Audi will attempt to defend its title while Richard Mille looks for its first title of the season in the championship final of the World Polo League’s Founders Cup Sunday at Grand Champions Polo Club.
By Sharon Robb
Game time for the battle of unbeatens is 4 p.m. for the feature game. Sunday is also the first day of Daylight Saving Time where clocks spring forward one hour welcoming an extra hour of sunlight in the spring and summer.
In Friday’s semifinal action, defending champion Audi (Marc Ganzi, 1, Jeta Castagnola, 10, Nic Roldan, 8, Freddie Mannix, 7) looked impressive in its 15-12 victory over Kaia Polo (Larry Austin, 0, Lerin Zubiaurre, 7, Sapo Caset, 10, Santi Toccalino, 8) to remain undefeated at 4-0. Kaia Polo finished 3-1 in its WPL tournament debut.
“It was a good victory and we’re very happy and excited,” Roldan said. “We had a slow start to the season but we understand each other now. The four of us are really jelling much better. Sunday will be an exciting game.
“We played against them in the first tournament, we know what we have to do,” Roldan said. “They are a very good team. It’s going to be a tough game, but we are feeling really good and confident.”
Audi’s offensive attack and solid four-man rotation broke open a close first half with Audi leading, 8-6. Trailing 5-4 after two chukkers, Audi outscored Kaia Polo, 4-1, in the third to lead at halftime. Audi had three quick scores before the courtesy change at 4:03.
“I think the first chukker and a half they had much more control of the game,” Roldan said. “We were chasing and didn’t get much possession of the ball. But I think we started to organize ourselves better in the third chukker and scored a few goals and were able to get a lead. We were able to turn it up in the last three chukkers.
“It was a tough game, they were a good, very solid team. We played well. We didn’t make stupid fouls or give away easy goals. We focused on our positions today and it worked out.”
Audi continued to control the momentum in the second half increasing its lead to 10-8 after a 2-2 fourth chukker. Audi shut out Kaia Polo, 3-0 in the fifth chukker to extend its lead, 13-8. Audi had a seven-goal lead, 15-8, midway in the sixth chukker before Kaia Polo scored the last four goals of the game in the final three minutes.
Ganzi led scoring with a team-high six goals including three penalty conversions. “The Cobra was on fire today,” Roldan said. “He had a great game, hit some good penalties, scored some important goals from the field and made some important defensive plays as well.”
Castagnola had five goals and Roldan added four. Caset had a game-high nine goals for Kaia Polo and Toccalino had two in the final chukker. Kaia Polo also received one goal on handicap.
Audi outshot Kai Polo, 23-15, and led in throw-ins, 13-11. Kaia Polo led in knock-ins, 8-4. Audi took advantage of Kaia Polo’s eight fouls, converting three 30-yarders and one 60-yarder.
In the second semifinal game, Richard Mille (Milo MacDonough, 0, Gonzalito Pieres, 9, Lucas James, 7, Pablo MacDonough, 10) avenged its All-Star Challenge finals loss, with a 14-10 victory over Casablanca (Grant Ganzi, 3, Tomas Pieres, 6, Barto Castagnola, 10, Jesse Bray, 7) to remain undefeated at 4-0.
The game marked the starting debut of 13-year-old Milo MacDonough, the youngest player to start and compete in the five-year history of the 26-goal World Polo League.
MacDonough, the son of 10-goaler Pablo MacDonough, replaced an injured patron Gilberto Sayao in the fourth chukker of the Kaia Polo game and got the starting nod for the semifinals. Lucas James replaced an injured Alejandro Novillo Astrada. Despite two new players in the lineup, Richard Mille adapted quickly.
After a 2-2 opening chukker, Richard Mille led for the rest of the game. Richard Mille shut out Casablanca, 3-0, in the second chukker for a 5-2 lead. Casablanca regained its momentum in a 3-3 third chukker but Richard Mille still had a three-goal cushion at the half, 8-5.
Casablanca continued to dig itself out of a hole with a 1-0 fourth chukker but Richard Mille seemed to have an answer for everything Casablanca tried in the final two chukkers. Richard Mille maintained its rhythm and continued to rotate well. Casablanca had scoring opportunities but was unable to capitalize at the penalty line and from the field.
MacDonough, who has been playing Polo Training Foundation and low goal tournaments, made a smooth transition playing against the best players in the world at the 26-goal level. He finished as his team’s leading scorer with five goals in the final two chukkers.
In addition to Milo MacDonough’s five goals, James had four goals, Pieres had three and Pablo MacDonough added two. For Casablanca, Castagnola had six goals. Ganzi and Bray each had two.
Richard Mille outshot Casablanca, 24-20. Casablanca dominated the throw-ins, 16-10, but couldn’t capitalize. Each team had 10 knock-ins and Richard Mille led in fouls, 9-8.
In last year’s Founders Cup, Audi (Marc Ganzi, 2, Jeta Castagnola, 9, Barto Castagnola, 9, Paco de Narvaez, 6) defeated Seminole Casino Coconut Creek (Melissa Ganzi, 0, Gonzalito Pieres, 10, Juan Martin Zubia, 8, Alejandro Novillo Astrada, 8), 13-9. De Narvaez was MVP.
The second World Polo League tournament featured eight teams in bracket play.
The World Polo League, the only 26-goal polo played outside of Argentina, is in its fifth season with a star-studded lineup that features six 10-goalers including Pablo MacDonough, Barto Castagnola, Juan Martin Nero, Jeta Castagnola, Polito Pieres and Sapo Caset.
“This is probably one of the best years team-wise for the WPL,” Roldan said. “All the teams are very evenly matched. It’s been very competitive and fun.”
The world-class league will run through April 16. In addition to the Founders Cup final on Sunday, the remaining WPL events are the Palm Beach Open, Tommy Hitchcock Legacy Memorial, Triple Crown of Polo and Beach Polo World Cup Miami Beach.
Grand Champions, the nation’s largest polo club celebrating its 16th anniversary, and Santa Rita Polo Farm is the largest and most unique private 102-acre polo facility in Wellington with 212 stalls in nine self-contained barns, two tracks, five climate-controlled tack rooms, vet room, staff quarters, guest house and four polo fields with state-of-the-art underground irrigation and short work arena. The club has 13 well-manicured fields including nine world-class fields at GCPC and four at Santa Rita.
During the winter polo season, Grand Champions, the nation’s largest and most innovative USPA-sanctioned polo club, nestled in the heart of the world’s winter equestrian capital, is hosting tournaments: 6, 8, 12, 20, and 26-goal leagues, weekly Polo School Ladies League play, WCT Finals and 26-goal WPL tournaments at both Grand Champions and Santa Rita.
Grand Champions tournaments attract a large international field of players from all corners of the world including Argentina, India, Mexico, New Zealand, Costa Rica, Canada, Ecuador, Brazil, Switzerland, France, England, Germany, Uruguay, Azerbaijan, South Africa, Venezuela, Chile, and England.
Season highlights for 2023 are the $50,000 National 12-Goal Tournament, Sieber Memorial, John T. Oxley Memorial and $100,000 World Cup Tournament, a unique 0-40-goal, winner-take-all single-elimination tournament and special events including Nic Roldan Sunset Polo and White Party, Great Futures Celebrity Polo, WPL Polo Pride and Sunset Chukkers & Cocktails.
The winter season is being live-streamed locally and worldwide on Wellington-based ChukkerTV (CTV Sports).
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 Polo School, now located at the former Pony Express facility, operates in Wellington January through May and September through November. The stand-alone USPA-sanctioned polo club, is thriving. It 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. November. The Polo School has nurtured several junior, men and women polo players now playing in the pro and amateur ranks since its inception.
For more information on leagues or Polo School contact Director of Operations Juan Bollini at 561-346-1099 or General Manager Cale Newman at 561-876-2930.