Grand Champions Polo Club-based pro team Flexjet will be among an eight-team field when the USPA Gold Cup gets underway Thursday at International Polo Club Palm Beach.
It is the second jewel of America’s Triple Crown of polo. The second of three 26-goal tournaments opens with four games in bracket play.
On Thursday, Flexjet plays Valiente at 10 a.m.; Dubai plays White Birch at 12:30 p.m.; Grand Champions Polo Club-based and defending tournament champion Audi plays Coca-Cola at 3 p.m. and Orchard Hill plays Lucchese at 4 p.m.
Flexjet will unveil a new lineup led by patron Melissa Ganzi, one of only two women competing in high goal polo. The other is Gillian Johnston of Coca-Cola.
Ganzi will be joined by brothers Sebastian and Agustin (Tincho) Merlos, both 9-goalers, and Nic Roldan, America’s top-ranked player at eight goals.
Ganzi and Tincho Merlos were teammates for Badrutt’s Palace Hotel in last month’s St. Moritz Snow Polo World Cup where they won the La Martina Cup and Ganzi made history as the first woman to compete in the snow polo tournament.
It will be Flexjet’s 2016 high-goal season debut. Flexjet did not play the 20-goal season.
“We have been practicing and I am excited about the team,” Ganzi said.
“Many, many years ago I played with Tincho and Freddie Mannix at Royal Palm Polo Club. I am really looking forward to playing with Tincho, Sebastian and Nic. They are wonderful teammates and super supportive.”
When Roldan won the 1998 U.S. Open at age 15, Sebastian Merlos was his Escue teammate.
“I am grateful to be on this Flexjet team, it’s a great opportunity for me,” said Tincho Merlos after playing his first game last week in the IPC Members Challenge for Audi. “I think the team is really good fun and we have good chemistry. Obviously, we are training to achieve the best.
“We are going to start with a little bit of a disadvantage not playing the C.V. Whitney against other teams,” Merlos said. “Besides that playing with my brother is always a plus. I know Nic and Melissa and we have good fun together.”
Other USPA Gold Cup team lineups are:
Audi: Marc Ganzi, Rodrigo Andrade, Gonzalito Pieres, Freddie Mannix.
Coca-Cola: Gillian Johnston, Sugar Erskine, Julio Arellano, Miguel Novillo Astrada.
Dubai: Rashid Albwardy, Alejo Taranco, Facundo Sola, Adolfo Cambiaso.
Lucchese: John Muse, Nico Pieres, Magoo Laprida, Sapo Caset.
Orchard Hill: Steve Van Andel, Polito Pieres, Facundo Pieres, Julian de Lussareta.
Valiente: Bob Jornayvaz, Santi Chavanne, Diego Cavanagh, Tomas Garcia del Rio.
White Birch: Peter Brant, Ezequiel Ferrario, Mariano Aguerre, Hilario Ulloa.
In last year’s USPA Gold Cup final, Audi knocked off Orchard Hill, 16-15, in overtime. The victory snapped the seven-game win streak of pre-tournament favorite Orchard Hill (Steve Van Andel, Ezequiel Ferrario, Polito Pieres, Facundo Pieres), then the winningest high goal team (15-2) in 2015.
Audi (Marc Ganzi, Rodrigo Andrade, Gonzalito Pieres, Freddie Mannix), the tournament underdog, finished undefeated at 5-0 behind Gonzalito Pieres’ winning 30-yard penalty shot 31 seconds into overtime.
Team sponsor 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.
The Flexjet-Valiente game will be live streamed by ChukkerTV, leaders in polo broadcasting.
Wellington-based ChukkerTV 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.
Grand Champions Polo Club is the nation’s busiest and most innovative polo clubs. The USPA-member club hosts polo tournaments ranging from six to 20-goal in addition to special events.
The 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.