Casablanca won the first tournament of the spring season Sunday at Grand Champions Polo Club.
By Sharon Robb
Casablanca (Steve Cox, Grant Ganzi, Pablo Spinacci, Tomacho Pieres) defeated Bored Ape (Ryan Shank, Jason Crowder, Pablo Pulido,Tommy Biddle), 5-4, in the final round robin game to clinch the win.
In the first two 3-chukker games, Casablanca and The Polo School (Haley Schaufeld, Meredith Lovegrove, Juan Bollini, Alejandro Novillo Astrada) tied 3-3, and The Polo School and Bored Ape tied, 3-3.
Grant Ganzi, 23, was named Most Valuable Player. Ganzi scored four goals in the final game. Creyente, played by Pablo Spinacci, was selected Best Playing Pony.
“It was good fun out there,” Ganzi said. “It was a good time. I was happy we were able to do well in the last three for sure. It was a good way to start the spring season.”
In the opening game, The Polo School was leading Casablanca 3-2 until Cox scored to end the game at 3-3. In the second game, Astrada gave The Polo School a 3-2 lead over Bored Ape with 10 seconds left in the second chukker. With 3:32 left in the third chukker Biddle hit a long pass to Shank who scored to finish 3-3.
In the third and deciding game of the nine-chukker round robin with Bored Ape leading 4-2 after Spinacci scored from another long Biddle pass, Ganzi scored back-to-back goals to tie the game, 4-4. Pieres scored the winning goal with 2:07 left. Cox ran out the clock with 34 seconds remaining.
“It was lucky we were able to win the last three or else it would have been three ties in a row,” Ganzi said. “It shows how even the teams are at a competitive standpoint. The teams were very well-balanced and everyone played really well. It was clean, wide open fun polo.”
Cox, who played the 6-goal league during the winter season and won the Metropolitan Cup with his Casimiro team, was making his medium goal debut.
“I think it was great for Steve to try this out,” Ganzi said. “He played six-goal all season and was getting back into it. I told him it was like dipping your toes in the water, it was a good way to try out 12 to 14 medium goal polo. It was definitely a way to see how he handled it and what he thought. Obviously, I thought he played really well and had a good time.”
In the first game of the tournament on Friday, Bored Ape defeated The Polo School, 6-4. Pulido led with three goals, Shank had two and Biddle added one.
Cox, Schaufeld, Lovegrove, Shank and Pulido were awarded Most Improved Amateurs.
Ganzi, a third generation polo player, was presented his MVP award by his grandfather Wally Ganzi.
“It was really nice to see him come watch me play,” Ganzi said. “He saw a lot of his old friends like Tommy Biddle, Jason Crowder, Juan and Dale. “It was nice to hang out with him and my grandma for the weekend.”
The Eastern Challenge, a 12- to 16-goal national tournament, was first held in 1986 at the Potomac Polo Club in Sugarland, Maryland. The 14-goal winning team consisted of Alan Nash, Jack Whitman, Juan Bollini and Salvadore Socas. The tournament has been played a total of 23 times throughout its history and has been hosted at Grand Champions since 2010.
The spring schedule (subject to change because of weather and scheduling conflicts continues with the April 29-May 1, WPL Beach Polo World Cup; May 6-8, Sun Cup; May 13-15, Spring Challenge Cup; May 20-22, Pedro Morrison Memorial; May 27-29, The Memorial and WPL Polo Pride.
“It should be a good spring season, we have a lot of players sticking around for it,” Ganzi said.
Grand Champions is celebrating its 15th anniversary, is coming off successful fall and winter seasons.
Grand Champions, host to the World Polo League, the only 26-goal polo played outside of Argentina that just finished its fourth season.
Grand Champions Polo Club and Santa Rita Polo Farm is the largest and most unique private 100-acre polo facility in Wellington with 120 stalls in several self-contained barns, exercise track, five climate-controlled tack rooms, vet room, staff quarters, guest house and polo fields with state-of-the-art underground irrigation and stick-and-ball fields.
During fall, winter and spring seasons, Grand Champions Polo Club, the nation’s largest club with 18 well-manicured fields including 13 world-class fields at GCPC and Santa Rita Polo Farm, hosts polo tournaments ranging from six to 26-goal in addition to special events.
The Polo School, now located at the former Pony Express facility, operates in Wellington January through May and September through November. For more information on leagues or Polo School contact Director of Operations Juan Bollini at 561-346-1099 or General Manager Cale Newman at 561-876-2930.
Grand Champions Polo Club caters to men, women and youth polo players at all levels. 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.