Over the weekend, The Palm Beach Open has been portraying polo prowess in the heart of Florida’s polo mecca, Grand Champions Polo Club, with the first five matches in the exciting third instalment of the 2020 World Polo League gracing the pristine fields.
Seminole Casino vs STM 10-7
Following two epic matches between Alegría and SD Farms, followed by Colorado and J5 La Dolfina, to start the weekend’s entertainment, on Saturday 7 March, Seminole Casino fought tooth and nail to defeat their rivals STM, 10-7. Melissa Ganzi’s side and her band of long-time friends and 8 goaler extraordinaires, Lucas James, Alejandro Novillo Astrada and American number one, Nic Roldan, were all power, proving three 8 goalers is exactly what the doctor ordered in this high stakes, high goal thrill of a tournament.
With three goals to her name, Melissa led her team to a resounding victory despite their lower handicap, and to put the icing on the cake, Nic Roldan, for all his offensive plays and cohesive fervor, was named Most Valuable Player. What a start for this exciting team in The Palm Beach Open.
Valiente vs Casablanca 13-8
To commence a thrilling Sunday, the powerhouse foursome of Valiente, fresh from a victory under the Scone banner in The Founders Cup, came flying out the starting blocks, up against Grant Ganzi’s Casablanca. With Hilario Figueras stepping in for Valiente patron Bob Jornayvaz, polo fans on the sidelines were keen to see what magic this team could bring, up against the well-drilled Casablanca side.
From the off, both teams tested the mettle of their opponents, with power plays and lofty shots up field, but it was the Casablanca Captain, Ganzi, who was the first to find the uprights, putting his boys in black ahead 1-0, with 5 minutes to go. Valiente spent the first chukker forming two man plays, then three man plays, each time extending their time in front of goal, getting closer and closer to a conversion. Diego Cavanagh was the first to convert for Valiente, against increasingly strong wind, placing a set of ones on the board, with plenty of more action to come. He quickly followed with a second penalty, and a neat field goal from the main man himself Adolfo Cambiaso, putting Valiente ahead, 3-1, so as the first chukker ended, the play, having seemingly slowed down due to numerous whistles blown, started to pep-up, with Valiente going strong.
It was clear Valiente meant business going into the second period, but Casablanca had synergy and they meant to use it. The father/son Cambiaso duo had settled into a nice rhythm, but Hilario Ulloa and Rodrigo Andrade, Casablanca’s own perfect pairing, ensured they made hard work of any Valiente gains. The penalty whizz Cavanagh put a fourth goal on the scoreboard for Valiente and as the chukker continued, the goals mounted. Following some stern words, with extra passionate gesticulation thrown-in from Andrade and Cambiaso, Valiente headed into the third chukker with 6 goals to Casablanca’s 2.
A lot can happen in polo, so with seven and a half minutes before half-time, perhaps Casablanca could turn this around? Would the polo fates be that kind? Unfortunately for Casablanca; no. As the teams wound down to half-time, Valiente still led, 8-3, with a veritable whitewash underway.
Three chukkas to go and plenty of time to climb the scoreboard for Casablanca and Juancito Bollini had just the ticket, beginning the long road back to potential victory for Casablanca with a converted penalty 3. But unsurprisingly, the Cambiaso duo, with the help of young Figueras well and truly put their foot on the throttle with field goals and penalties off Cavanagh’s mallet, ending the fourth chukker 10-4 ahead, followed by the fifth with 12 goals to Valiente’s name to only 5 in response from Casablanca. Passions were flying, but despite a perfectly placed neckshot goal from Ganzi just a minute into the sixth and final chukka, Casablanca didn’t have the gumption needed to overpower the sheer Valiente might. So, with one qualifying match under their belts, Valiente had the win 13-8.
Richard Mille vs Amaala 15-7
Up next, thrilled spectators on the sidelines were set to see a clash of titans, with Richard Mille up against Nacho Figueras’s Amaala. And wow, these spectators were not disappointed. Amaala began the showdown with some quick stickwork, but the young might of the Castagnola brothers, Camilo and Barto, was sure to be a force to be reckoned with, a fact they proved in the first minute of play. Barto, with a handy, lofty shot, placed the ball perfectly through the posts, with no one on his tail to make the first, all-important mark on the scoreboard. Richard Mille continued their initial onslaught with a second goal, completely dismantling Amaala’s defense. The 8 goaler Tincho Merlos however, came back for Amaala with a beautiful penalty conversion, and as if by magic, Amaala were back in the game. As the clock wound down to the chukker end, with Richard Mille leading 3-1, a small mistake from Camilo Castagnola saw Facu Llorente find a gap, racing towards goal, ensuring his Amaala side was back in the game, 3-2 to finish the first period.
The ever-present Castagnola brothers were first out the gates in the second chukker, with older brother Barto receiving a perfectly poised pass from Camilo to open scoring in the period and putting Richard Mille 4-2 ahead. Camilo, keen for a slice of the pie, wasted no time in scoring his third goal of the afternoon and so began Richard Mille’s ongoing assault. Figueras was determined to ensure Richard Mille didn’t run away with the match too easily, but with two missed goal opportunities, it was seemingly impossible for the cascade of Castagnola power shots to falter. Furthermore, when you’re backed up by one of the best players in the world, in the form of 10 goaler Pablo Mac Donough, it’s going to take some serious collaboration to overcome this mountain of horsepower and skill.
Going into the third, Amaala were on the back foot, letting Richard Mille play their game, and Camilo Castagnola was more than happy to add salt to the wound with a fourth goal from a converted penalty 4. With fresh enthusiasm, Amaala’s Llorente and Merlos went for power play over close-range stick work, but Barto Castagnola’s horsepower ensured Merlos’ efforts were all effort with no cigar, making matters even worse for Amaala as Camilo Castagnola scored a goal from a seemingly impossible angle to make it 7-2 to Richard Mille. This was Richard Mille’s game and they weren’t going to let anyone take their thunder. As one of the WPL’s newest additions, these new kids on the block meant business – could The Palm Beach Open title be within their grasp at such an early stage?
The Mille might was as fresh as a daisy going into the second half. With an 8-2 lead, Amaala had a lot of ground to make-up and a Castangola blitzkrieg to overcome, but one thing’s for sure; they were keen to make ground. Llorente had his head in the game, coming back with the first score of the second half for Amaala, 8-3, but Mac Donough had other ideas, capitalizing on a little error from Amaala and scoring a ninth goal for Richard Mille. And on and on it went; with three minutes left to play in the fourth, Barto found the posts again to make double figures, thus ending the period 10-5, still in Richard Mille’s favor.
Despite trying with all their might, Amaala just couldn’t convert effort to goals, trying time and time again to out maneuver Richard Mille’s power foursome. Play in the fifth continued along the same tack, as the boys in black continued to power through Amaala’s handy work.But, with a nice little penalty conversion from Amaala, they narrowed the score to 10-6; could they narrow it further? If the Castagnola’s had anything to do with it, no they could not! It was to and fro up and down the field, until Barto ultimately overcame Juan Britos to run away with an 11th goal, 11-6.
With only one chukka to go, Richard Mille remained 5 goals ahead, a large, but not insurmountable score to overcome for Amaala, or so it seemed at the outset. Unfortunately for Amaala, it was one, two, three for Richard Mille who, with 1½ minutes remaining were ahead 14-6. Llorente secured a seventh goal for Amaala, but Richard Mille did exactly what they had planned to do; win their first Palm Beach Open match and win they did, with a whopping 15-7 final score.
As the sun began to set on Grand Champions Polo Club, Woods, a beautiful grey, owned and played by Nacho Figueras was named the World Polo League Best Playing Pony, whilst Subaru, played by Pablo Mac Donough was awarded the American Horse Association Best Playing Pony rug. Young Barto Castagnola picked up the Most Valuable Player honors, a sure sign of things to come in this exciting tournament.
Photos by Jaime Cabrera/The Polo Channel