Santa Rita Captures USPA National 20 Goal Title; Juan Bollini Named MVP

Santa Rita held off Travieso in the final chukker to win the USPA National 20 Goal Tournament Saturday at Grand Champions Polo Club.

By Sharon Robb

Santa Rita (Gene Goldstein, 1, Juancito Bollini, 4, Nic Roldan, 8, Juan Bollini, 3) defeated Travieso (Tony Calle, 3/Santos Bollini, 2, Sugar Erskine, 6, Pedro Gutierrez, 5, Tommy Biddle, 5), 9-8, in the final high goal tournament of the fall season.

Juan Bollini, playing well above his 3-goal handicap, was named Most Valuable Player. At 60, Bollini is one of the oldest active players in the sport.

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. Bollini reached eight goals at the height of his career. He is a cancer survivor after battling colon cancer diagnosed in June 2016.

“I am 60 years-old and I am going to start crying, this is too much for me,” said Bollini, known as the ‘Secretary of Defense.’ When they said my name I almost started crying. 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. It means a lot to me to win this tournament. Being MVP was a plus for me.”

It was the second consecutive year Bollini and Roldan won the USPA National 20 Goal title. Last year Seminole Casino Coconut Creek (Melissa Ganzi, 0, Jason Crowder, 6, Nic Roldan, 8, Juan Bollini, 4) upset defending champion Casablanca (Grant Ganzi, 3, Kris Kampsen, 6, Jeff Hall, 6, Tommy Biddle, 5) in a wild 12-11 overtime finish with Bollini scoring the winning goal.

With a 3-0 handicap lead, Santa Rita jumped out to a 4-2 lead in the first chukker and continued to lead 5-3 and 8-4 in the first half. Travieso played catch up in the second half, shutting out Santa Rita in the fourth and sixth chukkers and holding them to one chukker in the second half.

Travieso outscored Santa Rita, 4-1, in the second half. Back-to-back goals by Gutierrez in the final two minutes cut the lead to one with 30 seconds left but ran out of time to mount another offensive threat.

“We worked hard because we knew at any moment that team would come,” 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, was forced to leave the game with 1:26 left in the fifth chukker when his horse stumbled and he tumbled off. Calle was replaced by Santos Bollini. Calle was taken to the hospital where he was treated for a collarbone injury.

Bollini said 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. Santa Rita, a 16-goal team, received three goals on handicap. Calle and Biddle each had three goals for Travieso. Gutierrez added two.

“By far this was the toughest game of the season,” Roldan said. “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.”

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.

Guri Amalia, played by Calle in the second chukker and Santos Bollini in the sixth, was selected USPA Best Playing Pony.

Santa Rita (Melissa Ganzi, 0, Nic Roldan, 8, Alejandro Novillo Astrada, 7, Juan Bollini) advanced into the final with a 13-9 win over Casablanca (Segundo Merlos, 3, Jason Crowder, 5, Grant Ganzi, 3, Tomacho Pieres, 6). Travieso (Teo Calle, 0, Sugar Erskine, 6, Kris Kampsen, 6, Tommy Biddle, 5) edged NetJets (Jesse Bray, 7, Marc Ganzi, 1, Agustin Obregon 6, Juan Sanchez Elia, 5), 11-9.

“We missed our original teammates Melissa and Alejandro but we put a good team together,” Bollini said. “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.”

The National 20 Goal was first played at the now-defunct Royal Palm Polo Club in Boca Raton in 2007. Former owner John T. Oxley started playing at the age of 46 and won the International Gold Cup at 83, the oldest player to do so. Bollini is a former teammate of Oxley’s.

“I plan to play as long as my body is still going,” Bollini said. “I feel great and happy, 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. I have my eye on what John T. Oxley did.”

One of the nation’s busiest and innovative polo clubs celebrating its 16th anniversary, has been hosting both medium goal and high goal leagues throughout the fall which ends on Sunday at 9:30 a.m. with the Banyan Cup final at Santa Rita Polo Farm.

Grand Champions Polo Club and Santa Rita Polo Farm is the largest and most unique private 100-acre polo facility in Wellington with more than 150 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.

Wellington-based ChukkerTV is live streaming the entire fall season. ChukkerTV’s state-of-the art technology features team challenges and instant replay which made their debut at Grand Champions in January, 2014.

Grand Champions and Santa Rita Polo Farm hosts polo tournaments ranging from six to 26-goal in addition to special events at its well-manicured fields during the fall, winter and spring seasons.

Grand Champions Polo Club and Santa Rita Polo Farm cater 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 at the turnkey facility.

The Polo School, a 501c3 organization and stand-alone USPA club, is dedicated to teaching polo to all ages, particularly grass roots youth. Its mission is to provide individuals opportunities in polo at every economic and ability level. The Polo School operates in Wellington January through June and October 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.



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