It was only fitting the two talented teams featuring Work To Ride student-athletes finish in a tie in the Santa Rita Abierto at Grand Champions Polo Club.
By Sharon Robb
Held between the prestigious Sterling Cup and World Polo League Triple Crown of Polo championship final on Saturday in front of a good crowd, the Santa Rita Abierto was held to raise funds for Work To Ride.
More importantly, it brought awareness to the national-caliber program using polo as a vehicle to help low income youth in the Philadelphia area.
Lezlie Hiner, founder and director of Work to Ride, was all smiles watching her student-athletes play alongside Argentine 10-goal brothers Jeta and Barto Castagnola in a competitive four-chukker game on top-caliber polo ponies owned by Santa Rita Polo Farm.
Grand Champions Team I (Gigi Velasquez, Shariah Harris, Marc Harley, Jeta Castagnola) and Grand Champions II (Alyssa Perren, Mosiah Gravesande, Marc Harris, Barto Castagnola) tied 7-7.
With Grand Champions II leading, 7-6, Jeta Castagnola scored with nine seconds left to finish in a tie.
For Grand Champions I, Shariah Harris led with three goals; Marc Hanley had two; and Gigi Velasquez and Jeta Castagnola each had one goal.
For Grand Champions II, Marc Harris had three goals; Mosiah (Mo) Gravesande had two goals and Alyssa Perren and Barto Castagnola each had one goal.
In the fast-paced game both teams took turns in the lead. Grand Champions II led by as many as three goals, 6-3 in the third chukker but Grand Champions I reeled them in the fourth and final chukker. Gigi Velasquez’s goal tied the game at 6-6 with 6:22 left. Mo Gravesande came back with 1:29 left to put Grand Champions II in the lead, 7-6, until Castagnola’s final seconds heroics.
The game also marked the first time the newly-minted Castagnola brothers played as 10-goalers on U.S. soil. They did not disappoint putting on a dazzling display of hitting balls out of the air and bouncing them multiple times on their mallets. While they both played back hitting long passes and setting up well-organized plays for their teammates, they couldn’t help themselves, each scoring a goal.
But it wasn’t just about the polo. By the end of the game, fans were talking about Work To Ride, a non-profit that runs an equestrian program geared toward helping low income youth in the Philadelphia area, teaching them how to ride, care for, and respect horses. It offers riding lessons, a summer camp and polo program free to students. In exchange, the students help with barn chores at the program’s home base, Chamounix Stables, a safe haven deep within Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park.
“It’s given me the exposure that I normally wouldn’t have had in my community and where I grew up. Everything that was done for me, I’m incredibly grateful for,” said Kareem Rosser, a Work to Ride Program alumnus and captain of the first all-Black team to win a national interscholastic polo championship.
“I am where I am today because of Work to Ride, and the impact the program had on my life was immeasurable,” Rosser said. “I hope that my journey can inspire hope and inspiration in the lives of other young children in Philadelphia.”
Work To Ride is in the midst of raising capital funds to renovate Chamounix Equestrian Center and create a new indoor equestrian arena.
The multi-million dollar campaign broke ground in November for the new state-of-the art equestrian center. Grand Champions Polo Club president and owner Melissa Ganzi, who grew up in Philadelphia and graduated from University of Pennsylvania, and Dundas patron Sarah Siegel-Magness are co-chairing the committee to raise money for building the new indoor arena.
If the non-profit reaches its fundraising goal, the arena could be built by 2023. The campaign has already raised $6.2 of its $8 million capital campaign.
Said Hiner, “The Work To Ride barn has been a home away from home for young people from nearby dense urban communities for nearly 30 years. “These young men and women are an inspiration every day. The proposed indoor arena and renovations will allow us to expand our program to reach even more young people and transform more lives.”
Work To Ride will host the inaugural Polo Classic in Philadelphia on Sept. 24. Two polo matches will lead up to the Feature Cup Match, in which professional players will compete for a championship title. Rosser and Nacho Figueras will compete in the event.
“Work to Ride far surpasses the stable walls, it changes lives,” Figueras said.
Grand Champions, the nation’s largest polo club celebrating its 15th anniversary, is coming off successful fall and winter seasons. The club will begin its spring season this weekend with the Corchito Foundation Cup.
Grand Champions is host to the World Polo League, which recently completed its five-tournament grass schedule. It is the only 26-goal polo played outside of Argentina and attracted a large international field from around the world. The WPL Beach Polo World Cup is set for April 29-May 1 and WPL Polo Pride, May 27-29.
Grand Champions also hosts Sunset Chukkers and Cocktails, presented by Seminole Casino Coconut Creek held Tuesday late afternoon at 4:45 p.m. on Field One for players and guests.
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 18 well-manicured fields including 13 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.