Seminole Casino Coconut Creek, White Birch Win WPL All-Star Challenge Opening Games; Audi Plays Richard Mille On Sunday

Seminole Casino Coconut Creek and White Birch are the latest teams to advance into the semifinals of the World Polo League’s season-opening All-Star Challenge Tournament.

By Sharon Robb

Seminole Casino Coconut Creek (Melissa Ganzi, 0, Gonzalito Pieres, 10, Juan Martin Zubia, 8, Alejandro Novillo Astrada, 8) rallied in the second half to defeat Brookshire Polo (Scott Wood, 0, Rufino Bensadon, 8, Nic Roldan, 8, Pancho Bensadon, 7), 16-13, on Saturday at Grand Champions Polo Club.

Underdog White Birch (Chris Brant, 0, Lerin Zubiaurre, 7, Mariano Aguerre, 7, Santi Toccalino, 8) stunned Alegria (Tincho Merlos, 8, Juancito Bollini, 4, Clemente Zavaleta, 7, Freddie Mannix, 7), 14-11, on Friday at Jan Pamela Field.

Seminole Coconut Creek Casino and White Birch join Catamount (Scott Devon, 1, Torito Ruiz, 7, Polito Pieres, 10, Nacho Novillo Astrada, 8), 14-11 winners over NetJets, in Wednesday’s semifinal round.

The fourth and final team will be determined on Sunday when Richard Mille (Santos Bollini, 2, Grant Ganzi, 3, Pablo MacDonough, Juan Martin Nero, 10) takes on Audi (Marc Ganzi, 2, Camilo Castagnola, 9, Barto Castagnola, 9, Paco de Narvaez, 6) in the featured game at 4 p.m. at Grand Champions.

It took Seminole Casino Coconut Creek three chukkers to find its momentum and to make up a three-goal handicap deficit, trailing 23-goal rated Brookshire Polo, 7-5, at the half. The second half it was all Seminole Casino Coconut Creek, outscoring Brookshire Polo, 11-6.

Pieres, looking every bit the 10-goal player he is, got hot early in the fourth chukker scoring three consecutive goals in less than two minutes to tie the game at 8-8.

The lead changed hands five more times before Seminole Casino Coconut Creek took command when Pieres converted a 60-yard penalty to take a 12-11 lead in the final minute of the fifth chukker.

By the sixth chukker, Seminole Casino Coconut Creek was clicking on all cylinders scoring three consecutive goals for a 15-11 advantage and never relinquished the lead.

Pieres scored a game-high nine goals. Zubia and Novillo Astrada each had three goals and Ganzi added one goal.

Roldan had a team-high five goals and Rufino Bensadon added four goals. His father Pancho Bensadon had one goal. The team also started out with three goals on handicap.

White Birch, a 22-goal rated team, gave Alegria all it could handle in the first four chukkers. Alegria started digging itself out of a hole in the final chukker but ran out of time.

White Birch started out with a 4-0 lead based on handicap and quickly extended its lead to 8-1 after the opening chukker behind Toccalino’s hot mallet.

White Birch continued to dominate the next four chukkers, leading 11-2 after two and 12-4 at halftime. With White Birch leading 13-6 after four chukkers, Mannix scored a goal to open the fifth chukker to rally his team. Alegria continued to push in the final chukker coming within three when Merlos scored the final goal banking it off the goal post, but ran out of time.

Toccalino had a team-high eight goals. Aguerre and Zubiaurre each had one goal. The remaining four goals were on handicap. Merlos led Alegria with five goals. Mannix added three and Bollini and Zavaleta each had one.

Richard Mille is defending champion of the All-Star Challenge. The foursome of Marc Ganzi, Jeta Castagnola, Pablo MacDonough and Paco de Narvaez defeated Hawaii Polo Life (Chris Dawson, Poroto Cambiaso, Jejo Taranco, Adolfo Cambiaso), 12-8. MacDonough was MVP.

The World Polo League, now in its fourth year, is the only 26-goal polo played outside of Argentina. It has attracted a large international field from around the world.

The world-class league will run through April 16. The World Polo League is preserving the highest level of polo and its rich tradition in the U.S. The WPL has its own set of simpler fan-friendly rules to improve the flow of the game and world-class umpires.

In addition to the All-Star Challenge, the remaining WPL events are the inaugural Tommy Hitchcock Legacy Memorial, Feb. 27; Founders Cup, Feb. 23-March 13; Palm Beach Open, March 9-27; Triple Crown of Polo, March 23-April 16 and Beach Polo World Cup Miami Beach, April 29-May 1.

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.

Grand Champions, the nation’s largest polo club, celebrating its 15th anniversary, is coming off its most successful fall season. Club officials hope to build off that success when it hosts 23 tournaments from January through April.

The high goal club tournaments feature the Sterling Cup, $100,000 World Cup and Santa Rita Abierto.

The 16-goal league play includes the Grand Champions Cup, Mar. 8-26 Power Horse Invitational and Mar. 29-Apr. 16 Pedro Morrison Memorial.

The 12-goal league is currently underway with the Sieber Memorial Trophy, the $50,000 National 12-Goal which gets under way this week and Mar. 8-26 Top Pony 12-Goal.

After January’s successful Aspen Valley Cup, the 8-goal tournament schedule continues with the Top Pony 8-Goal and Mar. 8-26 Limited Edition 8-Goal.

The 6-goal schedule features the Metropolitan Cup, also underway; Halo Polo Trophy and Mar. 8-26 Madelon Bourdieu Memorial.

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.

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 with 13 well-manicured, world-class fields at GCPC and Santa Rita Polo Farm, 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 Director of Operations Juan Bollini at 561-346-1099 or General Manager 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.

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