Aspen Valley Captures Spring Challenge Cup In Overtime Thriller; Pablo Pulido Named Most Valuable Player

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WELLINGTON, Fl.—May 13, 2019----In another exciting overtime final at Grand Champions Polo Club, Aspen Valley captured the Spring Challenge Cup on Sunday.

With 6:06 left in overtime, Pablo Pulido took a pass from Grant Ganzi and broke away to score the winning goal to lead Aspen Valley (Pablo Pulido, 2, Juancito Bollini, 4, Grant Ganzi, 3, Alejandro Novillo Astrada, 8) to a thrilling 9-8 victory over Palm Beach Equine (Brandon Phillips, 4, Juan Bollini, 5, Nic Roldan, 8, Scott Swerdlin, 0).

In last week's Sun Cup final, Dutta Corp defeated Aspen Valley, 10-9, in overtime.

Pulido, a Cornell alum, was named Most Valuable Player. Playing well above his goal rating, Pulido scored three goals and played well defensively.

"We came out at the beginning of overtime and just said stick to the man on the throw-ins and as soon as we see someone with the ball just go at it," Pulido said. 

Astrada hooked Phillips after he came up with the opening throw-in. Ganzi pounced on the ball and hit a tail shot to Pulido who raced to goal with a perfect 60-yard approach shot down the middle and two quick hits to score.

"Grant did a phenomenal play, hitting a very nice lofty back shot that went over all the players and lands right in front of me," Pulido said. "I just had to drill it in. I had Scott on my side but I was lucky the ball went in."

Added Astrada, "I was with Nic on the throw-in and I saw that Brandon had the ball. I went to help Granti who was in position to get the ball so I hooked Brandon. Granti hit an amazing back shot to Pablo who was alone and went to goal."

Said Ganzi, "Pablo did exactly what I thought he was going to do. I told him in the tent before overtime that he was doing great going forward today and going to the goal so well. He was playing lights out and made some great goals. I said do one more. I had confidence in him and I told him he was going to do it again."

Limoncello, a 12-year-old Chestnut gelding owned and played by Pulido for a chukker and a half including overtime,  was selected Grand Champions Best Playing Pony.

"He's a very nice horse, very easy to play," Pulido said. 

Aspen Valley controlled the momentum of the game for most of the first half, jumping out to a 4-0 lead with 2:06 left in the third chukker. Back-to-back goals by Roldan in the final two minutes cut the lead to two to trail 4-2 at the half.

"At the beginning we controlled the game and I thought it was going to be like that the whole game," Astrada said. "I knew they were a very good team but I thought we had it handled. Then we started making mistakes that we were not doing in the beginning. We started losing the man and that's when we allowed them to get into the game. Then it became a very tight game."

Palm Beach Equine dominated the throw-ins early in the second half and started clawing its way back into the game, outscoring Aspen Valley, 6-5, in the second half.

"They started disrupting our flow and we didn't adjust," Ganzi said. "Nic started bringing in the ball more and doing his Nic thing, cutting off the plays on our knock-ins."

Phillips scored all five of his goals in the second half. He tied the game 6-6 at the 2:03 mark in the fifth chukker with an off-balance neck shot. 

Aspen Valley regained the lead, 7-6, when Bollini scored at the horn. After several missed scoring opportunities by both teams in the first four minutes of the sixth chukker, Roldan converted a 30-yard penalty to tie the game at 7-7.

With 33 seconds left in regulation, Bollini scored again on a breakaway for an 8-7 lead. Twenty seconds later Roldan connected with Phillips who scored with another nice neck shot to send the game into overtime.

"This team is phenomenal," Pulido said. "It's a well-rounded team. We all played well. Alejandro kept pushing us to make sure we didn't drop the ball. We came out with a 4-0 lead and kind of lost it a bit in the middle. Brandon played really, really well in the fourth and the fifth. We were just able to come back."

Other scorers for Aspen Valley were Bollini with three goals, Astrada with two and Ganzi with one.

"I think every one played well, I think it was a good game to watch on the outside," Ganzi said. "They just started changing their game plan. We started out playing really well but we didn't adapt. They threw us for a loop a little bit.

"We weren't going to win if we didn't all play well and didn't pull through at certain moments of the game," Ganzi said. "I'm really happy to win it, it's a pretty trophy and I'm really happy to be able to win in the spring. The level of play is awesome and the fields are great."

Phillips scored a game-high five goals for Palm Beach Equine. Roldan added three.

"Brandon played an amazing game today, he was tough to cover," Ganzi said. 

In the subsidiary Just For The Love Of It, Audi (Marc Ganzi, 2, Sugar Erskine, 6, Pablo Spinacci, 6, Jared Zenni, 6) rallied in the second half for an impressive 13-12 win over defending tournament champion Dutta Corp (Carlitos Gracida, 4, Tommy Collingwood, 5, Timmy Dutta, 2, Kris Kampsen, 6).

Dutta Corp picked up three goals on handicap and controlled the first half jumping out to a 4-2 lead in the opening chukker and 9-5 halftime lead. Kampsen scored four goals in the first half.

Audi dominated the second half, outscoring Dutta Corp, 8-3. Audi took advantage of a big 4-0 fourth chukker to tie the game 9-9 on Erskine's rebound goal with 16 seconds left. Zenni had hit the goal post on his scoring attempt and Erskine was there to scoop it up and score.

Spinacci gave Audi its first lead, 10-9, with 4:06 left in the fifth chukker. Audi never trailed after that.

Ganzi and Erskine shared scoring honors, each with four goals. Spinacci had three goals and Zenni added two.

Kampsen led Dutta Corp with a game-high seven goals. Dutta had two goals. Dutta Corp picked up three goals on handicap against 20-goal Audi.

Two tournaments remain on the Grand Champions spring schedule: May 17-19, Polo Gear Challenge Cup and May 24-26 The Memorial. The spring season is being live-streamed on Wellington-based ChukkerTV.

Grand Champions fall, winter and spring tournaments attract a large international field of players from all corners of the world  including India, Mexico, New Zealand, Chile, Costa Rica, Argentina, Canada, Ecuador, Brazil, Switzerland, France, Germany, Uruguay, Azerbaijan, Australia, South Africa, Nigeria, Venezuela and England.

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 in 2007.

The Polo School, a stand-alone USPA-sanctioned polo club, 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 May 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.