By Sharon Robb
WELLINGTON, Fla., April 8, 2018----In a hardfought U.S. Open Tournament opener, Flexjet dominated Colorado for an impressive 9-4 victory Saturday at International Polo Club Palm Beach.
The Grand Champions Polo Club-based pro team (Melissa Ganzi, A, Nico Pieres, 8, Gonzalito Pieres, 9, Rodrigo Andrade, 9/Alejandro Novillo Astrada, 8), led by a stingy defense, shut out Colorado (Rob Jornayvaz, 1, Juan Britos, 7, Magoo Laprida 8, Diego Cavanagh, 9) in the first chukker and entire second half to win its tournament opener in impressive fashion.
Brothers Gonzalito and Nico Pieres led Flexjet's offensive attack. Gonzalito Pieres had five goals including two penalty-two conversions. Nico Pieres had four goals, all from the field. Flexjet converted 7-of-13 shots from the field and was 2-for-2 from the penalty line. Flexjet committed only four fouls.
"It's good to start with a win, especially against this team that is really good," Nico Pieres said. "We wanted to play a good game against them.
"Ro was playing an amazing game before he left. Negro came in and played awesome. Gonza played well. Melli played a really good game today. She was always there in position to hit some good passes. I'm really happy with the team. We won a good game."
Ganzi is the only woman competing in the 26-goal U.S. Open, the final crown jewel of the Triple Crown in North America polo.
Colorado could convert only 3-of-11 shots from the field. Cavanagh had two goals. Britos and Jornayvaz each had one goal. It was the lowest scoring output for Colorado this season. Colorado remains winless in the U.S. Open.
The lead changed hands six times before Colorado took a 4-3 halftime lead on Cavanagh's penalty two conversion. But in the second half it was all Flexjet.
In a wild and long fifth chukker, Andrade was inadvertently hit on the neck by a ball and left the game with 4:27 remaining. He was taken to the hospital as a precaution and later released. Andrade was unable to return to the game and replaced by Alejandro Novillo Astrada, who had instant chemistry with his teammates.
A minute later, Nico Pieres got knocked off his horse and another injury time out was called. He was uninjured as the horse raced back to the trailers.
"It was easy because they were playing very well," said Novillo Astrada, who played in his jeans. "They were dominating and that made it easy for me. It's easy to play with them. We have been practicing together a lot, I knew how they played.
"Flexjet played very well. They had some scoring opportunities that didn't go in. I think they have been playing very well the whole season and today was no exception."
Andrade is expected to return to the lineup for Wednesday's final bracket game against Daily Racing Form (1-0) (Jared Zenni, 5, Agustin Obregon, 5, Hilario Ulloa, 10, Mariano Obregon, 6).
Flexjet is coming off its USPA Gold Cup championship final appearance where it lost by one goal to defending champion Valiente.
"I am really happy we won our first game because our team played well," said Gonzalito Pieres. "The win puts us in a good situation. We know we have a really tough game against Daily Racing Form. For us the game will be like a final because it could mean a pass to the semis or the quarters. We are prepared for that.
"Alejandro adapted to the game very good and fast. Our team is working hard. I didn't expect that score because it was a tough team. It was very important to reach the last chukker winning by four goals."
U.S. Polo Assn. will try and bounce back from its tournament-opening loss to Audi in the Sunday featured stadium game at 3 p.m. when it plays defending champion Valiente. U.S. Polo Assn. features Grant Ganzi, Juancito Bollini, Juan Martin Nero and Alejandro Novillo Astrada. U.S. Polo Assn. is sponsoring a team in the U.S. Open for the first time.
Valiente, winners of the 26-goal C.V. Whitney Cup and USPA Gold Cup tournaments, is riding a nine-game winning streak. Valiente is one tournament win away from capturing America’s Triple Crown in polo for the second year in a row.
USPA Polo Network is live streaming the U.S. Open with content provided by Wellington-based ChukkerTV.
The U.S. Open ends the four-month winter high goal polo season in Wellington.
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.
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.