La Fe won its first tournament of the fall season Sunday at Santa Rita Polo Farm.
By Sharon Robb
La Fe (Sebastian Mandelbaum, -1/Leo Mandelbaum, 2, Nic Roldan, 8, Grant Ganzi, 3, Louis Devaleix, 2) won the Banyan Cup by one net goal in a round robin over Victory I (Kevin Schmeits, 0, Santos Bollini, 2, Martin Jauregui, 6, Sugar Erskine, 6) that finished with 0 net goal. Victory II (Becky Schmeits, 0, Jason Crowder, 5, Pedro Gutierrez, 5, Pablo Dorignac, 5) finished third with minus-one.
In the third and final round robin match, La Fe clinched the exciting nailbiter with an 8-6 win over Victory 1, which had closed the gap to one goal (7-6) with 3:52 left in the game but was unable to overcome the deficit.
Louis Devaleix, 42, who took his first polo lesson in 2020 and is playing fall polo for the first time in Wellington, was named Most Valuable Player for the first time at Grand Champions Polo Club and in Florida.
It was his second victory this season. Devaliex also won the Pedro Morrison Memorial playing with Amaro.
“I had a great time the last few weeks,” Devaleix said. “I was not aware fall polo was even available…great polo, fast and good way to prep for the main season.
“What Melissa (Ganzi) does for everyone who stays here is second to none. Both her and her husband really go above and beyond for everyone and for the game of polo here in Florida and the U.S.”
Born in France, Devaleix’s family moved to Brazil when he was a baby. He grew up in Rio de Janeiro, where he played golf. But in 2020 he was at Sunset Polo Club in Loxahatchee where he rode a horse for the first time and took his first polo lesson from Carlos Gonzalez. He was hooked and ever since he has been playing polo at every level, from 8 to the 26-goal World Polo League.
Karma, a 10-year-old mare played in the fourth and seventh chukkers by Grant Ganzi and owned by Santa Rita Polo Farm, was Best Playing Pony.
“It was great to get another Best Playing Pony blanket,” said Ganzi, who has been playing her for three years in Aspen and Wellington. “She’s been showing really well this fall.”
The fourth medium goal tournament was the most competitive this season. With well-balanced teams it was anyone’s guess who was going to win.
In final day action, Victory I defeated Victory II, 9-7, in the first three chukkers. In the second round robin, Victory II edged La Fe, 7-6. Becky Schmeits, the only woman in the tournament, scored the winning goal in the final 20 seconds.
The top two scoring teams faced off in the third and final round robin. La Fe managed a two-goal lead for most of the three chukkers with Ganzi scoring three goals including a penalty conversion.
Victory I made it interesting with 3:52 left when Santos Bollini scored to cut La Fe’s lead to one, 7-6. Ganzi’s 30-yard penalty conversion gave La Fe back its two-goal cushion for the remainder of the game.
It was Ganzi’s first tournament win of the fall season and first time he played with Devaleix.
“We just needed to maintain our lead from the other day and that was a tough task,” Ganzi said. “It was tough. Pedro Gutierrez did a really good job filling in for Tomacho (Pieres). They were tough to play today. They played a lot better today than they did on Friday.
“In the end we got it but we struggled in our first three chukkers. We started off okay. There were moments in the game where things didn’t go our way. We adjusted well. It was really nice to win.
“It was fun playing with Louis, he was a good teammate,” Ganzi said.
In opening day action on Friday, Victory I defeated Victory II, 7-3; La Fe topped Victory II, 4-2; and La Fe edged Victory I, 5-3, with Ganzi and Roldan goals breaking a 3-3 tie in the final two minutes of the game. The scores carried over into Sunday’s final.
In last year’s Banyan Cup tournament, Roxbury Raiders (Josh Silverman, 0, Jason Crowder, 5, Santos Bollini, 2, Tommy Biddle, 5) led from start to finish to defeat Aspen Valley Polo Club (Juancito Bollini, 4, Sugar Erskine, 6, Nic Roldan, 8, Tito Gaudenzi, 2), 8-6, to win their fall debut. Santos Bollini was MVP.
The nation’s largest and most innovative polo club celebrating its 17th anniversary, is hosting both medium and high goal tournaments this season. The action is free (with the exception of special events) and open to the public.
Among the season highlights are the Nov. 7-15 USPA North American Cup and Nov. 11-21 USPA National 20-Goal Championship and Nov. 18 doubleheader featuring the Legends of Polo Carlos Gracida Memorial and International Cup featuring GCPC USA putting its undefeated 11-game win streak on the line against Spain.
Since 2012, the U.S. has beaten England, Chile, Mexico, South Africa, Uruguay, Brazil, Azerbaijan, France, Argentina twice and Switzerland in the annual battle for the coveted cup.
The fall medium goal schedule features six tournaments. In addition to this weekend’s Oct. 24-29 Banyan Cup the two remaining medium goal tournaments are the Nov. 1-5 Fall Plates and Nov. 8-12 Casablanca Fall Cup.
Winners of the first three medium goal tournaments are Fall Classic, Maltese Falcons (Melissa Ganzi, Jason Crowder, 5, Juan Bollini, 3, Nic Roldan, 8); Tackeria Invitational, Aspen Valley (Govinda Quish, Jason Crowder, 5, Sugar Erskine, 6, Nic Roldan, 8); and Pedro Morrison Memorial, Amaro (Scott Sorbaro, 0, Louis Devaleix, 1, Nic Roldan, 8, Kris Kampsen, 6). Roldan has been MVP for all three tournaments.
The well-organized fall tournaments attract players from all over the world including Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Ecuador, Uruguay, San Salvador, Switzerland, Spain, England, France, India, Mexico, Azerbaijan, New Zealand, Nigeria, Uzbekistan, South Africa and United States.
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 sixth 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 102-acre polo facility in Wellington with 212 stalls in nine self-contained barns, two exercise tracks, five climate-controlled tack rooms, vet room, staff quarters, guest house and four polo fields with state-of-the-art underground irrigation, short work arena and stick-and-ball fields.
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.
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 11 fields during the fall season. Admission is free and open to the public.
Wellington-based ChukkerTV (CTV Sports) is live streaming the entire fall season worldwide. Grand Champions is the only USPA club that is live streaming all its games. ChukkerTV’s state-of-the art technology also features team challenges and instant replay which made their debut at Grand Champions in January, 2014.
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.
Grand Champions Polo Club is located at 13444 Southfields Road in Wellington. For more information about the upcoming season visit www.gcpolo.com.