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Richard Mille AlUla Desert Polo 2024 Begins Wednesday With Star-Studded Lineup

AlUlA, Saudi Arabia, January 16, 2024---In a breathtaking setting, the third edition of the Richard Mille AlUla Desert Polo, the only organized polo tournament played in a desert, begins Wednesday with a star-studded lineup.

By Sharon Robb

Eight teams, featuring some of the world's top players including the World Polo League's Pablo MacDonough and Juan Martin Nero, will be held in a purpose-built desert arena in the Equestrian Village, near Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Hegra .

Grand Champions Polo Club President and 26-goal World Polo League co-founder Melissa Ganzi returns to the desert where she made history in 2022 as the first international woman to compete in the tournament and play polo in Saudi Arabia. She was named Most Valuable Player and Mecca, played by Ganzi, was Best Playing Pony.

"I could not have been more honored to be included in the historic event and to be making history and hopefully setting an example for other women to play polo, hopefully Saudi women and just women in general, especially young women,” Ganzi said.

Ganzi is coming off a runner-up finish with her Bentley teammates Martin Jauregui and Alejandro Novillo Astrada in the 21st Bendura Bank Snow Polo World Cup Kitzbuehel this past weekend in Austria.

Ganzi will also compete in the Jan. 26-28 39th Snow Polo World Cup St. Moritz along with her son Grant and husband Marc. Melissa Ganzi will play with Adrian Laplacette Jr., Alejandro Novillo Astrada and her son on Team World Polo League. Marc Ganzi will play with Santos Bollini, Martin Jauregui and Freddie Mannix on Team Flexjet.

The four-day desert tournament is a collaboration between the Saudi Polo Federation, Royal Commission for AlUla, title sponsor and tournament timekeeper Richard Mille and La Dolfina Polo Team.

"The Richard Mille AlUla Desert Polo has become a catalyst for AlUla’s emergence as a global home for equestrian and winter polo in its short yet incredible history," said Ziad Al-Suhaibani, Commission Chief of the sports sector.

"Its' profile and popularity have grown enormously both regionally and internationally and even more foundations for long-term growth and development will be cemented this year."

The tournament is a part of the commission’s commitment to promote the country’s heritage, culture and arts.

In the last desert tournament held in 2022, AlUla (HRH Prince Salman bin Sultan bin Salman, Mohammed Al Habtoor, Adolfo Cambiaso) rallied from a three-goal deficit to defeat Richard Mille (Noor Abu Khadra, Melissa Ganzi, Pablo MacDonough), 5-4.

In the subsidiary, Bentley (HRH Prince Abdulrahman bin Faisal Al Saud, Jean-Francois Decaux (FRA), David Pelon Stirling) defeated Saudia (HRH Prince Salman bin Mansour Al Saud, Hussam Zawawi, Juan Martin Zubia), 3-1.

Organizers said this year's event will be bigger and better.

"It’s going to be a brilliant event and anticipation will be even greater," said Rami Al-Moallim, vice president of destination management and marketing at the Commission. "The involvement of some of the sport’s elite players amplifies not only its' prestige but also its attractiveness within the international polo community.”

Heading the field is polo great Adolfo Cambiaso. He will be joined La Dolfina teammates Juan Martin Nero, David (Pelon) Stirling and son Poroto Cambiaso.

Argentine Open Most Valuable Player Pablo MacDonough is also part of the Argentine contingent along with female players Lia Salvo and Cambiaso’s daughter, Mia. Britain’s Nina Clarkin is the other female player completing the pro lineup.

The royal dignitaries confirmed include Saudi Arabia’s Prince Sultan bin Khaled Al-Faisal and Prince Salman bin Mansour bin Nassir Al-Saud.

Prince Abbas bin Ali and Prince Hamza bin Abbas are also competing, along with Anna Dettingen Wallerstein, Carl-Eugen Dettingen Wallerstein and George Spencer Churchill.

International patrons include Adriano Agosti, Alessandro Barnaba, Sayyu Dantata, Nacho Figueras, David Paradise, Lila Pearson and Nicky Sen.

Jan-Erik Franck, the "Voice of Polo" will call the action during the tournament. Franck will also announce the St. Moritz Snow Polo World Cup before returning to Wellington, Fla. for the 26-goal World Polo League season.

During the winter polo season, Grand Champions Polo Club, the nation's largest and most innovative USPA-sanctioned polo club nestled in the heart of the world's winter equestrian capital, hosts a wide range of tournaments: 6, 8, 12, 20, and 26-goal leagues, GCPC Polo School Women's Weekly Polo League, WCT Finals, several PTF junior tournaments, World Polo League, World Polo League Pride and Sunset Chukkers & Cocktails at both Grand Champions and Santa Rita.

The season's biggest highlight is the sixth season of the World Polo League, the only 26-goal polo played outside of Argentina, featuring some of the world's top players including 10-goalers Pablo MacDonough, Jeta Castagnola and Juan Martin Nero, former 10-goaler Gonzalito Pieres, Alejandro Novillo Astrada and hometown favorite Nic Roldan, the second highest ranked American player at 8 goals.

The WPL filled 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 and would not have 26-goal polo.

Other high goal season highlights are the Feb. 1-11 Sterling Cup (20 goals), Feb. 1-March 31 USPA Butler Handicap (18-22 goals), Feb. 7-24 $100,000 World Cup (0-40 goals) and Feb. 27-March 10 Santa Rita Abierto (20 goals).

Other January tournaments are the Metropolitan 6 Goal Cup, Aspen Valley 8-Goal and Limited Edition 12-Goal Series. The GCPC Women's Weekly Women's Polo League also gets under way Jan. 24 and runs through April. It is the longest running women's league in the nation.

Grand Champions and Santa Rita Polo Farm is the largest and most unique private 102-acre polo facility in Wellington with 212 stalls in nine self-contained barns, two tracks, five climate-controlled tack rooms, vet room, staff quarters, guest house and four polo fields with state-of-the-art underground irrigation and short work arena. The club has 11 well-manicured world-class fields at GCPC and Santa Rita.

The winter season will be live-streamed on Wellington-based CTV Sports. Grand Champions is the only USPA club live streaming all of its tournaments.

Grand Champions Polo Club caters to men, women and youth polo players at all levels. 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.

The Polo School, now located at the former Pony Express facility, operates in Wellington January through May and September through November. The 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. The Polo School has nurtured several junior, men and women polo players now playing in the pro and amateur ranks since its inception.

For more information on leagues or Polo School contact Director of Operations Juan Bollini at  561-346-1099 or Cale Newman at 561-876-2930.



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