U.S. Polo Assn. was 5-of-8 from the penalty line and Daily Racing Form 2-of-3. Daily Racing Form led in fouls, 15-7 and throw-ins won, 12-10.
Mariano Obregon led Daily Racing Form scoring with five goals. Ulloa and Zenni each had three goals. Nero led U.S. Polo Assn. with four goals, all on penalties; Novillo Astrada had two and Ganzi scored one. The team was also awarded a penalty-one.
In the second semifinal, Valiente also jumped out early behind its two 10-goalers and took advantage of Flexjet's unforced errors. Valiente led 4-1, 7-2 and 10-2 in the first three chukkers and never let up in the second half.
Valiente converted 11-of-16 shots from the field while Flexjet was 5-of-17. Valiente was 6-of-6 in penalty conversions and Flexjet 4-of-5. Flexjet led in fouls, 10-8, and throw-ins won, 19-11.
Facundo Pieres scored a game-high 11 goals, including six penalty conversions. Cambiaso had four goals and Beresford added two. Andrade and Nico Pieres (three on penalty conversions) each had four goals for Flexjet and Gonzalito Pieres added one.
"The more games we play together, we are going to make better plays," Cambiaso said. "I think the first two chukkers we played amazing. We made long and short plays and that's the way we should play the final."
Several horse awards were presented after the semifinal games. Horse award recipients were:
American Polo Horse Association Registered Horse Award: Lufthansa, played by Adolfo Cambiaso and owned by J5 Equestrian. 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.
Best String: Hilario Ulloa, Daily Racing Form.
Best American Bred Horse of the U.S. Open: Tanita, played by Adolfo Cambiaso and owned by J5 Equestian.
Wembley Award: Sultan, owned and played by Rodrigo Andrade, Flexjet.
Horse of the Year: Macarena, owned by Mariano Gonzalez and played by Mariano Gonzalez and Adolfo Cambiaso.
USPA Polo Network will live stream the U.S. Open final with content provided by Wellington-based ChukkerTV beginning 2:30 p.m. with a pre-game show. The final will also be televised tape-delay on CBS Sports Sunday, April 29 at 2 p.m.
The U.S. Open ends the four-month winter high goal polo season in Wellington. The spring season, featuring six tournaments, opens at Grand Champions this month.
Audi, Flexjet and U.S. Polo Assn. are Grand Champions Polo Club-based pro teams.
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.
Flexjet has been a member of the Directional Aviation family of companies since 2013. They are committed to creating premium travel experiences and providing access to the most modern, technologically-advanced aircraft in the industry on a daily basis, going above and beyond world-class private travel experiences and unlike anything else in the sky
U.S. Polo Assn. is the official brand of the U.S. Polo Association, the sport's national governing body. U.S. Polo Assn. trademarks and logos are registered worldwide and managed by USPA Properties, Inc.
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
APRIL: Las Acacias 4-8 Goal; USPA National President's Cup.