By Sharon Robb
WELLINGTON, Fl., April 3, 2018---On a gorgeous day for polo, Grand Champions/CrossFit El Cid rallied for two goals in the final chukker to capture the Limited Edition 8-Goal Series title Sunday at Patagones.
CrossFit El Cid (Gerardo Pantin, -1, Cecelia Cochran, 1, Jason Wates, 3, Carlitos Gracida, 4), tied 10-10 with Patagones (Joaquin Avendano, 1, Santi Avendano, 1, Benjamin Avendano, 2, Robi Bilbao, 4) going into the sixth chukker, knocked off the previously undefeated team for a thrilling 12-10 victory on its own field.
Patagones finished the series with a 4-1 record and Grand Champions/CrossFit El Cid finished at 3-1.
Gracida, son of legendary Hall of Famer Carlos Gracida, was named Most Valuable Player. Gracida scored a game-high eight goals including back-to-back goals to clinch the win. Wates added three goals. The team also received a goal on handicap.
Benjamin Avendano led Patagones with five goals, Bilbao had three and Santi Avendano added one. The team also had one pony goal.
Gracida broke the tie with 3:01 left in the game with a 30-yard penalty conversion for an 11-10 lead, the first time Grand Champions/CrossFit El Cid had the lead for the entire game. Gracida added an insurance goal at the 1:10 mark with an incredible back shot.
Grand Champions/CrossFit El Cid played well together. Cochran is one of the sport's top women players and will compete in this week's Sunny Hale's Legacy WCT Final at Grand Champions. Wates is one of polo's rising stars from Kingston, Jamaica and splits his time between Florida, Chicago and Colorado. Gracida is a fourth generation player. Pantin just started playing the game this season and played above his handicap in Sunday's game.
No one was happier than Pantin, a minus-one player and product of The Polo School, a USPA-sanctioned club at Grand Champions Polo Club. The former show jumper and father of four who makes the 120-mile round trip from Aventura to play polo, wasn't sure about playing in the tournament until Polo School Director Juan Bollini, a former 8-goaler and cancer survivor, convinced him.
"Juan got this idea and put the team together. He said I was ready to play eight goals. I looked at him and said, 'Juan, are you sure?'" said the Venezuela-born Pantin with a smile. "Juan and Marc and Melissa Ganzi gave me the opportunity to play here. They are amazing people.
"This is my first season playing and my first tournament win," Pantin said. "I am just beginning really. I used to ride horses and did show jumping for many years a long time ago when I was a kid. This is a dream for me to win my first tournament. I am really happy."
He first fell in love with polo while attending Texas A&M 30 years ago. "I started playing stick-and-ball a little there but after that I stopped and started working and didn't play at all," Pantin said. "I came here because my kids do show jumping at the Winter Equestrian Festival so I thought let me see if I can still ride horses and started playing polo again."
Pantin loves the team concept in polo and camaraderie among players at all levels including the pros.
"It's the adrenaline when you go into the game," Pantin said. "It's a team game and I just really love it."
Pantin is the type of grass roots player The Polo School is trying to attract to the sport. The Polo School caters to all ages and encourages its students to have fun and play in low-goal tournaments. Pantin started playing at the 6-goal level. He wants to continue playing in April to finish out the winter season and May during the spring season. He is trying to introduce his twins, who are now riding, to polo.
"I am so happy for the team to win," Pantin said. "Carlitos, Jason and Cecelia are extremely good players. It's amazing when you play with them. They tell you where to go, stay with the man and don't do this. It helps a lot to improve your game."
Tramontana, a 6-year-old mare owned and played by Gracida, was the game's Best Playing Pony. Serena, a 5-year-old mare, played by Santi Avendano, was the tournament's Best Playing Pony.
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.