Catamount took a step back in time Sunday at Grand Champions Polo Club.
By Sharon Robb
One of the top 26-goal teams two decades ago, Catamount (Scott Devon, 1, Toro Ruiz, 7, Polito Pieres, 10, Nacho Novillo Astrada, 8) knocked off Richard Mille (Santos Bollini, 2, Grant Ganzi, 3, Pablo MacDonough, 10, Juan Martin Nero, 10), 9-7, to win the World Polo League’s Palm Beach Open and first-ever WPL tournament title in a battle of unbeaten teams.
“It did mean something to me,” said Catamount patron Scott Devon. “It was an unexpected pleasure. I didn’t think I was going to play again. To come back my first year and have a big win like this is very satisfying.
“It’s pretty special. It’s not every day as an amateur player you get out there and play with and against some of the best players in the world. It was fun. I have a great team.”
In the mid-2000s, Catamount won seven major tournaments including the C.V. Whitney Cup and for five years had the most wins of any team.
“We had a really good run with a good team with Mike Azzaro and Carlos Gracida,” Devon said. “That was my goal back then to have a competitive team in the high goal.
“Coming into this season I didn’t have a lot of expectations. I was going to play the 16-goal but got talked into playing the 26 and I’m glad I did. To play against some of the best players helped my game.”
Argentine 10-goaler Polito Pieres was named Most Valuable Player.
“I think it was an amazing game, very low on goals,” Pieres said. “I’m really happy. Always it’s nice to win a trophy. I’m really happy with my teammates.
“Both teams have four good players so it was an open game,” Pieres said. “We scored most of our goals from field goals. I am happy with the team. There were not many goals but it was a nice game to play.”
What was expected to be a high-scoring, offensive game turned into a physical and defensive cat-and-mouse battle. Catamount controlled most of the game with Astrada coming up with some big offensive plays and key goals from his back position and Ruiz stalling several Richard Mille offensive drives with his ball-hawking skills.
Devon got his team on the scoreboard first with a pass from Pieres at the 6:10 mark. Four minutes later Astrada scored off a 5A penalty with a 120-yard hit and then running it in the rest of the way for a 2-0 lead. MacDonough converted a 30-yard penalty in the final two minutes to cut the lead to one.
Richard Mille shut out Catamount in the second chukker, 2-0, to pull ahead, 3-2. Catamount quickly bounced back with a shutout of its own, 3-0, to regain the lead for a 5-3 halftime advantage.
The teams played evenly in the second half, 4-4, despite Catamount going scoreless in the fourth chukker. Catamount led 5-4 after the fourth and 7-5 after the fifth chukker. Pieres scored his first goal of the game with 2:14 left in the fifth chukker on a 120-yarder. Richard Mille had its share of scoring problems. By the fifth chukker, Catamount had eight knock-ins.
In the sixth chukker, Ganzi converted a 30-yard penalty with 4:21 left to cut the lead to 7-6. A minute later, MacDonough won the throw-in and scored to tie the game, 7-7.
With no sense of panic, Ruiz won the next throw-in with 2:59 and connected with Astrada to regain the lead, 8-7. Richard Mille squandered a scoring opportunity with 1:36 left. A Richard Mille foul with less than a minute gave Catamount the ball. MacDonough picked off an Astrada pass for one final scoring opportunity but Ruiz took Nero out of the play and cleared the ball. With 13 seconds left Pieres scooped up the ball and had a clear field ahead to score, hitting the ball over the field hedges.
“The low scoring game surprised me,” Devon said. “We’ve been used to scoring 12 to 16 goals a game which is a lot. Today was very physical, not a lot of goals. I thought everyone played well and played their role today. Everyone was patient and I think that won it for us, keeping our cool.”
Catamount finished 4-0 which included a forfeit win. Richard Mille finished 3-1. Each team scored 33 goals in the tournament, Catamount in three games and Richard Mille in four games.
Four Best Playing Ponies were selected. They were APHA: Matsu, played by Juan Martin Nero; Argentine: iAIA Distraida, played by Nacho Novillo Astrada; WPL Tournament: Irenita Libanela played by Pablo MacDonough; and WPL Final: Bienvenidal played by Polito Pieres.
Catamount got balanced scoring out of its lineup. Pieres and Astrada each scored three goals. Ruiz and Devon each had one goal. Devon finished with nine goals in three games.
For Richard Mille, Ganzi and MacDonough led scoring each with three goals. Nero added one goal. The game marked the return of Ganzi, who had been sidelined with a pulled riding muscle.
The first four WPL tournaments during the league’s fourth season have thrilled fans, worldwide livestream viewing audiences and sponsors on world-class fields at Grand Champions, Santa Rita Polo Farm and Jan Pamela.
In the season-opening 26-goal All-Star Challenge tournament, Audi (Marc Ganzi, 2, Jeta Castagnola, 9, Barto Castagnola, 9, Paco de Narvaez, 6) defeated White Birch (Chris Brant, 0, Lerin Zubiaurre, 7, Mariano Aguerre, 7, Santi Toccalino, 8), 17-12. Jeta Castagnola was MVP.
Seminole Coconut Creek Casino (Melissa Ganzi, 0, Gonzalito Pieres, 10, Juan Martin Zubia, 8, Alejandro Novillo Astrada, 8) defeated Brookshire Polo (Scott Wood, 0, Rufino Bensadon, 8, Nic Roldan, 8, Pancho Bensadon, 7), 10-9, to capture the Tommy Hitchcock Legacy Memorial. Pieres was MVP.
In the Founders Cup, Audi (Marc Ganzi, 2, Jeta Castagnola, 9, Barto Castagnola, 9, Paco de Narvaez, 6) defeated Seminole Casino Coconut Creek (Melissa Ganzi, 0, Gonzalito Pieres, 10, Juan Martin Zubia, 8, Alejandro Novillo Astrada, 8), 13-9. De Narvaez was MVP.
During the 2021 WPL season, Richard Mille qualified for a record four championship finals, winning three of them.
In last year’s Palm Beach Open, Casablanca (Grant Ganzi, Juancito Bollini, Barto Castagnola, Juan Martin Nero) upset Richard Mille (Marc Ganzi, Jeta Castagnola, Pablo MacDonough, Paco de Narvaez), 12-9. Barto Castagnola was MVP.
The World Polo League, now in its fourth year and only 26-goal polo played outside of Argentina, has attracted a large international field from around the world. The world-class league will run through April 16. The World Polo League has preserved the highest level of polo and its rich tradition in the U.S.
The remaining WPL tournaments are the Triple Crown of Polo, currently underway, and Beach Polo World Cup Miami Beach.
The WPL’s new Coco Cabana features polo fare, open bar, rose bar, cigar experience with Montecristo, Worth Avenue retail Pop-Up, Seminole Casino Coconut Creek giveaways and unique photo opportunities. Guests have the opportunity to purchase individual tickets at $250 per person inside the air-conditioned tent or a patio lounge for four guests at $1,000 which includes a bottle of Veuve Clicquot.
Grand Champions has also added Sunset Chukkers and Cocktails, presented by Seminole Casino Coconut Creek held Tuesday late afternoon on Field One for players and guests at 4:45 p.m.
Grand Champions, the nation’s largest polo club, celebrating its 15th anniversary, is coming off its most successful fall season. The club is hosting 23 tournaments through April.
Grand Champions is also hosting various levels of polo. The high goal club tournaments feature the Sterling Cup, $100,000 World Cup and Santa Rita Abierto. There are 16, 8 and 6-goal tournaments scheduled for April.
There is also the Polo School Grand Champions Women’s League, co-founded by Melissa Ganzi and Alina Carta, for all ages and playing ability held Wednesdays at 10 a.m. at Santa Rita Polo Farm that will culminate with the April 2 Sunny Hale Legacy Final.
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 and ultimate polo destination with 18 well-manicured polo fields including 13 world-class tournament grade, hosts polo tournaments ranging from six to 26-goal including the 26-goal World Polo League 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 the Fall Leagues or Polo School contact Juan Bollini at 561-346-1099 or 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, the only polo club in the U.S. to offer the unique program.