The much-anticipated high goal season gets under way Wednesday with the USPA North American Cup at Grand Champions Polo Club.
By Sharon Robb
The single-elimination, four-team tournament opens with two semifinal games at 11:30 a.m. and 4:45 p.m. on Fields One and Two. The winners advance into the championship game on Friday.
Newport will open with Santa Rita at 11:30 a.m. and Casablanca plays NetJets at 4:45 p.m.
The North American Cup is the club’s first of two 20-goal tournaments of the fall season with a rich tradition in history dating back to 1974. The second high goal tournament is the Nov. 7-9 USPA National 20 Goal.
The tournament has been a mainstay in American and Canadian polo for decades at the 16- to 20-goal level. The inaugural winner was Tulsa with Hall of Famers John T. Oxley and Billy Linfoot, Corky Linfoot and Jim MacGinley.
During the late 1990s and early 2000s Calgary Polo Club hosted the tournament with Millarville dominating the competition. The tournament has been held at Grand Champions since 2011 and in 2019 made its debut at Aspen Valley Polo Club before returning to Grand Champions in 2020.
Team rosters are:
NetJets (18): Larry Austin, 0, Sugar Erskine, 6, Tincho Merlos, 7, Tommy Biddle 5.
Santa Rita (18): Melissa Ganzi, Alejandro Novillo Astrada, 7, Nic Roldan, 8, Juan Bollini, 3.
Casablanca (19): Grant Ganzi, 3, Jason Crowder, 5, Tomacho Pieres, 6, Juan Sanchez Elia, 5.
Newport (19): Gene Goldstein 1, Pablo Spinacci, 6, Kris Kampsen, 6, Agustin Obregon, 6.
Last year’s winner was Casablanca (Grant Ganzi, 3, Kris Kampsen, 6, Jeff Hall, 6, Tommy Biddle, 5). The All American team took a 7-3 halftime lead and went on to cruise to a 12-7 victory over Seminole Casino Coconut Creek (Melissa Ganzi, 0, Jason Crowder, 6, Santi Toccalino, 8, Brandon Phillips, 4/Pablo Spinacci, 6).
Biddle was named Most Valuable Player. It was the first time since 1992 that the 2022 Hall of Famer had won the North American Cup. Charlatton, a 10-year-old gelding owned and played by Jeff Hall, was Best Playing Pony.
For Grant Ganzi, Brand Ambassador for Casablanca, it was his fifth USPA North American Cup in eight years at age 23.
In 2020, Casablanca (Grant Ganzi, Henry Porter, Juancito Bollini, Nic Roldan)defeated Newport (Gene Goldstein, Sugar Erskine, Michel Dorignac, Juan Bollini), 14-9, at Grand Champions.
In 2019, Aspen-based La Karina (Brian Boyd, Carlitos Gracida, Sebastian Merlos, Kris Kampsen) led from start-to-finish to defeat McClure River Ranch (Hilario Figueras, 3, Pablo Spinacci, 6, Nic Roldan, Stewart Armstrong) with a stunning 15-12 victory to win its’ 20-goal tournament debut at Aspen Valley Polo Club. It was the first USPA 20-goal tournament ever played in the Rocky Mountains.
In 2018 in a wild finish, Travieso rallied in the second half to win the coveted North American Cup. Trailing by five goals at halftime, Travieso (Tony Calle, Grant Ganzi, Juan Cruz Merlos, Pite Merlos) staged an incredible comeback for a stunning 14-13 overtime victory over Audi (Wes Finlayson, Brandon Phillips, Pablo Spinacci, Marc Ganzi) in one of the most exciting finishes in North American Cup history.
The Fall Plates, the third medium goal tournament of the season, will be held Saturday and Sunday. It is the third round-robin tournament featuring three teams.
NetJets (Larry Austin, 0, Juan Sanchez Elia, 5, Nic Roldan 8, Juan Bollini, 3), Sebucan (Pablo Pulido, 2, Jason Crowder, 5, Sugar Erskine, 6, Leo Mandelbaum, 2) and Travieso (Teo Calle, Agustin Obregon, 5, Pablo Spinacci, 6, Tommy Biddle, 5), making its fall debut, will compete in the third of eight fall tournaments (three high goal and five medium goal.
Action gets under way Saturday with preliminary round robin games with the score carrying over into Sunday’s final. The fields and times will be announced.
In last year’s Fall Plates tournament, Zahedi Chogan (Sy Zahedi, Jason Crowder, Brandon Phillips, Tommy Biddle) won with an 11-10 victory over La Indiana (Matthew Gonzalez, Marc Ganzi, Luis Escobar, Jeff Hall). Biddle was MVP.
So far fall season action has been thrilling. In the rain-delayed season-opener on Monday, Barbarossa Leather (Leo Mandelbaum, 2, Jason Crowder, 5, Juan Bollini, 3, Tommy Biddle, 5) rallied for a 4-3 victory over Casablanca (Nick Manifold, 3, Grant Ganzi, 3, Nic Roldan, 8, Juan Sanchez Elia, 5). Mandelbaum was MVP and Rose Quartz, played by Ganzi, was BPP.
Last weekend NetJets (Jason Crowder, 5, Leo Mandelbaum, 2, Larry Austin, 0, Nic Roldan, 8) rallied to win the Fall Classic with an 8-6 win over Sebucan (Nick Manifold, 2, Grant Ganzi, 3, Juan Sanchez Elia, 5, Tommy Biddle, 5). Austin was MVP and Little Nell, played by Ganzi was BPP.
One of the nation’s busiest and innovative polo clubs celebrating its 16th anniversary, is hosting both medium goal and high goal leagues. Among the highlights of the season are this week’s USPA North American Cup and Nov. 7-9 USPA National 20-Goal Championship and Nov. 12 doubleheader featuring the Legends of Polo Carlos Gracida Memorial and International Cup. This year the GCPC-USA team will put its 10-year winning streak on the line against Switzerland.
Last year GCPC-USA ( Grant Ganzi, Jason Crowder, Nic Roldan, Tommy Biddle) defeated Argentina, 10-5, for its tenth win in a row since the tournament’s inception in 2012. Grant Ganzi, making his sixth appearance and at 23 the youngest member of the GCPC-USA lineup, was Most Valuable Player.
In addition to this weekend’s Fall Plates, the remaining fall medium goal tournament schedule is: Oct. 31-Nov. 6 Tackeria Invitational; and Nov. 14-20 Banyan Final. The Tackeria Invitational has a special place in club history as the inaugural tournament when the club first opened in 2007.
The well-organized fall tournaments attract players from all over the United States and world including Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Ecuador, England, France, India, Mexico, New Zealand, Nigeria and South Africa.
The Grand Champions Fall Invitational League is geared toward improving a player’s polo skills at every level. Roster lineups change from tournament to tournament with evenly-matched teams featuring pro and amateur players. It’s also a great opportunity for players and sponsors to prepare for the winter season highlighted by the 26-goal World Polo League, now entering its fifth season at Grand Champions.
The fall league features: stick-and-ball sessions during the week; two medium tournament games every weekend; ambulance and USPA umpires for all tournament games; world-class polo fields; club-sponsored social events every weekend for all players; and top-of-the-line trophies for all teams every weekend.
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.