By Sharon Robb
WELLINGTON, FL., January 20, 2019–Playing together for the first time as a team during the 12-goal season, Colorado won its first Limited Edition Series game Saturday at windswept Valiente Polo Farm.
Trailing by as many as four goals in the second chukker, Colorado (Rob Jornayvaz, 2, Bautista Panelo, 3, Nick Johnson, 3, Robertito Zedda, 4) rallied for an impressive 11-9 victory over Westhaven (Lucas Escobar, 1, Segundo Boccino, 6, Pedro Falabella, 5, Max Torokvei, 0).
Zedda, the field general for Colorado, was named Most Valuable Player. He scored three goals including two penalty conversions.
“The last time I was MVP was a long time ago,” Zedda said with a smile.
Rombo, an 8-year-old, owned and played by team sponsor Max Torokvei in the first and fourth chukkers, was named Best Playing Pony.
Colorado bounced back nicely from its season-opening 13-12 loss to Patagones (Benjamin Avendano, 3, Tony Calle, 3, Santi Wulff, 5, Santiago Avendano, 1) the week before.
“Two days before the first game of the season I had just arrived from Argentina,” Zedda said. “I was on vacation for a month without touching a horse. The horses were heavy. Robert had just come back the day before from Australia. We put this team together at the last moment to start moving the horses mainly.”
Westhaven jumped out to a 3-1 lead in the opening chukker behind two goals from Boccino and one from Falabella. Westhaven continued to control the momentum in the second chukker with two more goals from Falabella to extend its lead to 5-2.
Colorado regained its composure and rhythm in the third chukker with a goal from Panelo and penalty conversions from Johnson and Zedda to shut out Westhaven, 3-0, for a 5-5 halftime.
After an even fourth chukker, 7-7, Colorado shut out Westhaven again, 2-0, in the fifth chukker for a 9-7 lead with goals from Panelo and Johnson. Colorado never relinquished the lead after that.
“In the beginning I think we started a bit slow,” Zedda said. “I started slow and it took me some time to get into the rhythm of the game. I played some first-season horses in the beginning that I played a bit more for the horses. In the second half, I played some of the good Valiente horses and that helped me personally get back into the game and helped the guys to come back.”
Zedda also took on the role as field general, coaching and directing his young teammates during the game.
“I am a bit older than these guys and it’s a really, really fun team to play with,” Zedda said. “I just met Nick this season and he is a great guy. To play with Robert is always a pleasure and to play with Bauti, he has been helping me with the organization and works hard every day and deserves to play. It’s fun, we do this mainly for fun.”
The league games are serving as a dress rehearsal for the umpire crew of inaugural World Polo League that makes its debut the first week of February. The competitive games have been action-packed, open and flowing.
“I think the umpires are doing an amazing job,” Zedda said. “To me they are some of the best umpires around the world. They have been doing the Argentine Open for years and years. It was a shame this year they weren’t there. For me, the game was flowing and fast because the umpires knew what to call.”
Johnson scored a game-high five goals for Colorado. Panelo, 21, one of the sport’s up-and-coming players, added three goals.
Falabella led Westhaven with a team-high five goals. Boccino had three goals and 16-year-old Lucas Escobar, playing above his rating, added one goal.
Limited Edition 12-goal action continues Sunday at Santa Rita Polo Farm at 12 p.m. with Beverly Equestrian playing Sebucan. On Monday at 10:30 a.m., Westhaven plays Audi; Tuesday at 3 p.m. Palm Beach Equine plays Newport and Thursday at 10 a.m. Colorado will try to make it two in a row against Audi.
During the winter polo season, Grand Champions, the nation’s largest and innovative USPA-sanctioned polo club nestled in the heart of the world’s winter equestrian capital, is hosting 22 tournaments: 6, 8, 12, 20, and 0 to 40 goals, WCT Finals and women’s weekly league play and 26-goal World Polo League tournaments at both Grand Champions and Valiente Polo Farm.
The tournaments attract a large international field of players from all corners of the world including India, Mexico, New Zealand, Costa Rica, Argentina, Canada, Ecuador, Brazil, Switzerland, France, Germany, Uruguay, Azerbaijan, South Africa, Venezuela, and England.
Season highlights for 2019 are the Jan. 26-Feb. 9 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.
The biggest highlight of the season is the debut of the World Polo League, the nation’s only 26-goal league featuring some of the world’s top players and team sponsors at Grand Champions and Valiente. The WPL will fill the void created when the U.S. Polo Association, the sport’s governing body, announced it was lowering high goal polo to 18-22 goals at International Polo Club. The former 26-goal polo tournaments C.V. Whitney Cup, USPA Gold Cup and U.S. Open are now the Gauntlet of Polo Series.
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.
Grand Champions Polo Club and Santa Rita Polo Farm caters to men, women and youth polo players at all levels and ages. Its’ expert staff can customize a complete playing experience including horses, pros and certified umpires in addition to lessons and practice sessions as part of its’ Polo On Demand program, created by Grand Champions President Melissa Ganzi when the club first opened.
The Polo School, a stand-alone USPA-sanctioned polo club, is thriving. It is dedicated to teaching polo to all ages, particularly grass roots youth. Its mission is to provide individuals opportunities in polo at every economic and ability level. Scholarships are available. The Polo School operates in Wellington January through June and September through November. Headed by Director of Operations Juan Bollini, The Polo School has nurtured several men and women polo players now playing in the pro and amateur ranks since its inception.