Patagones Defeats Cria Yatay On Day Two Of World Polo League; Audi Plays Valiente Sunday At Grand Champions Polo Club

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WELLINGTON, Fla., February 9, 2019---Patagones team sponsor Gonzalo Avendano has been training for the World Polo League's All Star Challenge Draw Tournament since December and it showed in his first game in two years.

Leading by as many as seven goals in the third chukker, Patagones (Santi Wulff, 5, Santiago Toccalino, 8, Tomas Garcia del Rio, 8, Gonzalo Avendano, 2) defeated Cria Yatay (Juan Cruz Merlos, 5, Nacho Figueras, 6, Pite Merlos, 8, Tommy Biddle, 5), 13-9, Friday in front of a good crowd at Jan Pamela Field. 

"I think it's fun to have a choice of what level of polo to play," Avendano said. "Twenty-six goals is easier than eight goals. You have the anticipation. You know where the ball should go so you can go straight to the play and you don't have to run so much. It's a good thing to start like this."

Avendano was forced to take a break from polo when he had an accident two years ago and heart surgery for arrhythmia. He was on blood thinners and not allowed to play.

In December 2018 he started preparing his sons for the winter season and started to stick-and-ball. He started riding and played a few practices.

"I said okay, I'm going to try and play at least practices," Avendano said. "I lost 20 pounds in two months. Melissa Ganzi and Bob Jornayvaz asked my sons Joaquin and Benjamin to play this tournament. First I said yes, yes, yes and then I said no, no, no, wait a minute, I am going to play. I said I was going to prepare myself and see if I can do it. We talked to the other guys and thought it would be a lot of fun."

It was Avendano's first 26-goal career tournament. Before that his highest was 24 goals. He won the 0-40 Republic of Argentina Cup with a 22-goal team and played 20, 22 and 24-goal tournaments in Argentina, Wellington and Santa Barbara. The Patagones organization currently has teams playing 8, 12, 20 and 26 goal polo.

"The level of polo you choose depends on many things: your horses, your organization and your willingness to commit time to polo," Avendano said. "It's good to have the option to choose 26 goals."

After playing with and against each other in tournaments and practices, Patagones already had the chemistry before the game even started.

"We have a very fun team," said Garcia del Rio, who played high goal with Avendano's son Benjamin in Argentina for three months and won the Metropolitano and Ellerstina Gold Cup. "We didn't think the game would be like this. We have been playing good mixed practices in the last couple of months and we are in rhythm.

"We wanted to play a nice game and have fun," Garcia del Rio said. "Before the game we didn't really talk about winning. If we won, we won and if we didn't, we just wanted to have fun and play nice. Winning was a bonus. Gonzalo played great. He has been preparing all season to come back in this tournament."

Garcia Del Rio said he was happy when the World Polo League was created last year.

"It's great having this much polo in Wellington," Garcia del Rio said. "The best players in the world are here and having the chance to play with them and against them and enjoying watching them I think is great for everyone. I hope it's here to stay."

Big-hitting Tommy Biddle led Cria Yatay with four goals. Pite Merlos had three and Juan Cruz Merlos added one goal.

Patagones got a 2-0 lead based on handicap and quickly built a 6-0 cushion in the opening chukker. Pite Merlos scored Cria Yatay's first goal early in the second chukker but the team could not dig itself out of a hole and trailed 9-2 at the half.

Playing together for the first time, Cria Yatay found its rhythm in the final two chukkers scoring four unanswered goals before time ran out.

Patagones got balanced scoring from its four-man team. Garcia del Rio led scoring with four goals, Wulff added three. Toccalino and Avendano each had two goals.

"Gonzalo played amazing and he is better than that," Wulff said. "The game was a lot of fun. We didn't know what to expect. We just started in the World Polo League but it is amazing. I am super happy with everything about it, the presentation, the draw, the teams and the field was good. It is amazing to be part of this."

On Sunday at 4 p.m., Valiente (Santi Torres, Agustin Nero, Pablo MacDonough, Bob Jornayvaz) plays Audi (Marc Ganzi, 2, Nic Roldan, 8, Pelon Stirling, 10, Kris Kampsen, 6) in the featured game at Grand Champions' 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, Canada, 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.