cv1Grand Champions Polo Club-based pro team Audi will be among a seven-team field when the 26-high goal season gets under way on Friday with the C.V. Whitney Cup, the first jewel of America’s Triple Crown of polo.

The first of three 26-goal tournaments begins Friday with two games in the single-elimination tournament at International Polo Club Palm Beach.

Orchard Hill and Valiente play at 1 p.m. and White Birch plays Valiente II at 4 p.m. On Saturday at 10 a.m., Audi plays Coca-Cola.

Audi returns last year’s team of 1-goaler Marc Ganzi, 9-goalers Gonzalito Pieres and Rodrigo Andrade and 7-goaler Freddie Mannix.

“We’re excited about the match,” Pieres said. “Coca-Cola is a very competitive and well-organized team. We have a good team, too. Hopefully, we will have a fun game and we win.”

In last year’s C.V. Whitney Cup, Audi was eliminated by Alegria, 15-11, in the semifinals.

Audi bounced back in the next tournament to win the Piaget USPA Gold Cup with a 16-15 overtime victory over Orchard Hill, snapping the favored team’s seven-game win streak.

In the third and final tournament of 2015, Audi, just one game away from returning to the U.S. Open championship for the first time since 2011, lost to Valiente, 11-10, in sudden death overtime in the semifinals. Valiente went on to win its first U.S. Open title.

Other C.V. Whitney Cup team lineups are:

Coca-Cola: Gillian Johnston, 2, Sugar Erskine, 7, Julio Arellano, 9, Miguel Novillo Astrada 9.

Lucchese: John Muse, A, Magoo Laprida, 8, Nico Pieres, 8, Sapo Caset, 10.

Orchard Hill: Polito Pieres, 10, Julian De Lussareta, 6, Facundo Pieres, 10, Steve Van Andel, A.

Valiente: Bob Jornayvaz, 2, Santi Torres, 7, Santi Chavanne, 7, Adolfo Cambiaso, 10.

Valiente II: Rob Jornayvaz, 1, Facundo Sola, 8, Tomas Garcia del Rio, 8, Diego Cavanagh, 8.

White Birch: Hilario Ulloa, 9, Ezequiel Ferrario, 7, Marianno Aguerre, 9, Peter Brant, 1.

“The C.V. Whitney Cup is a very prestigious Cup,” said USPA Chairman Joe Meyer during the tournament draw ceremony. “A lot of great teams have won it. It’s always fun to watch everybody come in and fight for it.”

With so many balanced teams there is no clearcut favorite although Audi is one of the frontrunners.

Ganzi and his Audi teams have been to the final of the U.S. Open three times (2009, 2010, 2011), capturing the coveted title in 2009. Audi lost in the 2010 final to Crab Orchard and 2011 final to Lechuza Caracas.

Ganzi, one of the world’s top-ranked amateur players, has won every major U.S. tournament during his career and is coming off an outstanding summer of play that includes the title at the USPA East Coast Open in Greenwich, knocking off favorite White Birch in the final.

Pieres, a 9-goaler and ranked sixth in the world and son of polo great Gonzalo Pieres, Sr., was ranked 10 goals for six years and has been a member of Audi’s three U.S. Open team finalists.

Andrade, the Brazilian 9-goaler ranked 13th in the world, is one of the game’s most physical players and crowd-pleasers. Mannix, Canada’s top player, was raised to a seven goal rating this season and is ranked 26th in the world. He is coming off the 20-goal season with Audi-Millarville where he won the Bobby Barry Cup.

The C.V. Whitney Cup semifinals are March 2 at 1 and 3 p.m. and final on March 6 at 3 p.m. The subsidiary Les Armour Cup also is March 6 at 1 p.m.

The C.V. Whitney Cup was created in 1979 and first played at the Retama Polo Center in San Antonio, Texas where it was the handicap counterpart to the U.S. Open Championship. It was moved to IPC in 2003 and has been held every year.

Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney was an American businessman, film producer, writer, government official and owner of a leading stable of thoroughbred horses. He followed in his father’s footsteps as an avid polo player and won the U.S. Open three times.

The other two 26-goal tournaments are the prestigious USPA Piaget Gold Cup and 112th Maserati U.S. Open Polo Championship.

Audi, a valued sponsor, has a rich winning tradition in polo. The German automobile manufacturer designs, engineers, produces, markets and distributes luxury automobiles throughout the world including West Palm Beach. Audi, founded in 1909, oversees its worldwide operations from its headquarters in Ingolstadt, Bavaria, Germany.

The Audi Coca-Cola game will be live streamed by ChukkerTV which is exclusively live streaming International Polo Club Palm Beach and Grand Champions Polo Club games during the 2016 season with polo broadcasters Toby Wayman and Dale Schwetz calling the action.

At Grand Champions, the nation’s busiest and most innovative polo club, the 20-Goal Series, USPA 12-Goal Sieber Memorial, Santa Rita Memorial 8-Goal and Halo Polo Trophy 6-Goal Tournament are currently being held.

Grand Champions Polo Club also features The Polo School, dedicated to teaching polo, particularly grass roots youth. Its mission is to provide individuals opportunities in polo. The Polo School operates in Wellington January through June and September through November.

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