The highly-anticipated, star-studded World Polo League Polo Pride lived up to expectations Sunday at Grand Champions Polo Club.
In a thrilling final, Eau Hotel (Talbot Logan, Emma Boers, Rosanna Turk, Grant Ganzi) defeated defending champion Seminole Casino Coconut Creek (Haley Schaufeld, Sterling Jones, Vinny Sangaline, Juan Bollini), 5-4, in overtime in the second annual event benefitting the „It Gets Better Project.“
Boers, 27, was named Most Valuable Player. The British player, based in Ascot, scored three goals including the game-winner. In the semifinals, she also scored three goals.
Boers underwent spinal surgery three years ago and was coming off an 18-month layoff of playing competitive polo.
„After a time out from polo for me to come back and play yesterday I just tried to get back into it as quick as I could,“ Boers said. „It made me even more determined to push harder. We were all out on the field guns blazing. We were all hungry to win.
„It means a lot winning it today,“ she said. „I‘m incredibly proud. It was very close. There was not one moment where I thought ‚Oh God, we‘ve got this.‘ We just had to keep going and luckily we managed to put it through in the final seconds.“
Rated five goals among women and one goal in the men‘s ratings, Boers has represented England in South Africa and Zambia. She has also played in Argentina, France, Spain, Ireland, Malaysia and Thailand.
„The horses were absolutely incredible,“ Boers said. „The whole set up was amazing. The amount of work, money and sponsors they put into the tournament was incredible. It just felt amazing how much support we had on and off the field. It was mind-blowing and quite overwhelming. It means a lot I‘m even able to come back and play an event like this.“
Actor Sterling Jones, who competes on snow, sand and grass, was selected the tournament‘s Most Improved Player. Jones‘ cheering section included actresses Rebel Wilson, Anna Kendrick and Kelley Jakle.
„It was a completely different level this year,“ Jones said. „It keeps getting bigger and better. We‘re getting some A class players from around the world like Dan, flying in all the way from London and showing us how it‘s done. It‘s impressive. This isn‘t a joke charity game, this was for real and it‘s nice.
„The name of the game was speed, speed, speed. Personally, I am just honored to play with such badass polo players out there. It‘s great to play alongside Grant Ganzi and have him give you some pointers while you‘re out there.“
Muse, owned by Pablo Spinacci and played by Batchelor, was the tournament‘s Best Playing Pony.
According to tournament organizers, 16 players including pros Grant Ganzi, Jason Crowder, Sugar Erskine and Juan Bollini and five women from around the world raised the bar in only the second year of the tournament‘s existence.
„There is a great competitive spirit,“ said co-host and guest announcer Marc Ganzi. „Of the teams this year versus last year, you can just see how everyone has brought their energy up and brought the horses up. It‘s just been incredibly good fun, fair polo this weekend. I love how everyone came to compete.“
After a scoreless opening chukker, Sangaline scored back-to-back goals to give Seminole Casino a 2-0 lead. Turk‘s goal cut the lead to one to end the chukker. Boers near side goal with 3:34 left in the third chukker tied the game, 2-2. Turk and Boers scored back-to-back goals to pull ahead 4-2 at the end of the third.
Sangaline scored off the throw-in to open the fourth chukker and cut the lead, 4-3. A minute later Sangaline scored again to tie the game. In the next two minutes Sangaline and Schaufeld came up with defensive goal-saving plays.
Eau Hotel had one final scoring opportunity with 12 seconds left in regulation but failed to capitalize sending the game into overtime. It didn‘t take long for Boers to score the winning goal with 5:34 left.
In addition to Boers‘ three goals, Turk had two goals for Eau Hotel. Sangaline scored all four of his team‘s goal.
In the semifinal, Boers scored back-to-back goals in the first three minutes of the game. Prather scored with 45 seconds left to trail 2-1 after the opening chukker. Boers scored again to open the second chukker off the throw-in for a 3-1 lead. After a scoreless third chukker, Llosa scored with 10 seconds left with Eau Hotel holding on for a 3-2 win.
In the Just For The Pride Of It subsidiary game, World Polo League (Alice Walsh, Cale Newman, Dan Batchelor, Sugar Erskine) defeated Wellington Equestrian Real Estate (Sarah Rainbolt, Richard Prather, Gonzalo Llosa, Jason Crowder), 3-2.
Newman, polo manager of Grand Champions, clinched the win when he converted a 30-yard penalty shot in sudden death.
In addition to Newman‘s game-winner, Batchelor and Walsh each had one goal. Rainbolt, who just started playing polo one week ago, scored her first career goal. Llosa also scored for Wellington Equestrian Real Estate.
The Tom Ford Effing Fabulous Awards for best falls of the tournament went to Sangaline and Llosa.
In the other semifinal Seminole Casino Coconut Creek defeated World Polo League, 6-5, with Bollini scoring back-to-back goals in the final two minutes.
Polo, parties, drag shows throughout the weekend and panel discussion about „LGBTQ In Athletics,“ DJ Troubles, great food and newest sponsor Fifty States Vodka made for an enjoyable jampacked fun event for players, fans and sponsors while helping to kick off June‘s Pride month.
The three-day activities opened Friday night at Santa Rita Polo Farm with the The „Night at the Emerald City“ where the Wizard of Oz was the theme with entertaining drag queens playing the Good Witch and Bad Witch. Many guests dressed the part and danced the night away.
The panel discussion featured Sterling Jones; Mr. Hospitality PR & Communications Director and author Violet Camacho; Grand Champions polo manager Cale Newman; Boers and other polo players Vinny Sangaline and Agustin Arellano.
The „It Gets Better Project“ was founded in the U.S. by gay activist and author Dan Savage and his husband Terry Miller. It is a non-profit with a mission to uplift, empower and connect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer youth around the world.
Located in Manalapan, Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa is a Forbes five-star luxury Palm Beach resort on a private beach with an award-winning spa, famed designer Jonathan Adler-designed rooms, four restaurants and 24-hour room service.
Internationally-renowned Brazilian pop artist Romero Britto designed the unique tournament awards. Britto lives in Miami and has a studio in the Wynwood Arts district.
Last year‘s inaugural WPL Polo Pride winner was Seminole Casino Coconut Creek (Cale Newman, Sterling Jones, Vinny Sangaline, Juan Bollini), 6-5 winners over Grand Champions (Luis Aguirre, Ryan Cronin, Talbot Logan, Jorge Donovan).
The WPL Polo Pride was the final World Polo League event of the year. Grand Champions plays host to the WPL during the winter, the only 26-goal polo played outside of Argentina.
Grand Champions, the nation‘s largest polo club, is celebrating its 15th anniversary. 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 such as the WPL Polo Pride.