Colorado is sitting pretty in the finals undefeated after two games and Grand Champions won its first game in World Polo League play.
In Tuesday’s opening game of the All Star Challenge Draw Tournament, Grand Champions (Grant Ganzi, 3, Alfredo Bigatti, 8, Juancito Bollini, 4, Adolfo Cambiaso, 10) held off Flexjet (Melissa Ganzi, 0, Pablo Spinacci, 6, Diego Cavanagh, 9, Alejandro Novillo Astrada, 8) for a 14-12 victory at Jan Pamela Field.
In the second game of the doubleheader, Colorado (Rob Jornayvaz, 2, Juan Martin Zubia, 7, Rodrigo Andrade, 9, Jero del Carril, 7) defeated Scone (David Paradice, 0, Guillermo Terrera, 8, Alejandro Taranco, 8, Juan Martin Nero, 10), 11-9, to remain undefeated at 2-0 and advance into Sunday’s final at Grand Champions.
In Wednesday’s tournament action, Audi (0-1) plays Cria Yatay (0-1) at 11 a.m. at Jan Pamela Field and Patagones (1-0) will meet Valiente (1-0) at Valiente at 4 p.m. to determine the other finalist.
Also on Wednesday night, the draw for the Feb. 20-March 3 Founders Cup will be held 7:30-9 p.m. at BlackWatch Barn.
In the opening game, Grand Champions found the chemistry that was missing in its opening loss to Colorado last week.
Flexjet started off with a 3-0 lead on handicap which Grand Champions whittled away early in the second chukker when Bollini scored after long run with 2:44 left to tie the game at 5-5.
The lead changed hands seven times before Bollini scored on a neck shot to give his team a 9-8 lead. Grand Champions led by as many as three goals before Flexjet roared back to tie the game at 11-11 when Novillo Astrada stole the ball and scored.
Grant Ganzi opened the sixth chukker with a quick goal for a 12-11 lead. Cambiaso and Ganzi scored back-to-back goals for a 14-11 lead in the closing minutes. Diego Cavanagh scored his first goal of the game as time ran out.
“It’s good to get a win in this tough bracket,” Ganzi said. “It feels good playing well as a team because honestly I felt the last game we weren’t there. The biggest thing was getting the horses ready.”
Juancito Bollini scored a game-high six goals for Grand Champions. Grant Ganzi had four goals, Adolfo Cambiaso had three goals and Alfredo Bigatti added one goal.
“We were rotating all the time,” Bollini said. “I played more as a one today. Our first game was the first time playing as a team. We got used to the style of playing and we had more communication and confidence today, and that’s a big part. The horses got use to the rhythm and that helps. It’s nice to score a lot of goals, I haven’t done that in a while.”
It was a challenge playing against familiar faces, Bollini said.
“It was like playing against your mom but we had to do what we had to do and now we have to get ready for Thursday when we play against Scone.”
The tournament marks the first time Ganzi and Bollini have played with Cambiaso.
“It’s so much easier,” Bollini said. “He simplifies everything and gives you the confidence to do whatever you want to do on the field. As a team captain, he raises everybody’s level.”
Added Ganzi, “I couldn’t believe when I drew his name. It’s like playing with Tom Brady…playing with the best ever. It’s a huge deal for me and especially to win, play better and to improve.”
Ganzi, one of the youngest players in the tournament, is enjoying being a part of history in the World Polo League’s inaugural season.
“I think it’s great,” Ganzi said. “The teams are great and competitive. The fields are awesome. The games have been really close. This is a really good tournament to get warmed up for the rest of the season. This tournament is to have fun and get the horses ready.”
Melissa Ganzi scored a team-high four goals for Flexjet. Pablo Spinacci and Alejandro Novillo Astrada each had two goals and Diego Cavanagh had one goal.
“They had a few goals in the end and some amazing passes,” Novillo Astrada said. “It is amazing playing against Adolfo, he is the best player in the world. He can do whatever he wants whenever he wants. You can’t stop him.”
In the second game, Colorado, the tournament’s first finalist, unveiled a potent offensive attack that kept Scone off-balance for most of the game.
Colorado started off with a 2-0 lead on handicap and quickly extended it to 5-2 late in the opening chukker behind sensation Juan Martin Zubia. Scone cut the lead to two goals twice in the second half but could get no closer.
“We realize we are a very strong offensive team,” Rob Jornayvaz said. “As long as we can be patient on the defense our offense is always going to be there as long as we are releasing the ball and making passes.
“I think the big thing for us is not making fouls in those moments when you are up, you really don’t want to give it away because the momentum can switch so fast,” Jornayvaz said.
“Sometimes you are a bit more anxious being so far up than down. It’s really about keeping your cool in those moments, scoring a couple more goals and keeping the distance. So hopefully, we can keep being strong attacking.”
Colorado got balanced scoring. Juan Martin Zubia scored a team-high four goals. Rob Jornayvaz and Jero del Carril each had two goals and Rodrigo Andrade added one goal.
Eight teams are competing in bracket play with the final set for Feb. 17 at Grand Champions Polo Club at 4 p.m.
Scone, Grand Champions, Colorado and Flexjet are in Bracket A and Audi, Valiente, Cria Yatay and Patagones are in Bracket B.
Co-founded by Grand Champions owners Melissa and Marc Ganzi and Valiente Polo Farm owner Bob Jornayvaz, the World Polo League is the only 26-goal polo in the world outside of Argentina.
The exciting new league, that will offer major prize money starting in the semifinals, is preserving the highest level of polo and its rich, hallowed tradition in the U.S.
The WPL has its own set of simpler fan-friendly rules, including no yellow cards, to improve the flow and action of the game.
The WPL, with 14 tournament-quality fields to play on, also includes the Feb. 20-March 3 Founders Cup, March 6-24 Palm Beach Open and March 27-April 14 Triple Crown of Polo.
The WPL game finals will be held Sundays on Field Two at Grand Champions at 4 p.m. and semifinal games at Valiente Polo Farm, Fields One and Two. Several games will also be held throughout the week at various times. Admission is free along with food and refreshments at the featured games.
The World Polo League is open to other teams that wish to compete in one or more of the tournaments. Entries are still open and everyone is welcome to play. Games are offered on the flat (Open) and on Handicap.
The World Polo League has attracted a large international field of players from all corners of the world including Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Costa Rica, Uruguay and U.S.
Grand Champions and Valiente are also launching the U.S. National Mixed Doubles Championship, featuring two men and two women with combined handicaps, in March.
In addition to the World Polo League, season highlights for 2019 at Grand Champions are the Sterling Cup, March 1-31 $50,000 National 12-Goal Tournament, March 1-16 John T. Oxley Memorial and March 3-24 $100,000 World Cup Tournament, a unique 0-40-goal, winner-take-all single-elimination tournament.
Grand Champions and Santa Rita Polo Farm is the largest and most unique polo facility in Wellington with 120 stalls in five self-contained barns, exercise track, five climate-controlled tack rooms, vet room, staff quarters, guest house and three polo fields with state-of-the-art underground irrigation including one field for stick-and-ball with plans to build more polo fields in the future.