USPA North American Cup, Daylight Savings Cup Highlight Big Weekend At Grand Champions Polo Club
Some of the world’s top polo players will compete in the first 20-goal tournament of the season at Grand Champions Polo Club.
By Sharon Robb
Tincho Merlos, Julio Arellano, Mariano Gonzalez and Sugar Erskine head a star-studded lineup for the two-day tournament that begins Friday.
Grand Champions is one of only two clubs in the nation to host two 20-goal tournaments, the upcoming USPA North American Cup and USPA National 20-Goal in the fall.
The two-day tournament opens with two games at 3 and 5 p.m.
In a rematch of last year’s final which Flexjet won, Grand Champions-based pro teams Audi and Flexjet meet at 3 p.m. followed by Casablanca and Goose Creek at 5 p.m. Winners of each game advance into Sunday’s final.
Agustin “Tincho” Merlos, rated at 9 goals, heads the player field. The Argentine and fan favorite has competed in every major tournament in the world including the Argentine Open, British Open and U.S. Open. Merlos is the youngest of three brothers and member of a legendary polo family.
Nicaragua-born Julio Arellano, rated at 8 goals, has been a member of two winning lineups for Team USA in the International Cup at Grand Champions in 2016 against Uruguay and 2015 against South Africa where he earned MVP honors in both games. The Cardinal Newman and Florida Atlantic University alum is one of America’s top-rated polo players.
Gonzalez, rated at 7 goals, is a long-time member of Goose Creek. He has played professionally for 20 years around the world including his native Argentina, England and Spain. Gonzalez also comes from an Argentine polo playing dynasty including his father, a former 10-goaler who won the Argentine Open seven times.
Sugar Erskine, rated at 6 goals, is one of the sport’s more colorful players from South Africa. He is known for dying his hair red and wearing matching red boots and knee pads for Coca-Cola during the high goal season in Wellington. Known for his aggressive style, Erskine won the U.S. Open in 1998 and 2004 along with the Ylvisaker Cup in 2013 and 2014 and East Coast Open among other major high goal tournaments.
The USPA North American Cup rosters are:
FLEXJET (20): Melissa Ganzi, Jason Crowder, 6, Tincho Merlos, 9, Juan Bollini, 5.
AUDI (18): Marc Ganzi, 2, Carlucho Arellano, 5, Brandon Phillips, 5, Sugar Erskine, 6.
CASABLANCA (19): Grant Ganzi, 2, Mike Azzaro, 6, Julio Arellano, 8, Juancito Bollini, 3.
GOOSE CREEK (19): Maureen Brennan, 1, Kris Kampsen, 6, Mariano Gonzalez, 7, Luis Escobar, 5.
On Saturday, the Daylight Savings Cup final will be held at 3 p.m. featuring 12-goal Newport (Gene Goldstein, Lucas Arellano, Jeff Blake, Carlitos Gracida) against 11-goal Patagones (Gilles Blain, 0, Benjamin Avendano, 1, Jesse Bray, 5, Pablo Dorignac, 5).
Last year’s USPA North American Cup champion was Flexjet (Grant Ganzi, Jason Crowder, Nic Roldan, Jared Sheldon), 11-9 winners over Audi (Marc Ganzi, Jesse Bray, Carlucho Arellano, Jeff Blake). With the game tied 6-6 at the half, Flexjet shut out Audi in the fourth and sixth chukkers and outscored them 5-3. It was Flexjet’s second consecutive appearance in the North American Cup final.
Roldan was MVP. Narnia, a 5-year-old Bay mare owned by Santa Rita Polo Farm and ridden by Bray, was named Best Playing Pony. It was Grant Ganzi’s second North American Cup win. Three years ago, he won the title with Casablanca teammates Kris Kampsen, Sheldon and Roldan.
Rated No. 1 by Consumer Reports as the best auto brand overall, Audi is a valued sponsor with 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.
Flexjet has been a member of the Directional Aviation family of companies since 2013. They are committed to creating premium travel experiences and providing access to the most modern, technologically-advanced aircraft in the industry on a daily basis, going above and beyond world-class private travel experiences.
Casablanca, founded by polo players who understand the needs of today’s polo players, supplies a wide variety of polo products, equipment and apparel through superior quality, value and service around the world. Behind the Casablanca brand is a serious pledge to quality, excellence and elegance.
The impressive lineup of pro players competing during Grand Champions’ fall season is headed by legendary American Hall of Famer and former 10-goaler Mike Azzaro. Azzaro, winner of eight U.S. Open titles and rated at 10 goals for 13 years, was Most Valuable Player for Casablanca in both the US Trust Cup and USPA Fall Classic.
Four of the club’s six fall tournaments have already been successfully held. The fifth tournament, the Pedro Morrison Memorial final was postponed because of wet fields and will be rescheduled.
The first four tournament winners weare: Audi, which defeated Casablanca, 11-10, in overtime to win the Tackeria Invitational; Casablanca bounced back with wins in the US Trust Cup and USPA Fall Classic; and Sebucan knocked off Casablanca to win the USPA Fall Plates.
The highlight of the fall season is the Nov. 25 doubleheader with the Carlos Gracida Memorial Legends of Polo and International Cup pitting defending champion Team USA against Brazil. Sponsorship packages are available and tickets are on sale.
During the fall season, roster lineups change from tournament to tournament with evenly-matched teams to help improve players skills and performance. The games also give players an opportunity to work young horses.