In a wild opening game, La Fe defeated Audi in the 118th edition of the U.S. Open Tuesday at International Polo Club Palm Beach.
By Sharon Robb
La Fe (Louis Devaleix, 0, Robi Balbao, 5, Francisco Elizalde, 9/Poroto Cambiaso, 9, Lucas Diaz Alberdi, 6) led Audi (Marc Ganzi, 2, Jason Crowder, 5, Barto Castagnola, 9, Paco de Narvaez, 6) for most of the game for a 12-8 victory.
Audi is the first of seven Grand Champions Polo Club-based pro teams to play in the 2022 U.S. Open. On Wednesday, Aspen Valley, Grand Champions and Santa Rita will compete.
At 10 a.m., Aspen Valley (Vinny Sangaline, 0, Alejandro Novillo Astrada, 8, Pablo MacDonough, 10, Tommy Collingwood, 5) plays G-String (Gillian Johnston, 1, Nico Escobar, 5, Nico Pieres, 9, Julian de Lussaretta, 7).
At 4 p.m. Grand Champions (Riley Ganzi, 0, Juan Martin Zubia, 8, Gonzalito Pieres, 10, Juan Bollini, 4) plays Santa Rita (Melissa Ganzi, 0, Jeta Castagnola, 9, Polito Pieres, 10, Hector Guerrero, 3) at Grand Champions Polo Club.
The game got off on the wrong foot for La Fe when umpires discovered Elizalde was wearing an improper helmet. Elizalde was penalized for delay of game when he returned from the players’ tent with a new helmet.
Less than a minute later, Alberdi was called for delay of game. Castagnola converted the first of four 60-yard penalties to give Audi a 1-0 lead. Elizalde came right back on a breakaway to tie the game at 1-1. From then on, it was all La Fe.
La Fe took advantage of Audi mistakes, missed scoring opportunities and penalties in the first half. La Fe scored three consecutive goals for a 4-1 lead with 1:51 left in the opening chukker. Castagnola scored back-to-back goals to cut the lead to one, 4-3, early in the second chukker.
Audi lost its challenge early in the second chukker disputing a one-meeting-two penalty. Elizalde converted the 30-yard penalty for a 5-3 lead.
Audi tried to find its rhythm and regain momentum but missed two goals midway through the second chukker. Elizalde then took advantage of a broken knock-in for a 6-3 lead going into the third chukker.
With 5:26 left in the third chukker, Elizalde made it 7-3 after scoring on a breakaay after Bilbao bumped Castagnola out of Elizalde’s path to goal.
With 4:36 on the clock Elizalde left the game with an injury to his midsection. Elizalde, plagued with injuries this season including shoulder and chin, was replaced by 9-goaler Poroto Cambiaso, son of 10-goaler Adolfo Cambiaso, who will be replaced by Sapo Caset on defending champion Scone, after sustaining an injury and undergoing surgery.
After the injury timeout, Castagnola won the throw-in but missed a scoring opportunity with 4:21 left. Audi was getting its share of chances but couldn’t capitalize. Midway through the chukker, La Fe already had four knock-ins. With 3:38 remaining in the half, Castagnola converted another 60-yarder after Crowder was fouled to cut the lead to 7-4.
Audi missed three more scoring chances and lost possession on a great steal by Catagnola going into halftime.
In the second half, Audi could get no closer than two goals, 7-5, with 5:31 left in the fourth chukker. Cambiaso scored back-to-back goals, a 30-yard penalty conversion and one from the field for a 9-5 advantage. With 1:39 left in the chukker, Ganzi hit a great neck shot through open field to trail 9-6.
La Fe shut Audi out in the fifth chukker, 1-0, with Cambiaso scoring the only goal on a 30-yarder for a 10-6 lead.
The teams played evenly, 2-2, in the final chukker, but Audi’s scoring frustrations continued. Audi missed 10 shots from the field while La Fe missed eight. After Bilbao received a yellow card for dangerous riding Castagnola converted another 60-yarder to cut the lead to 11-8, but La Fe came right back with another goal when Alberdi’s back shot pass reached Bilbao for the score and 12-8 final.
Castagnola scored a game-high seven goals, including four 60-yard penalty conversions. Ganzi added one. Elizalde had four goals and Bilbao and Alberdi each had three goals for La Fe. Cambiaso had two.
In the second game of the day, Old Hickory Bourbon/Airstream defeated Dutta Corp/Show, 11-9. Joaquin Panelo had five goals for Hickory Bourbon/Airstream and Tomas Garcia del Rio had five goals for Dutta Corp/Show.
Audi’s next bracket game is Saturday at 11 a.m. against La Indiana (Stuart Armstrong, 3, Jeff Hall, 6, Lucitas Criado, 5, Mariano Aguerre, 7).
For the first time in U.S. Open history, a record 20 teams are competing. Grand Champions Polo Club’s seven team entries that feature four 10-goalers, enabled the record-breaking accomplishment.
With the prize money doubling from the previous two tournaments, the C.V. Whitney Cup and USPA Gold Cup, the U.S. Open winner will pocket $100,000. U.S. Polo Assn will award an additional $2,500 donation to the finalist teams’ polo charity of their choice. The U.S. Open is being livestreamed on GlobalPolo.com.
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 including the 26-goal World Polo League, now in its fourth season and only 26-goal polo played outside of Argentina.
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.