WELLINGTON, Fla., February 8, 2019---On a historical day for the sport of polo, the World Polo League made its debut Thursday at windswept Valiente Polo Farm.
The highly-anticipated 26-goal World Polo League opener featured the first two games of the All Star Challenge Draw Tournament in front of good crowds in a relaxing and fun atmosphere.
In the opening morning game, Scone (David Paradise, A, Guillermo Terrera, 8, Juan Martin Nero, 10, Alejandro Taranco, 8) held on for an 11-9 victory over Flexjet (Melissa Ganzi, 0, Pablo Spinacci, 6, Diego Cavanagh, 9, Alejandro Novillo Astrada, 8).
Later, in the afternoon game, Colorado (Rob Jornayvaz, 2, Juan Martin Zubia, 7, Rodrigo Andrade, 9, Jero del Carril, 7) stunned Grand Champions (Grant Ganzi, 3, Alfredo Bigatti, 8, Juancito Bollini, 4, Adolfo Cambiaso, 10), one of the pre-tournament favorites, with a 10-7 win.
"I am so happy to bring polo to the world in a different way," WPL Commissioner Dale Smicklas, a former 8-goal player. "It's a new breed of polo as it should be, its' time has come. I'm really happy to be a part of it.
"This is actually more than I thought it would be, based on the length of time it took us to really try and put it together the right way. Of course, you have to start somewhere, so at some point in time you have to say 'let's just roll' and see how it goes. I was very, very, very happy to see it go this way the first game on the first day and I think both teams were happy.
"What I loved was one hour and thirty minutes and the game was over," Smicklas said. "It was very fast-paced, an open, running thrilling game. The players went out and played and had fun. It was easy for the umpires and easy for the spectators. I think it was a very good opening."
Scone team sponsor David Paradise, making his 26-goal playing debut, scored the first goal of the game. It was the first time Paradise played with his elite teammates. Paradise, who has played for ten years, was provided with players and horses from the World Polo League organization.
"This was wonderful," said Paradise, whose team is named after the town of Scone where he grew up in Australia. "It was great...fantastic, nice and fast. It was great to play with some of the best players around and I do love riding and playing. I think the World Polo League is great and it is here to stay."
Flexjet, a 23-goal team, started off with a 4-0 lead on handicap (three plus one goals) but quickly saw it dwindle with Scone's one-two punch combination of Guillermo Terrera and Alejandro Taranco. The duo led in scoring, each with four goals. Nero added two goals.
Scone outscored Flexjet 1-0 in the second chukker to tie the game 4-4 after the second chukker and went ahead 6-5 at the half with a 2-1 third chukker. The lead changed hands five times before Scone regained the lead for good early in the sixth chukker. Scone never trailed after that.
Cavanagh, coming off Thursday's Sterling Cup semifinal win for Colorado, led Flexjet with three goals. Ganzi and Spinacci each had one goal.
"The faster we play it is more fun for everyone who is watching and for us, too," Cavanagh said. "The new rules are great. It's going to be faster and great fun. Hopefully, this league will last many, many years. It's great to play at this level of 26 goals and it is an honor to be playing today and to be a part of history."
Added teammate Alejandro Novillo Astrada: "The game was a lot of fun. It was our first game and we were a little out of rhythm. Scone was a good team and very well-positioned. We never played together before so it took us a while and then we got a system down late in the game.
"We were part of history and no one forgets the first game of the first tournament," Novillo Astrada said. "Hopefully, this is the kickoff to a great adventure."
In the second game, Juan Martin Zubia scored a game-high six goals to lead Colorado. Jero Del Carril added four goals. Juancito Bollini led Grand Champions with three goals including a nice back shot in the fourth chukker. Adolfo Cambiaso added two goals and Grant Ganzi and Alfredo Bigotti each had one goal.
On Friday, Cria Yatay, led by Nacho Figueras, plays Patagones at Jan Pamela Field off Indian Mound and Sunday at 4 p.m., Valiente plays Audi in the featured game at Grand Champions's Field 2.
Eight teams are competing in bracket play with the final set for Feb. 17 at Grand Champions Polo Club at 4 p.m.
Scone, Grand Champions, Colorado and Flexjet are in Bracket A and Audi, Valiente, Cria Yatay and Patagones are in Bracket B.
Co-founded by Grand Champions owners Melissa and Marc Ganzi and Valiente Polo Farm owner Bob Jornayvaz, the World Polo League is the only 26-goal polo in the world outside of Argentina.
The exciting new league, that will offer major prize money starting in the semifinals, is preserving the highest level of polo and its rich, hallowed tradition in the U.S.
The WPL has its own set of simpler fan-friendly rules, including no yellow cards, to improve the flow and action of the game.
The WPL, with 14 tournament-quality fields to play on, also includes the Feb. 20-March 3 Founders Cup, March 6-24 Palm Beach Open and March 27-April 14 Triple Crown of Polo.
The WPL game finals will be held Sundays on Field Two at Grand Champions at 4 p.m. and semifinal games at Valiente Polo Farm, Fields One and Two. Several games will also be held throughout the week at various times. Admission is free along with food and refreshments at the featured games.
The World Polo League is open to other teams that wish to compete in one or more of the tournaments. Entries are still open and everyone is welcome to play. Games are offered on the flat (Open) and on Handicap.
The World Polo League has attracted a large international field of players from all corners of the world including Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Uruguay and U.S.
Grand Champions and Valiente are also launching the U.S. National Mixed Doubles Championship, featuring two men and two women with combined handicaps, in March.
In addition to the World Polo League, season highlights for 2019 at Grand Champions are the Sterling Cup which ends Saturday at 3 p.m. with the final between defending champion Valiente and Colorado at Grand Champions' Field 1, 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.
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.