In one of the most exciting finishes in club history, Palm Beach Illustrated won the coveted $100,000 World Cup presented by Audi Saturday at Grand Champions Polo Club. The defending champion and underdog going into the championship final won its’ second consecutive title with a thrilling 10-9 victory over Grand Champions in front of a packed house and ESPN Latin American television worldwide audience.
Palm Beach Illustrated (Carlitos Gracida, 4, Juan Monteverde, 5, Peco Polledo, 6, Tommy Collingwood, 5) won the 12-team, winner-take-all tournament in the final minute of regulation time over Grand Champions (Grant Ganzi, 2, Juancito Bollini, 4, Juan Martin Nero, 10, Alejandro Novillo Astrada, 9).
With the game tied 9-9 with 1:10 left, Gracida, son of legendary Hall of Famer and former 10-goaler Carlos Gracida, slipped past a defender and crushed a neck shot through the air dead center through the goalposts.
“I was thinking this is a top horse and I knew I had a chance to pass him, that’s one of our best horses and I know she’s really fast so I just had to commit and go for it,” Gracida said.
“I have never played with Juan or Peco but they are awesome and Tommy is great,” Gracida said. “They know I get heated up. It’s good though they understand that I need that. The goal was just one piece of this game, it was everybody.”
In the closing seconds Monteverde came up with a clutch defensive back shot to stall a last-minute goal attempt by Grand Champions.
“I still don’t know what happened, what an amazing game,” Monteverde said. “The only good back shot I hit all day was that one. I am very happy for the team. This is a great team.”
Wellington High School alum Tommy Collingwood, 26, the only returning player off last year’s champion team, was named Most Valuable Player. Collingwood was outstanding at back with his blocked goals, steals, booming passes and back shots to teammates.
“It was unbelievable,” said an emotional Collingwood. “This team was so much fun, so much everything. The guys were awesome. This tournament was a lot of heart, sweat and now tears…happy tears.
“This game means a lot,” Collingwood said. “Personally, I had a really tough season and this just means everything to me. To just be on the same field as Juan Martin Nero and those guys is a privilege. And to beat him, this is a game that we will never forget.”
Playing only its fourth game together as a team, the 20-goal rated Palm Beach Illustrated team started the game with a four-goal lead over 24-goal rated Grand Champions and stayed in the lead until the sixth chukker when Grand Champions mounted a rally behind its 10-goaler.
“At 9-9 they started slowing down the game a lot,” Collingwood said. “Nobody got crazy. We were going back to the throw-in and Carlitos turns around and screams at me, ‘let’s go, we got this.’ He won the throw-in, started taking it, had a crazy bounce, he saw the goal and hit an amazing neck shot down the middle of the goal. That just sealed the deal for us.”
The fast-paced game was physical from the opening chukker with Palm Beach Illustrated marking the man closely while building on its lead. Palm Beach Illustrated led 4-1 after the first chukker and 7-2 after the second. With Ganzi and Bollini creating space, Nero and Novillo Astrada went to work trying to close the gap in the third, outscoring them 3-1 to trail 8-5 at halftime.
In an impressive comeback, Grand Champions rallied behind Nero’s three unanswered points to tie the game at 9-9 and give them new life until Gracida’s heroics.
Chaja, played by Ganzi and owned by Santa Rita Polo Farm, was selected the American Polo Horse Association best registered horse of the game. The APHA was created in 2006 by Hall of Famer Sunny Hale to recognize polo ponies in America and encourages events that showcase them and hard-working dedication of grooms.
Orangina, played by Novillo Astrada and owned by Santa Rita Polo Farm, was the club’s Best Playing Pony of the tournament.
Mica, played by Nero in the sixth chukker, was the club’s Best Playing Pony of the game.