By: Sharon Robb Bushwood (Nick McClelland, -1, Mike Davis, 0, Santi Merlos, 1, Kris Kampsen, 6) came back in the second half to defeat Altair Polo (Ashley Busch, 0, Leo Mandelbaum, 2, Brandon Phillips, 4, Kylie Sheehan, 0), 7-5.5, to win the January League 6-goal title.
Mike Davis was Most Valuable Player after rallying his team. Perez, 9, played by Phillips and bred by Los Machitos, was Best Playing Pony.
But the day belonged to Nick McClelland, who not only made his 6-goal tournament championship debut but won his first career polo tournament in front of family and friends.
“This was a blast,” McClelland said. “I thought we had a good shot to win but Altair is really well-mounted and has great players. It was a hardfought battle.
“I think the key was team effort,” said McClelland, who moved to Palm Beach from New York City two years ago. “I think we had sort of a strategy going into it. Kris is our captain. He got us organized and Sebastian Merlos is our coach and he had a strategy.”
It was Kampsen who got McClelland into tournament-level competition. McClelland started playing polo a few years ago at Mashomack (N.Y.) Polo Club and started competing this year in tournaments.
“It’s amazing for Nick to win his first tournament here and it’s my first tournament back with Mike from a hiatus,” Kampsen said.
“This was an epic win, it was awesome,” Kampsen said. “Those guys are a hell of a team. They have been beating the heck out of everybody and we have been kind of squeaking by.
“Like I said to the guys, once you get to the final, it’s anybody’s game,” Kampsen said. “The most important thing is being in the finals. And winning the final is your next focus.
“We got here and we started talking yesterday all day how we are going to play the game and how we are going to match up. And so we started focusing on it. We treated it like it was a 20-goal for us.”
After a scoreless opening chukker with Altair Polo holding a .5 lead on handicap, Phillips’ two goals, including a penalty-four conversion, gave his team a 2-1.5 lead at the half.
Bushwood started reeling in Altair Polo at the 3:02 mark when Kampsen banked a goal off the goal post to trail 3.5-3 and then blocked Phillips penalty-four attempt in the air. Davis scored at 1:49 to give Bushwood the lead for the first time, 4-3.5. Merlos added another goal for a 5-3.5 lead at the end of the third chukker. The teams played evenly in the fourth and final chukker, 2-2, with Bushwood keeping the lead.
Santos Merlos and Kris Kampsen shared scoring honors each with three goals. Davis added one goal.
Brandon Phillips led Altair Polo with four goals. Leo Mandelbaum added one goal. Altair received .5 on handicap rating.
SD Farms (Sayyu Dantata, Jr., -1, Hope Arellano, 1, Sayyu Dantata, 2, Peco Polledo, 6) and Mashomack (Santos Bollini, 1, Juanse Olivera, 2, Lucas Lalor, 5, TBA) will compete Friday for the Aspen Valley 8-Goal Cup in final January League play. Last week Newport defended its title against Beverly Equestrian to win the Limited Edition 12-Goal Series.
During the winter season in Wellington, Grand Champions is hosting 19 tournaments, the most of any club in the U.S., including four in January. The highlight of the schedule is the second season of the 26-goal World Polo League, featuring at least 11 teams and most of the best players in the sport.
With 18 safe and well-manicured fields, including 11-tournament grade, the club will host every level of polo for men, women and children including the WPL, the only 26-goal polo held outside of Argentina featuring the best players in the world.
The club attracts a large international field of players from all corners of the world including Australia, Chile, India, Mexico, New Zealand, Costa Rica, Argentina, Canada, Ecuador, Brazil, Switzerland, France, Germany, Uruguay, Venezuela, Azerbaijan, South Africa, Nigeria and England.
Grand Champions is coming off its finest fall season in the club’s 13-year history. It was the only club in the nation to stage two 20-goal fall tournaments in addition to the International Cup and Legends of Polo Carlos Gracida Memorial. The club also hosted a full schedule of successful and highly-competitive medium goal tournaments.
Grand Champions and Santa Rita Polo Farm is the largest and most unique polo facility, nestled in the heart of the world’s winter equestrian capital Wellington. It features 120 stalls in five self-contained barns, exercise track, five climate-controlled tack rooms, vet room, staff quarters, guest house and four polo fields with state-of-the-art underground irrigation including one field for stick-and-ball and new parking lot.
Grand Champions Polo Club and Santa Rita Polo Farm’s 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 Melissa Ganzi when the club first opened.
The Polo School, a stand-alone USPA-sanctioned polo club, is thriving at Grand Champions and Santa Rita Polo Farm. 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 May 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.
2020 WINTER SCHEDULEJANUARY
Aspen Valley Cup
Friday 1/31 3 p.m. Aspen Valley Cup Final Mashomack vs SD Farms
Thursday 1/30 4 p.m. SD Farms vs Valiente at Valiente
Sunday 2/2 11 a.m. Sterling Cup Final at GCPC
FEB 1-29 Halo Polo Trophy, 6
FEB 1-29 Top Pony 8 Goal
FEB 1-29 Sieber Memorial Trophy
FEB 6-16 WPL All-Star Challenge
FEB 19-MAR 1 WPL Founders Cup
FEB 25-MAR 8 $50,000 National 12-Goal
FEB-APR WCT Ladies Wednesday League
MAR 1-29 Madelon Bourdieu Memorial
MAR 1-29 Limited Edition 8-Goal Series
MAR 1-28 Top Pony 12-Goal Series
MAR 4-22 WPL Palm Beach Open
MAR 28-APR 18 WPL Triple Crown of Polo
MAR 31-APR 4 WCT Finals
APR 4-19 Las Acacias, 4-8
APR 6-12 U.S. National Mixed Doubles Polo Championship