Audi, Casablanca Win Sterling Cup Openers; Action Continues Sunday With Doubleheader

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WELLINGTON, Fla., February 1, 2019---If opening day is any indication, the four-day, six-team Sterling Cup is going to be one of the most competitive in tournament history.

In the opening game on Thursday, Casablanca (Grant Ganzi, 3, Tony Calle, 3, Juan Martin Nero, 10, Juancito Bollini, 4) defeated Santa Clara (Lucas Escobar, 1, Nino Obregon, 6, Cubi Toccalino, 8, Luis Escobar, 5), 11-9, at Jan Pamela Field in ideal conditions.

In the second half of Thursday's doubleheader, Audi (Mia Cambiaso, 2, Marc Ganzi, 3, Juan Martin Zubia, 7, Nic Roldan, 8) held off Sebucan (Pablo Pulido, 2, Jero del Carril, 7, Tommy Biddle, 5, Juan Bollini, 5), 10-7, in less than ideal conditions at Santa Rita Polo Farm.

The Sterling Cup continues on Sunday with two games. Colorado plays Santa Clara at 10 a.m. and defending champion Valiente plays Sebucan at 1 p.m. 

On Wednesday, Colorado plays Casablanca at 11 a.m. and Valiente plays Audi at 3 p.m. The final is set for Saturday, Feb. 9 at 3 p.m. 

Playing together for the first time as a team, Casablanca needed only a chukker to pull its chemistry together against Santa Clara.

"I've played with Tony so much and Juancito obviously as well and Juanma last season we played a lot in 26-goal," Ganzi said. "We understand each other well." 

After tying in the opening chukker, 2-2, Casablanca shut out Santa Clara in the second and third chukkers for a 6-2 halftime lead.

Santa Clara found its momentum in the fourth chukker to outscore Casablanca, 3-1, and trail by only two goals, 7-5, but Casablanca bounced right back for a 3-1 chukker of its own to extend its lead, 10-6.

"We had our hiccups in the first chukker," Ganzi said. "Then we got together and played outstanding in the last two minutes of the first chukker. Santa Clara was a good team. Obviously, when we made a mistake, they took advantage.

"I thought overall once we got our game together we played amazing, we played really well. It was good, positive and we understood each other well. The only hiccups we really had was when we didn't speak to each other or hit a bad back shot or a shot not long enough."

Nero scored a game-high six goals including four penalty conversions. Bollini had three goals and Ganzi added two.

Sixteen-year-old Lucas Escobar led Santa Clara with a team-high five goals. Toccalino had two goals and Obregon and Luis Escobar each had one goal. 

What will it take to win the Sterling Cup?

"Beating Adolfo," Ganzi said. "I think he is going to make the final. I think we are going to have to play really organized if we make the final. Obviously, we have to focus on our next game against Colorado, which we can win or lose."

In the second game, the temperature dropped and rains came but it didn't seem to diminish the competitiveness of both teams.

Sebucan gave Audi all it could handle for most of the game, playing them tight. Audi jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first chukker and then watched its offense sputter with Sebucan shutting them out 3-0 in the next two chukkers to tie at halftime, 3-3.

Audi regained its momentum in the fourth chukker to regain the lead, 6-4, on Cambiaso's goal despite a defender on her hip. Sebucan, taking advantage of Audi fouls, came within one goal to trail 6-5 and 7-6 in the fifth chukker.

Sebucan had its share of scoring opportunities but couldn't finish while Audi took advantage of the talented Zubia's hot mallet. Zubia scored two of his three goals in the final chukker. He first scored to give Audi an 8-6 lead. After Biddle's penalty conversion, cut the lead to one, 8-7, Roldan broke loose for another goal and 9-7 lead. Zubia's final goal iced the victory.

Mia Cambiaso, Marc Ganzi and Juan Martin Zubia each had three goals and Nic Roldan added one for Audi. 

Jero del Carril led Sebucan with a team-high four goals and big-hitting Tommy Biddle added three goals, all on booming penalty conversions.

The Sterling Cup is one of two prestigious tournaments that the nation’s busiest and most innovative polo club resurrected two years ago after a 22-year absence. It was resurrected by Grand Champions owners Melissa and Marc Ganzi in hopes of recapturing polo's glory days. It was the second tournament of the 22-goal season at Palm Beach Polo after the January Challenge Cup and last played in 1995. It was considered the 22-goal championship and attracted as many as eighteen teams.

In addition to the strong field of players, the tournament is showcasing some of the best horses in the sport. Three awards will be presented: Best Playing Pony for the final game, Best Playing Pony for the tournament and the coveted American Polo Horse Association best registered horse of the game. The APHA was created in 2006 by the legendary Polo Hall of Famer Sunny Hale to recognize polo ponies in America and encourages events that showcase them and hard-working dedication of grooms.

During the winter polo season, Grand Champions, the nation's largest and innovative USPA-sanctioned polo club, 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, Nigeria, Venezuela and England.

Season highlights for 2019 are the 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 Feb. 5-April 15 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 Polo Farm. 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.