Casablanca Captures Fall Classic; Jesse Bray Named MVP At Grand Champions Polo Club
Arianna Delin, Sharon Robb for Grand Champions Polo Club
On a windswept day at Grand Champions Polo Club, Casablanca lived up to expectations.
In front of a good crowd and worldwide ChukkerTV audience, the talented foursome of Jared Sheldon, Grant Ganzi, Tony Calle and Jesse Bray led Casablanca to a thrilling 11-9 victory over Flexjet on Sunday to win the Fall Classic.
The tournament’s youngest team led 5-4 at the half and never relinquished its lead to capture its first title of the fall season.
Flexjet, winners of the season-opening Tackeria Invitational, was making its third consecutive finals appearance. Casablanca was making its second finals appearance.
“When I saw the team roster on Thursday I knew we had a good team and we had the team to win it,” Bray said.
Bray, 23, of Indio, Calif. was named Most Valuable Player. The New Zealand-born five-goaler and Team USPA member scored three goals and was outstanding on defense and playmaking.
“We didn’t make many adjustments, we just played our game and played better,” Bray said. “We missed a lot of goals in the beginning but started scoring and had a good day today.”
Bray and Sheldon, both Team USPA members, jelled well with Ganzi and Calle.
“It’s awesome to play with these guys,” Bray said. “We played well together and we also had a lot of fun out there. There was no yelling at each other. We were disciplined and encouraged each other and the other team. Win or lose, we knew we were going to have a lot of fun today.”
Narnia, a 5-year-old Bay mare ridden by Bray and owned by Santa Rita Polo Farm, was named Best Playing Pony.
Bray is coming off a successful summer season in Santa Barbara, playing 16-, 12- and 8-goal tournaments for Klentner Ranch. Bray hopes to play the fall and winter seasons through April at Grand Champions.
Bray has been playing his best polo since last year’s FIP World Polo Championships which Team USPA finished runner-up.
“I am always looking to improve,” Bray said. “I always feel like I can play better. My goal at Grand Champions is to win, be competitive, have fun and make sure everybody else is having fun as well.
That’s the goal in polo, to have fun.
“I would love to go higher with my rating. I don’t want to stay at this handicap just to get jobs. I want to go up. If they put me at 6, I want to play 7. If they put me at 7, I want to play 8. I have that kind of mentality. I always want to play better than what I am rated.”
Casablanca scored 22 goals in two games. In their tournament opener, Casablanca pulled away with a seven-goal lead (11-4 in the fifth chukker) over Audi before winning, 11-9.
In the final, it took Casablanca three chukkers to find its scoring groove against a defense-minded Flexjet team. In the first half, the lead changed hands six times before Casablanca took a 5-4 lead at the half despite having scoring opportunities and winning 9-of-10 bowl-ins.
In the second half, Casablanca took control pulling away for leads of 7-4, 9-5 and 10-6 at the end of the fifth chukker. Crowder and Melissa Ganzi scored back-to-back goals to cut the lead to 10-7 but Grant Ganzi’s goal at 3:36 for an 11-7 lead was the clincher as Flexjet ran out of time to rally.
“I think teamwork won it for us today,” Bray said. “We made good passes, hit our back shots and no one turned the ball over too much. We tried to keep everyone sharp and focused in the final. It was good team ball.”
Grant Ganzi, a freshman at Lynn University, led Casablanca scoring with four goals. Sheldon had three goals and Calle added one.
Riley Ganzi, 16, a junior at St. Andrew’s, scored a team-high four goals for Flexjet. Jason Crowder had three goals and Melissa Ganzi scored two goals. Juan Bollini was held scoreless.
In the Grand Champions Polo Cup subsidiary game, Postage Stamp Farm (Annabelle Gundlach, Gene Goldstein, Kris Kampsen, Guille Aguero) defeated Audi (Glenn Straub, Carlitos Gracida, Marc Ganzi, Nic Roldan), 8-5.
After a 4-4 first half, Postage Stamp Farm took the lead on Kampsen’s goal with a minute left in the fourth chukker and never trailed. Kampsen added three more goals in the last two chukkers.
Star War, an 11-year-old Chestnut mare ridden by Ganzi and owned by Santa Rita Polo Farm, was Best Playing Pony.
In the post-tournament Grooms Race, Grand Champions grooms Brian Castillo, Joni Castillo and Pedro Nicora won for the second consecutive week.
The Fall Classic is the third of nine fall season tournaments. Flexjet (Riley Ganzi, Melissa Ganzi, Juan Bollini, Jason Crowder) won the season-opening Tackeria Invitational with a 7-6 victory over Casablanca. U.S. Trust (Marc Ganzi, Grant Ganzi, Jared Shelton, Nic Roldan) won the U.S. Trust Cup with a 5.5-3 win over Flexjet.
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, supplies a wide variety of polo products, equipment and apparel through superior quality, value and service around the world. Casablanca plans to open a new store in December in Wellington located at 3500 Fairlane Farms Road, Unit 5.
Wellington-based ChukkerTV, leaders in polo broadcasting, is live streaming the entire fall schedule locally and worldwide.
ChukkerTV’s state-of-the art technology also features team challenges and instant replay which made their debut at Grand Champions in January, 2014.