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Grand Champions Win Sun Cup Spring Season Opener; Joelle Wyser Pratte MVP; Next Up Santa Rita Abierto Begins Friday

WELLINGTON, Fla., May 3, 2024---Grand Champions won the much-anticipated spring season-opener Sunday at Grand Champions Polo Club.


By Sharon Robb


Grand Champions (Joelle Wyser Pratte, -1, Mario Dino, 1, Santos Bollini 2, Juan Bollini, 3) led from start-to-finish to defeat The Polo School (Ogden O'Reilly-Hyland, -1, Leo Mandelbaum, 2, Tomacho Pieres, 6, Tito Gaudenzi, 2), 7-6.



Joelle Wyser Pratte, a comeback success story after serious career-threatening injuries, earned her first polo Most Valuable Player award.


Pratte started playing polo during the pandemic with her two sons including Ogden O'Reilly-Hyland, who she competed against in the Sun Cup, and daughter. Her oldest son plays on the varsity polo team at Cambridge (England) who she plans to visit in June for the Cambridge-Oxford match.


Pratte then sustained serious injuries in show jumping and fox hunting. She broke her back, three ribs, elbow, shoulder, wrist and thumb.


"Pretty much everything needed for polo," said Pratte, who returned to the game after two years of recovery. "I could barely walk for a long time with my broken back. The fact I am able to play is kind of a miracle. I was worried I would have to give up riding altogether but now I'm swinging a mallet which is the biggest test of being healed. Never too old, never too broken."



She started playing again in March and has been working with former 8-goaler Juan Bollini, Director of the Polo School, who met her while tailgating at a game.


"It's been so good to be able to dive in," Pratte said. "Juan makes it fun. I started playing chukkers and the next thing I know he has me in a game. I was proud of Ogden. I felt like we were being thrown in the deep end, but they made it fun and made it feel safe."


Pratte, a natural horsewoman, has fallen in love with polo and has "the polo bug," she said. She plans to play the spring season.


"It's a team sport which mostly riding isn't," Pratte said. "I use to do eventing but you're still out there by yourself. I like the team aspect as well as the adrenaline. The beauty comes from the control to be able to manage your speed against the ball. You're also flat out on a regular basis."


Pratte enjoyed playing with her Grand Champions teammates. She will play for Grand Champions again with new teammates, 6-goalers Tomacho Pieres and Pablo Spinacci in the Santa Rita Handicap on Friday and Sunday.


"I had an amazing team and got to be in the right place at the right time three times," she said. "My teammates were great. They made it fun. I'm glad I didn't let them down."


Two Best Playing Pony blankets were awarded.  Rowan, played by Ogden O'Reilly-Hyland, was the American Polo Horse Association BPP. Open Osiris, played by Tomacho Pieres, was the Grand Champions BPP. Both horses are owned by Santa Rita Polo Farm.


Pratte and Santos Bollini each had two goals. The team picked up three goals on handicap. Mandelbaum led The Polo School with three goals and O'Reilly-Hyland added one goal. The team picked up two goals on handicap.


SANTA RITA ABIERTO/HANDICAP START FRIDAY


The second tournament gets under way on Friday with six teams competing in the Santa Rita Abierto and Santa Rita Handicap at Grand Champions.


On Friday the Santa Rita Abierto begins at 10:45 a.m. with Maltese Falcons (15) (Melissa Ganzi/Sebastian Mandelbaum, 0, Sugar Erskine, 6, Alejandro Novillo Astrada, 7, Leo Mandelbaum, 2) playing Newport (18) (Gene Goldstein, 0, Fred Mannix, 7, Pablo Spinacci, 6, Tommy Collingwood, 5).


In game two at 4:45 p.m. Palm Beach Equine (16) (Scott Swerdlin, 0, Jason Crowder, 5, Nic Roldan, 8, Grant Ganzi, 3) plays Audi (15) (Marc Ganzi, 1/Tito Gaudenzi, Lorenzo Chavanne, 6T, Tomacho Pieres, 6, Santos Bollini, 2).


On Sunday, the final is 10 a.m. followed by the Just For The Fun Of It Cup at 11:30 a.m.


In the Santa Rita Handicap, also on Friday, Santa Rita (14) (Rebecca Cohen, -1, Sugar Erskine, 6, Alejandro Novillo Astrada, 7, Justin Daniels/Benji Daniles, 2) plays Grand Champions (13) (Joelle Wyser Pratte, -1, Tucu Paz, 2, Tomacho Pieres, 6, Pablo Spinacci, 6) at 3 p.m. The scores from the four-chukker match will carry over into Sunday's final at 1 p.m.


In last year's Santa Rita Abierto, with 16 seconds left and the game tied 9-9, Travieso (Teo Calle, 0, Tony Calle, 3, Tomacho Pieres, 6, Jason Crowder, 5) converted a 30-yard penalty to defeat Casablanca (Alex Webb, 2, Grant Ganzi, 3, Nic Roldan, 8, Juan Bollini, 3), 10-9. Crowder was MVP.

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