Grand Champions/CrossFit El Cid Win Limited Edition 8-Goal Series Title; Carlitos Gracida Named MVP

On a gorgeous day for polo, Grand Champions/CrossFit El Cid rallied for two goals in the final chukker to capture the Limited Edition 8-Goal Series title Sunday at Patagones.
By Sharon Robb
CrossFit El Cid (Gerardo Pantin, -1, Cecelia Cochran, 1, Jason Wates, 3, Carlitos Gracida, 4), tied 10-10 with Patagones (Joaquin Avendano, 1, Santi Avendano, 1, Benjamin Avendano, 2, Robi Bilbao, 4) going into the sixth chukker, knocked off the previously undefeated team for a thrilling 12-10 victory on its own field.
Patagones finished the series with a 4-1 record and Grand Champions/CrossFit El Cid finished at 3-1.
Cecelia Cochran of Grand Champions/CrossFit El Cid drives downfield with Robi Bilbao of Patagones defending.
Gracida, son of legendary Hall of Famer Carlos Gracida, was named Most Valuable Player. Gracida scored a game-high eight goals including back-to-back goals to clinch the win. Wates added three goals. The team also received a goal on handicap.
Benjamin Avendano led Patagones with five goals, Bilbao had three and Santi Avendano added one. The team also had one pony goal.
Jason Wates of Grand Champions/CrossFit El Cid battles Benjamin Avendano of Patagones for the ball.
Gracida broke the tie with 3:01 left in the game with a 30-yard penalty conversion for an 11-10 lead, the first time Grand Champions/CrossFit El Cid had the lead for the entire game. Gracida added an insurance goal at the 1:10 mark with an incredible back shot.
Grand Champions/CrossFit El Cid played well together. Cochran is one of the sport’s top women players and will compete in this week’s Sunny Hale’s Legacy WCT Final at Grand Champions. Wates is one of polo’s rising stars from Kingston, Jamaica and splits his time between Florida, Chicago and Colorado. Gracida is a fourth generation player. Pantin just started playing the game this season and played above his handicap in Sunday’s game.
Santi Avendano of Patagones goes for near side shot with Jason Wates defending.
No one was happier than Pantin, a minus-one player and product of The Polo School, a USPA-sanctioned club at Grand Champions Polo Club. The former show jumper and father of four who makes the 120-mile round trip from Aventura to play polo, wasn’t sure about playing in the tournament until Polo School Director Juan Bollini, a former 8-goaler and cancer survivor, convinced him.
“Juan got this idea and put the team together. He said I was ready to play eight goals. I looked at him and said, ‘Juan, are you sure?'” said the Venezuela-born Pantin with a smile. “Juan and Marc and Melissa Ganzi gave me the opportunity to play here. They are amazing people.
Cecelia Cochran of Grand Champions/CrossFit El Cid hooks Benjamin Avendano of Patagones.
“This is my first season playing and my first tournament win,” Pantin said. “I am just beginning really. I used to ride horses and did show jumping for many years a long time ago when I was a kid. This is a dream for me to win my first tournament. I am really happy.”
He first fell in love with polo while attending Texas A&M 30 years ago. “I started playing stick-and-ball a little there but after that I stopped and started working and didn’t play at all,” Pantin said. “I came here because my kids do show jumping at the Winter Equestrian Festival so I thought let me see if I can still ride horses and started playing polo again.”
Carlitos Gracida of Grand Champions/CrossFit El Cid chases down Benjamin Avendano of Patagones.
Pantin loves the team concept in polo and camaraderie among players at all levels including the pros.
“It’s the adrenaline when you go into the game,” Pantin said. “It’s a team game and I just really love it.”
Jason Wates of Grand Champions/CrossFit El Cid hits downfield with Robi Bilbao defending.
Pantin is the type of grass roots player The Polo School is trying to attract to the sport. The Polo School caters to all ages and encourages its students to have fun and play in low-goal tournaments. Pantin started playing at the 6-goal level. He wants to continue playing in April to finish out the winter season and May during the spring season. He is trying to introduce his twins, who are now riding, to polo.
“I am so happy for the team to win,” Pantin said. “Carlitos, Jason and Cecelia are extremely good players. It’s amazing when you play with them. They tell you where to go, stay with the man and don’t do this. It helps a lot to improve your game.”
Best Playing Pony of the game, Tramontana, played and owned by Carlitos Gracida.
Tramontana, a 6-year-old mare owned and played by Gracida, was the game’s Best Playing Pony. Serena, a 5-year-old mare, played by Santi Avendano, was the tournament’s Best Playing Pony.
Best Playing Pony of the tournament, Serena, played by Santi Avendano.