Casablanca Wins Spring Challenge Title; Nic Roldan Named MVP

Casablanca won its third tournament of the spring season Sunday at Grand Champions Polo Club.

Casablanca (Meredith Lovegrove, -1, Grant Ganzi, 3, Nic Roldan, 8, Tommy Collingwood, 5) defeated Audi (Marc Ganzi, 2, Tony Calle, 2, Pancho Bensadon, 7, Sugar Erskine, 6), 12-9, to capture the Spring Challenge Cup.

Roldan was named Most Valuable Player. Tinta, played by Marc Ganzi in the second and sixth chukkers, was selected Best Playing Pony.

„It was a team effort and Nic played really, really well,“ said Ganzi, who turned in his finest performance of the season both offensively and defensively. „I was happy that we all played well in the final. It was the most fun I‘ve had.“

Working well together as a team, Casablanca controlled the game from start to finish and never relinguished the lead.

Casablanca jumped out to a 2-1 lead with goals from Collingwood and Roldan in the opening chukker. Casablanca went on to lead 4-2, 6-3 at the half, 7-6 and 8-7 going into the sixth chukker. Casablanca led by as many as four goals (6-2) during the third chukker.

„We talked a little about a gameplan before the game and when we got on the field we made a little more of a concrete plan defensively,“ said Ganzi, the Brand Ambassador for Casablanca. „It was like I envisioned we would play on Friday but we just didn‘t end up doing it. It just made sense for us to play our natural positions in the final.“

A big sixth chukker where Casablanca outscored Audi, 4-2 and had another four goal lead (11-7) put the game away.

„It shows how we got things flowing and clicking,“ Ganzi said. „In the beginning we started out really strong and that was the key. The most important thing we did was being able to zone in and play better in the last chukker. 

„In the second half we didn‘t play that well. We had moments of really good plays and then moments when we fouled, didn‘t cover the man or not helping out each other as much, but we kept pushing.“

Lovegrove, a show jumper who has been one of The Polo School‘s top students, also turned in her best game of the spring season.

„Obviously, it was a lot of fun,“ Ganzi said. „I was really proud of Meredith the way she was able to step into this game. This is definitely the highest goal she‘s played ever and the fastest. It was nice to get a chance to play with her and Tommy, who I have known a long time.“ 

Trailing 4-3 after the first two chukkers, Sebucan rallied with a 2-0 third chukker for a 5-4 halftime lead. Sebucan never trailed after that, outscoring Bored Ape, 7-4, in the second half. Sebucan scored three unanswered goals to open the fourth chukker for an 8-4 lead.

Payne scored a game-high six goals for Sebucan. Crowder and Astrada each had three goals.

For Bored Ape, Pieres had a game-high five goals. Shank had two goals and Bollini added one off a safety-60.

To advance into the championship final, Casablanca edged Bored Ape, 9-8, in a shootout in the opening semifinal and Audi defeated Sebucan, 11-9, in the other semifinal on Friday.

The spring season has been one of the closest in competition, with most of the games being decided by two goals or less.

„I think the way the teams are put together is so balanced,“ Ganzi said. „We have a really good number of pros who combine well with the sponsors and that makes it interesting. We are playing at a fun level and being able to play around with any team combination makes it really competitive and really close.“ 

Casablanca won the first two spring tournaments: the Eastern Challenge (Steve Cox, Grant Ganzi, Pablo Spinacci, Tomacho Pieres) and WPL Beach Polo Cup (Grant Ganzi, Juancito Bollini, Nic Roldan). Knockers Field (Annabelle Gundlach, Marc Ganzi, Brandon Phillips, Alejandro Novillo Astrada) won the Sun Cup. 

The spring schedule (subject to change because of weather and scheduling conflicts) continues this week with the May 20-22 Grand Champions Cup and May 27-29 The Memorial and WPL Polo Pride.

The spring season is being live-streamed worldwide on Wellington-based ChukkerTV.

Grand Champions, the nation‘s largest  polo club celebrating its 15th anniversary, is coming off successful fall and winter seasons. 

Grand Champions plays host to the World Polo League, the only 26-goal polo played outside of Argentina.

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 13 well-manicured fields including nine 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.

By Sharon Robb
Photos by Candace Ferreira

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