Audi Plays U.S. Polo Assn. In 114th U.S. Open Tournament on Thursday; Flexjet Plays Saturday

   Juan Britos of Colorado stretches out of the saddle to hook Mike Azzaro of Audi.


Juan Britos of Colorado stretches out of the saddle to hook Mike Azzaro of Audi.

By Sharon Robb

WELLINGTON, Fla., April 4, 2018----Audi, one of the pre-tournament favorites, begins its U.S. Open title quest on Wednesday at International Polo Club Palm Beach.

Audi plays U.S. Polo Assn. at noon in the first game of a doubleheader. Colorado meets Daily Racing Form at 4 p.m.

The 2009 U.S. Open champion has put together one of the tournament's most talented teams with an All-American lineup of Marc Ganzi, Nic Roldan, Polito Pieres and Mike Azzaro. It is the same roster that represented the U.S. in the 2013 Westchester Cup that lost to England, 12-11, in overtime.

Audi had one final tuneup on Sunday against Colorado in the USPA Gold Cup subsidiary. Audi defeated Colorado with a thrilling 12-11 overtime victory on Roldan's game-winner. Roldan finished with seven goals and was MVP. Pieres and Ganzi each had two goals and Azzaro added one.

Grand Champions Polo Club-based Audi will be joined by Flexjet in the field. Flexjet features Melissa Ganzi, the only woman competing in the U.S. Open, Rodrigo Andrade, Gonzalito Pieres and Nico Pieres. The talented foursome is coming off its USPA Gold Cup final appearance where it lost by one goal to defending champion Valiente. On Saturday, Flexjet plays Colorado at 4 p.m.

Azzaro, a Hall of Famer and former 10-goaler, is looking for his tenth U.S. Open title. 

"About eight years ago, my daughter Alexandra told me, 'Dad, I want you to win the Open 10 times,'" Azzaro said. "I made it a goal to win it 10 times. I still have the desire and drive to win the Open. It's our most prestigious tournament and one of the most prestigious in the world, if not the most."

Polito Pieres was a member of Orchard Hill's 2016 U.S. Open team. His cousin, Facundo Pieres, has won four U.S. Opens in the last 11 years including 2009 with Audi.

The Audi-U.S. Polo Assn. matchup will feature father and son Marc and Grant Ganzi. Grant Ganzi, a third generation player, will be joined by Juancito Bollini, 10-goaler Juan Martin Nero and 8-goaler Alejandro Novillo Astrada.

It is the first time in U.S. Polo Assn. history, the official brand of the USPA, is sponsoring a high goal polo team competing in the U.S. Open. Bollini is one of U.S. Polo Assn. Brand Ambassadors.

"Sponsoring a team in the most prestigious United States’ polo tournament is an incredible opportunity to authentically connect the brand to the sport,” said J. Michael Prince, CEO of USPA Global Licensing Inc. “We are very excited that our brand ambassador Juan Bollini, Jr. will be a part of this historic moment. We look forward to bringing the excitement of the tournament to all our global consumers through social media, digital content and our partnership with CBS.”

The U.S. Open, featuring six teams and five 10-goal players, will be played at the 26-goal level for the final time for at least three years. The U.S. Polo Association, the sport's national governing body, awarded IPC the U.S. Open 2019-2021, moving it  from the 26-goal level to 18-22 trying to increase participation in the tournament. IPC has hosted the event since 2004.

However, the 26-goal void will be filled by the recently created World Polo League, headed by Commissioner Dale Smicklas and co-founders Marc and Melissa Ganzi and Bob Jornayvaz. Grand Champions Polo Club and Valiente Polo Farm will host four 26-goal tournaments beginning in February 2019 offering major prize money.

Valiente, winners of the 26-goal C.V. Whitney Cup and USPA Gold Cup tournaments and riding a nine-game winning streak, is one tournament win away from capturing America’s Triple Crown in polo for the second year in a row.

Valiente, led by two 10-goalers, Adolfo Cambiaso and Facundo Pieres, the world’s top two ranked players, is looking to make its fifth appearance in the last six U.S. Open finals. Cambiaso has won five U.S. Open titles in the last 11 years. Valiente is coming off a 12-11 victory over Flexjet in the USPA Gold Cup final.

"Now the hard work begins, we can't lose focus so we need to stay healthy and keep the horses healthy," said Valiente patron Bob Jornayvaz. "You have to go out on the field with a game plan, execute it and stay disciplined."

In last year's final postponed Sunday because of heavy rain, Valiente defeated defending champion Orchard Hill, 13-12, in overtime.

The U.S. Open will be a family affair. Marc, Melissa and Grant Ganzi head the list that also features Bob Jornayvaz' son Robert heads Colorado; cousins Agustin and Mariano Obregon are playing for Daily Racing Form and all three Pieres brothers, Facundo, Gonzalito and Nico are playing for Valiente and Flexjet respectively and cousin Polito is on the Audi roster.

USPA Polo Network will live stream the U.S. Open with content provided by Wellington-based ChukkerTV. CBS Primetime is also televising the tournament for the next three years. This year the finals coverage is set for April 29 at 2 p.m.

The U.S. Open ends the four-month winter high goal polo season in Wellington.

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.