-Defending champion Newport held off Beverly Equestrian to win the January Limited Edition 12-Goal Series Final Sunday at Grand Champions Polo Club.

On a picture-perfect day, Newport (Milo Dorignac, 1, Lucas Escobar, 2, Michel Dorignac, 6, Nick Manifold, 3) defeated tournament favorite and previously unbeaten Beverly Equestrian (Bill Ballhaus, 0, Hilario Figueras, 3, Poroto Cambiaso, 4, Tolito Fernandez Ocampo, 5), 10-9.

Manifold, playing well above his 3-goal rating, scored a team-high five goals and was named Most Valuable Player. 

“You’re never going to count us out,” said the native Australian and former cricket and soccer player, who started playing polo when he was 19. “It was a final and you never know what’s going to happen in a final.

“It was a fun game,” Manifold said. “They are a great team. They are going to be in the finals again. I’m just happy to be here.”

Creciente, played by Poroto Cambiaso, was Best Playing Pony. The horse was the American Polo Horse Association BPP at Grand Champions 2017 $100,000 World Cup (0-40).

The victory avenged an early season 12-8 loss to Beverly Equestrian. Newport finished 3-1. The team dedicated the win to patron Gene Goldstein, who injured his back in a practice before the first league game and was unable to play the tournament.

“Unfortunately we couldn’t play with Gene,” said Michel Dorignac. “It was even difficult for me to play with my son and get motivated playing without Gene. He is my sponsor and I play for him and that’s what we are here for. We are here for Gene.

“We didn’t play well the first game and they played great,” Dorignac said. “This time we came well-prepared. We knew they were going to be tough. We knew we had to be patient and play hard.”

Newport controlled the momentum in the first half jumping out to a 3-1 lead after the first chukker. With goals from Fernandez and Cambiaso, Beverly Equestrian narrowed the gap and trailed by one, 4-3, going into the third chukker. Newport regained its two-goal cushion with two penalty conversions from Michel Dorignac to lead 6-4 at the half.

“The first time we played them they beat us by four goals,” Manifold said. “This time we knew we had to play to the man. The first time we played them too soft and this time we manned-up and it was good.”

The teams played evenly in a wild second half tying 6-6 after the fourth and 8-8 after the fifth. Despite two technicals on Manifold and Dorignac, Newport regained its composure to take a 10-8 lead with goals from Michel Dorignac (penalty conversion) and Manifold with three minutes left to play.

“We just had to keep our heads cool which was the main point,” Escobar said. “We got fired up after Michel and Nick got some technicals. We just needed to calm down in the end. Milo and I cooled them down a little bit. The two young ones had to cool the older ones down.” 

Figueras converted a 30-yard penalty with 2:06 left to trail by one but it was the closest Beverly Equestrian got. Manifold came up with the throw-in and after two Newport missed scoring opportunities regained possession in the final seconds.   

“Today we obviously came more prepared,” said Escobar, who will play Monday for Pilot against Valiente in a 20-goal Sterling Cup matchup. “The first game we were still getting used to the team because we hadn’t played with each other. Our team is a good mix of young and experience which makes it great because they directed us and helped us out a lot. Today we knew what was coming, we played well and won.”

For Manifold, who turns 52 next week, it was a thrill to play with Dorignac’s 15-year-old son Milo and 17-year-old Lucas Escobar as well as play against 14-year-old Poroto Cambiaso.

“It was great playing with Milo and Lucas and fun to play against Poroto, Hilario and Tolito,” Manifold said. “They are amazing.”

Also scoring for Newport was Michel Dorignac with four goals and Lucas Escobar added one. Ocampo led Beverly Equestrian with five goals. Cambiaso and Figueras each had two goals.

Newport captured last year’s January Limited Edition 12-Goal Series that featured eight teams. Trailing by as many as four goals in the first half, Newport (Gene Goldstein 1, Tomas Schwencke, 2, Michel Dorignac, 6, Nick Manifold, 3) rallied in the second half for a thrilling 9-8 victory over Colorado (Rob Jornayvaz, 2, Bautista Panelo, 3, Nick Johnson, 3, Robertito Zedda, 4).

The 12-goal league final was the first of four finals this week at Grand Champions. On Tuesday at 4 p.m., Bushwood plays Altair Polo in the Metropolitan Cup; Wednesday the WCT Ladies League monthly tournament is 10 a.m. at Santa Rita; Aspen Valley Cup is Thursday at 3 p.m. and Sterling Cup final date is still to be announced.

Grand Champions is hosting 19 tournaments during the winter season, the most of any club in the U.S., including five in January.

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 second season of the World Polo League, 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 in Wellington with 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 Club President 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. 

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Sharon Robb

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