The legacy of Tommy Hitchcock Jr. was celebrated while helping a great cause Sunday at Grand Champions Polo Club.
By Sharon Robb
Seminole Coconut Creek Casino (Melissa Ganzi, 0, Gonzalito Pieres, 10, Juan Martin Zubia, 8, Alejandro Novillo Astrada, 8) rallied in the sixth chukker to defeat Brookshire Polo (Scott Wood, 0, Rufino Bensadon, 8, Nic Roldan, 8, Pancho Bensadon, 7), 10-9, to capture the prestigious trophy.
The inaugural sold out event benefitted Hopital Albert Schweitzer Haiti (HAS), a 200-bed hospital based in Haiti’s Lower Artibonite Valley. It is the only 24/7 full-service hospital serving more than 350,000 people. HAS was founded in June, 1956 by Hitchcock’s brother-in-law Dr. Larimer Mellon and his wife Gwen Grant Mellon.
Argentine 10-goaler Gonzalito Pieres scored a game-high six goals and was named Most Valuable Player. Pieres’ horse Open Correntina was selected Cria Polo Argentino Best Playing Pony. Chalo Oliveta, played by Rufino Bensadon, was chosen WPL Best Playing Pony.
Brookshire Polo started off with a 3-0 lead on handicap and led for the entire first half by at least one goal including a 6-5 halftime lead.
The lead changed hands three times in the second half before Pieres converted a 40-yard penalty to tie the game at 9-9 with 3:43 left in the game and clinched the win with a 60-yard penalty conversion with 1:12 left. Zubia then maintained possession to run out the clock.
In addition to Pieres, Zubia had three goals and Ganzi added one for Seminole Casino Coconut Creek. Rufino Bensadon led Brookshire with three goals, all penalty conversions. Roldan was held to two goals and Pancho Bensadon added one.
VIP guests and fans were treated to Team Fastrax Professional Skydiving Team carrying the flag while parachuting to the field during the National Anthem along with entertaining dancers at halftime.
In 1990 Hitchcock, Jr. was inducted posthumously into the Museum of Polo and Hall of Fame.
Born in Aiken, S.C., he learned the sport of polo from his parents, Louise and Thomas Hitchcock, Sr. Tommy Jr. played in his first tournament at age 13 and was part of the Meadowbrook Polo Club that won the 1916 U.S. national junior championship. He led the U.S. team to victory in the 1921 Westchester Cup. From 1922 to 1940, Hitchcock carried a 10-goal handicap. Playing with notable stars such as Pete Bostwick, Jock Whitney, and Gerald Balding, he led four teams to U.S. National Open Championships in 1923, 1927, 1935 and 1936.
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.
With the All-Star Challenge and inaugural Tommy Hitchcock Legacy Memorial now complete, the WPL scheduled continues with the Founders Cup, which is expected to start this week. The remaining WPL tournaments are the 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 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; $50,000 National 12-Goal 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, after a successful Metropolitan Cup, continues with the 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.