By Sharon Robb
KITZBUHEL, Austria, January 17, 2019----The snow polo season opens in the breathtaking Tyrolean Alps winter world of Austria with the 17th Bendura Bank Snow Polo World Cup.
The three-day tournament's six teams featuring players from around the world were introduced Thursday at the Hotel Zur Tenne in the heart of Kitzbuhel village and Welcome Party at the Casino Kitzbuhel. The matches get under way Friday and continue through Sunday.
Grand Champions Polo Club will be well-represented with defending champion Bendura Bank's Alejandro Novillo Astrada, Tito Gaudenzi and Melissa Ganzi. In last year's final, Bendura Bank defeated Engel & Volkers, 10-6.5
"It is so exciting to be back for another year of bumper snow polo in Kitzbuhel," said Gaudenzi, the event organizer and co-founder. "Our six teams are blessed with some new faces as well as welcoming back past champions, so we can't wait to get the tournament under way. It is, without a doubt, set to be the best Snow Polo World Cup yet."
The event was started in 2003 by Tito Gaudenzi and his father Reto with four teams and 1,000 fans. It has grown into one of the country's major sporting events and attracts more than 15,000 fans over three days.
Grant Ganzi, a member of the winning 2017 U.S. Polo Assn. team in the St. Regis World Snow Cup in Aspen and Team USPA, will make his Europe snow polo circuit debut this weekend in Kitzbuhel and next week's 35th St. Moritz World Snow Polo Cup.
"I'm excited play snow polo in a different location," said Ganzi, who will play for Team Bernd Gruber. "I think our team chances are good. I'm excited to play with my team and most of all I am thankful for the opportunity I've been given to play with them."
Team sponsors and rosters are:
Bendura Bank (12): Melissa Ganzi, 1, Alejandro Novillo Astrada, 8, Tito Gaudenzi, 3.
Engel & Volkers (12): Kutlay Yaprak, 1, Agustin Kronhaus, 4, Adrian Laplacette, 7.
Ciroc Vodka (12): Sebastian Schneberger, 2, Aki van Andel, 3, Valentin Novillo Astrada, 7.
Bernd Gruber (10): Eduardo Greghi, 0, Grant Ganzi, 3, Pierre Henri Ngoumou, 7.
Corum (10): Eckhardt Juls, 0, Patrick Maleitzke, 4, Juan Ruiz-Guinazu, 6.
Maserati (10): Marc Aberle, 1, Thomas Winter, 5, Caspar Crasemann, 4.
Three games are scheduled for Friday and Saturday. On Friday, Bendura Bank opens against Corum at 11:30 a.m., Engel & Volkers plays Maserati at 12:45 p.m. and Bernd Gruber plays Ciroc at 2 p.m. On Saturday, Ciroc plays Maserati at 11:30 a.m., Corum plays Bernd Gruber at 12:45 p.m. and Bendura Bank plays Engel & Volkers at 2 p.m.
On Sunday at 11:30 a.m., the game for fifth and sixth place is the opening game. At 12:45 p.m., the Kitzbuhel Country Club Cup will be held for third and fourth place and at 2 p.m. the championship finals will be held followed by the team and awards presentation at 3:30 p.m.
The tournament will be live streamed on the Snow Polo World Cup Kitzbuhel Facebook page during the early morning in South Florida because of the time change. Fans can already watch the match draw that was streamed earlier in the week.
Ganzi was the first woman to compete in the St. Moritz Snow Polo Tournament in 2016 and first woman to make the final in 2017. She is also first woman to win the St. Regis World Snow Polo Tournament in Aspen for Flexjet in 2016 and 2018 Bendura Bank Snow Polo World Cup. Ganzi will also compete in St. Moritz.
"I think our chances are as good as any other team's," Ganzi said. "Afterall, it's polo and anything can happen. I love my teammates and love playing in Kitzbuhel in front of the fans."
Jan-Erik Franck, the voice of polo who also announces the fall and winter seasons at Grand Champions and Santa Rita Polo Farm and also the St. Regis World Snow Polo Tournament in Aspen, will handle the announcing in Kitzbuhel and also St. Moritz World Snow Polo Cup.
During the winter polo season, Grand Champions, the nation's largest and innovative USPA-sanctioned polo club nestled in the heart of the world's winter equestrian capital, is hosting 22 tournaments: 6, 8, 12, 20, and 0 to 40 goals, WCT Finals and women's weekly league play and 26-goal World Polo League tournaments at both Grand Champions and Valiente Polo Farm.
Grand Champions tournaments attract a large international field of players from all corners of the world including India, Mexico, New Zealand, Costa Rica, Argentina, Canada, Ecuador, Brazil, Switzerland, France, Germany, Uruguay, Azerbaijan, South Africa, Venezuela and England.
Season highlights for 2019 are the Jan. 26-Feb. 9 Sterling Cup, March 1-31 $50,000 National 12-Goal Tournament, March 1-16 John T. Oxley Memorial and March 3-24 $100,000 World Cup Tournament, a unique 0-40-goal, winner-take-all single-elimination tournament.
The biggest highlight of the season is the debut of the World Polo League, the nation's only 26-goal league featuring some of the world's top players and team sponsors at Grand Champions and Valiente. The WPL will fill the void created when the U.S. Polo Association, the sport's governing body, announced it was lowering high goal polo to 18-22 goals at International Polo Club and would not have 26-goal polo and instead feature the Gauntlet Polo Series with the C.V. Whitney Cup, USPA Gold Cup and U.S. Open.
Grand Champions and Santa Rita Polo Farm is the largest and most unique 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 three polo fields with state-of-the-art underground irrigation including one field for stick-and-ball with plans to build more polo fields in the future.
Grand Champions Polo Club and Santa Rita Polo Farm caters to men, women and youth polo players at all levels and ages. 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, created by Grand Champions President Melissa Ganzi when the club first opened.
The Polo School, a stand-alone USPA-sanctioned polo club, is thriving. It is dedicated to teaching polo to all ages, particularly grass roots youth. Its mission is to provide individuals opportunities in polo at every economic and ability level. Scholarships are available. The Polo School operates in Wellington January through June and September through November. Headed by Director of Operations Juan Bollini, The Polo School has nurtured several men and women polo players now playing in the pro and amateur ranks since its inception.