In a rain-soaked final, first-year team Maltese Falcons captured the USPA North American Cup Wednesday at Santa Rita Polo Farm.
By Sharon Robb
In a steady downpour during the game, the foursome (Melissa Ganzi, Nic Roldan, 8, Alejandro Novillo Astrada, 7, Juan Bollini, 3) came from behind to rally for a 4-3 victory over Audi (Marc Ganzi, 1, Brandon Phillips, 4, Pancho Bensadon, 7, Kris Kampsen, 6).
In last year’s 20-goal tournament, the same winning foursome played for Santa Rita and knocked off two-time defending champion Casablanca (Tomacho Pieres, 6, Jason Crowder, 5, Grant Ganzi, 3, Juan Sanchez Elia, 5), 12-9. The Maltese Falcons are the sport’s newest team.
“We know each other very well and we are friends,” Astrada said. “We all know what we have to do on the field and how to use our strengths. That helps a lot.”
For the second year in a row, Roldan was named Most Valuable Player of the USPA North American Cup. Roldan led in scoring with three goals including the game-winner and two penalty conversions.
“I thought we were going to play slower than we actually did,” Roldan said. “Once we all got out there it was like “all right, let’s go,” we wanted to play. At the same time everyone played with caution. The safety of the horses and players obviously was everyone’s primary concern.
“The hardest thing was holding the reins and stick,” Roldan said. “It was just hard to maneuver the horse and hit the ball because the reins and gloves were so wet. It was sloppy but the field held up and we got it done. It’s always good to win. It’s a good tournament to win.”
Nitritiva, a 7-year-old mare owned and played by Brandon Phillips, was Best Playing Pony.
Carlucho Arellano, the United States Polo Association Executive Director of Services gave out awards after Wednesday’s game.
The game was stopped in the fifth chukker because of worsening weather conditions. Audi, trailing by one goal, officially forfeited at that time not wishing to continue.
“We were just so wet,” Roldan said. “It was beyond a wet t-shirt contest. It was wet t-shirt, pants, underwear, socks, helmet…absolute drenched.”
The 18-goal teams were evenly matched. Audi jumped out to a 3-1 lead in the opening chukker with goals from Phillips, Ganzi and 40-yard penalty conversion by Pensadon. The Maltese Falcons got on the scoreboard in the first chukker when Melissa Ganzi scored.
After that it was all Maltese Falcons scoring in the second, third and fifth chukkers. Roldan scored what turned out to be the game-winner on a broken play in the fifth chukker.
“It was crazy, but it was the same for both teams,” Bollini said. “We had the same opportunity to win or lose as the other team. Regardless of the conditions, it was equal.
“The field held up very well, it was fantastic,” Bollini said. “The horses were great. Everything was great. When you see the trophy, you forget about everything. You just go for it. We were a little bit careful but you want to win. A win is a win.”
All the players seemed to adjust well to the weather conditions. Alejandro Novillo Astrada, who flew to Wellington from Argentina last Sunday for the 20-goal games, said he has played in games in a steady rain before in England. Bollini gave him a set on gloves. He tied a knot on his reins to prevent from slipping out of his hands.
“You have to work your strength differently than when it is dry,” Astrada said. “The ball doesn’t run as much as it does when it’s dry. It gets a little heavy. We were still running. The field was wet but didn’t have any standing water. At least we could play and that was very good.”
In Monday’s semifinal round, Maltese Falcons defeated Grand Champions Polo Club (Tomacho Pieres, 6, Juancito Bollini, 4, Pablo Spinacci, 3, Pablo Dorignac, 4), 15-10, to advance. Audi advanced with an 8-7 victory over Casablanca (Sugar Erskine, 6, Grant Ganzi, 3, Martin Jauregui, 6, Jason Crowder, 5).
The USPA 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 USPA National 20 Goal set for Sunday.
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.
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 (except for special events) and open to the public.
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.