Article courtesy of Grand Champions Polo Club/Sharon Robb
The National Twenty Goal was first played at the now-defunct Royal Palm Polo Club in Boca Raton in 2007, though after its first year it fell into abeyance. Grand Champions Polo Club (GCPC) (Wellington, Florida) resurrected the prestigious tournament in 2011 and has since hosted the competition every year.
In this year’s edition, Santa Rita (Melissa Ganzi, Alejandro Novillo Astrada, Nic Roldan, Juan Bollini Sr., sub. Juan “Juancito” Bollini Jr., sub. Gene Goldstein) held off Travieso (Teo Calle, Sugar Erskine, Kris Kampsen, Tommy Biddle, sub. Pedro Gutierrez, sub. Anthony “Tony” Calle*, sub. Santos Bollini) in the sixth chukker of the electrifying final on Saturday, November 19 to narrowly win the USPA-sanctioned National Twenty Goal 9-8, delivering 8-goaler Nic Roldan his record-high eighth victory in the 16- to 20-goal tournament.
Santa Rita advanced to Saturday’s final with an assertive 13-9 win over Casablanca (Segundo Merlos, Jason Crowder, Grant Ganzi*, Tomacho Pieres) in the semifinals while Travieso edged NetJets (Jesse Bray, Marc Ganzi, Agustin Obregon, Juan Sanchez Elia) 11-9 to earn their place in the title match.
Entering the final with Gene Goldstein and Juancito Bollini playing in place of Melissa Ganzi and Alejandro Novillo Astrada, Santa Rita’s Juan Bollini shared, “We missed our original teammates Melissa and Alejandro, but we put a good team together. Gene played an incredible number one pulling the team. Juancito needed a little time to get back in the game, but he played hard. Playing with Nic is fantastic, he just let me do my job in the back. The team and horses played well and the field was incredible.”
Travieso’s Sugar Erskine on a breakaway. ©David Lominska
A 16-goal team facing a 19-goal Travieso, Santa Rita began with a 3-0 handicap advantage. Wasting no time, Santa Rita ignited an early offensive front to earn a 4-2 lead in the first chukker and continued to build their lead throughout the first half, raising the score to 5-3 after the second chukker and subsequently doubling up Travieso 8-4 to end the half firmly ahead. Re-energized, Travieso motivated an admirable comeback effort after the break, shutting out Santa Rita in the fourth and sixth chukkers and holding them to a single goal in the entire second half.
But while Travieso outscored Santa Rita 4-1 in the final three chukkers, including back-to-back goals from Gutierrez in the last two minutes to cut the Santa Rita lead to just one with 30 seconds left, time expired before Travieso was able to overtake the lead, resulting in a 9-8 victory for Santa Rita.
Commenting on his team’s narrow win, Bollini said, “Our team played well. We looked better than a 16-goal team. Our mistake was we thought we had the game in our pocket and we relaxed more than we should have.”
Calle, playing well throughout the game for Travieso, was forced to leave the game with 1:26 left in the fifth chukker when his horse stumbled, and he fell off. Calle was replaced by Santos Bollini. Calle was taken to the hospital where he was treated for a collarbone injury.
Bollini shared that it “was a gift” to be able to play on the same field as his two sons. “It was amazing to have my two kids there, I couldn’t ask for anything more. I am just enjoying the moment right now.” Roldan scored a game-high six goals. Calle and Biddle each had three goals for Travieso, while Gutierrez added two.
“By far, this was the toughest game of the season,” Roldan noted. “It was a fun game to play. Travieso was really tough. It was a nail biter, obviously very close in the end, but we pulled it off. I played with Juan all summer and all fall and we haven’t lost a game together, which is pretty good.”
Juan Bollini, playing well above his 3-goal handicap, was named Most Valuable Player. Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and now a U.S. citizen, Bollini turned pro at age 23 after working in a bank for seven years. He played polo on the weekends for the owner of the bank where he worked. In 1985, he started playing in Wellington, Florida. Bollini reached an 8-goal handicap at the height of his career. He is also a cancer survivor after battling colon cancer, which he was diagnosed with in June of 2016.
“I am 60 years-old and I am going to start crying, this is too much for me,” said Bollini directly following his team’s victory. Known as the “Secretary of Defense,” he continued, “Being my age, I was very emotional. I didn’t expect it. I feel good body-wise. I feel like I really helped the team. Just winning the tournament was fantastic. Being MVP was a plus.”
Most Valuable Player Juan Bollini Sr., presented by USPA Tournament Manager Kaila Dowd. ©Candace Ferreira
This win marked the second consecutive year Bollini and Roldan captured the National Twenty Goal title, as last year Seminole Casino Coconut Creek (Melissa Ganzi, Jason Crowder, Nic Roldan, Juan Bollini) upset defending champion Casablanca (Grant Ganzi, Kris Kampsen, Jeff Hall, Tommy Biddle) in a wild 12-11 overtime finish, with Bollini scoring the winning goal.
Cubana, played by Roldan in the third chukker, was named the American Polo Horse Association Best Playing Pony. The APHA was created in 2006 by legendary Hall of Famer Sunny Hale to recognize polo ponies in the U.S. and encourage events that showcase them and their grooms.
American Polo Horse Association (APHA) Best Playing Pony, Cubana. Played by Nic Roldan, presented by USPA Tournament Manager Kaila Dowd and pictured with Osvaldo. ©Candace Ferreira
Guri Amalia, played by Calle in the second chukker and Santos Bollini in the sixth, was selected as the USPA Best Playing Pony.
With no plans to retire, especially in the wake of his recent success, Bollini ended the tournament on a positive note, sharing, “I plan to play as long as my body is still going. I feel great and happy [and] I am very excited. I am very competitive at my age, it’s the only way I can play. I don’t feel like the old guy on the field. Everything I do from now on is a plus for me at this level of polo.”
Best Playing Pony, Guri Amalia. Played by Anthony “Tony” Calle and Santos Bollini, presented by USPA Tournament Manager Kaila Dowd. ©Candace Ferreira
*Grant Ganzi and Anthony “Tony” Calle are Team USPA alumni. Team USPA is a USPA program designed to enhance and grow the sport of polo in the United States by identifying young, talented American players and providing mentored training and playing opportunities leading to a pool of higher rated amateur and pro players and the resultant giveback to the sport of polo.