mir Naqvi, Sports Editor
Hosts Ghantoot made a perfect start with a thumping win over Bin Drai team as the Emirates Polo Championship International – the first major tournament of the UAE polo season – kicked off on Tuesday.
The 20th edition of the Emirates Polo Championship International is being held under the generous patronage of Sheikh Falah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Chairman of Ghantoot Racing and Polo Club. Organised by Ghantoot Racing and Polo Club in association with Abu Dhabi Sports Council, the championship is being supported by Capex.com and Paris Reverie.
The high-profile championship, which provides fantastic action, close matches and upsets, witnessed some dazzling action on the magnificent fields of the Ghantoot Club in the opening match with a rampaging Ghantoot defeating Bin Drai 9-4 ½.
Santos Iriarte scored the first goal of the tournament to put the Ghantoot team ahead. Later, Manuel Toccalino’s five successive shots on target helped hosts gain the upper hand in the game by going up 6-2 by the end of the second chukker.
Cesar Crespo started the second half by scoring for Ghantoot and added one more in the final chukker. Skipper Nasser Al Shamsi also managed to get his name on the score sheet as Ghantoot registered an easy win.
Bautista Alberdi scored two and Gergorio Gelosi contributed one for the losing side. Bin Drai’s Mohammed Bin Drai received a yellow card in the second chukker for dangerous use of a polo stick. Gelosi also got a yellow in the fourth chukker for arguing with the umpires.
Ghantoot, who won the Emirates Polo Championship International title in 2019, will next meet the Abu Dhabi team on Thursday, while Bin Drai will square off against Abu Dhabi Polo on Saturday. The match took place behind closed doors due to the Covid-19 precautionary and preventive measures in place.
Zayed Khalifa Zayed Al Aboudi Al Zaabi, Executive Director of Ghantoot Racing and Polo Club, was happy with the success of the opener and obviously the winning start for the club’s team.
“It’s a great start to the championship. We hope to see some more exciting clashes during the tourney,” said Zaabi.
“There is no doubt that as the tournament reaches its climax there will be many more thrilling battles before we crown our new champion of Emirates Polo Championship International 2020.”
The tournament carries a handicap of 10-12 goals and offers a total cash prize of $100,000. The grand final of the event is scheduled to take place on Dec.15.
“Happy with today’s game and our performance. We started preparing for the Emirates Polo Championship International after arriving early here in October. Our horses are in good shape,” said the star of the day Toccalino.
Hailing the Chairman of Ghantoot Racing and Polo Club, the Argentine said, all thanks to Sheikh Falah “because of him we are here to play again this year.
“Things here are more than OK. Happy to be here and get a chance to play in the tournament during these difficult times,” he added.
Ghantoot skipper Shamsi was delighted with the victory of his team in the opening match.
“We are lucky to start our campaign with a win against a tough opponent like Bin Drai. We played together as a team from the beginning of the match which finally paid off.
“We entered the match knowing we are up against a strong team. Bin Drai players are fit as they have already played in one or two tournaments in the season. For us it was the first competitive event.”
Praising Manuel (Toccalino), Shamsi said, “The Argentine chalked out the strategy for the match and we all stuck to it, which yielded positive results,” Shamsi added.
Talking about the next encounter against the Abu Dhabi team, the Ghantoot captain accepted that the pressure will be on the team to repeat the same performance.