Santa Rita Captures World Cup; Juan Martin Nero MVP

Santa Rita won its second World Cup title in three years Friday at Grand Champions Polo Club.

By Sharon Robb

Santa Rita (Melissa Ganzi, 0/Fran Spinacci, 0, Gonzalito Pieres, 9, Alejandro Novillo Astrada, 7, Juan Martin Nero, 10) led for most of the game to defeat Tonkawa (Jeff Hildebrand, 0, Pablo MacDonough, 10, Polito Pieres, 10, Juan Martin Zubia, 9), 14-12.

Argentine 10-goaler Juan Martin Nero was named Most Valuable Player. Nero, who turned 42 on Friday, played well on both sides of the ball. Against Tonkawa, Nero was relentless on defense, attacking and anticipating. He also scored three goals.

Nero, one of the all-time greatest backs in the game, has won 15 Argentine Open titles in 22 finals including the 2022 final where he was named MVP.

Sapito Estampa, owned and played by Jeff Hildebrand at the end of the first chukker and second chukker, was the Grand Champions Best Playing Pony.

Irenita Subaru, owned and played by Pablo MacDonough in the third chukker, was the American Polo Horse Association Best Playing Pony.

Santa Rita jumped out to a 4-1 lead in the opening chukker. Tonkawa clawed its way back in the third chukker tying Santa Rita twice (5-5, 6-6) before Santa Rita regained the lead and led 7-6 at the half.

Tonkawa tied Santa Rita one last time, 8-8 with 2:39 left in the fourth chukker before Ganzi’s goal with 1:47 left gave Santa Rita a 9-8 lead. Santa Rita never relinquished its lead and led by as many as four goals (14-10) in the sixth chukker.

Ganzi was forced to leave the game with 6:29 left in the final chukker after getting hit with a ball. Sub Fran Spinacci finished the game.

In addition to Nero’s three goals, Astrada led Santa Rita with a team-high five goals. Ganzi had four goals and Pieres and Spinacci each had one goal.

Hildebrand had a team-high five goals for Tonkawa. MacDonough had four and Zubia added three.

Tonkawa led in shots on goal, 22-17. Santa Rita led in knock-ins, 10-3; throw-ins, 17-13. For the first time this season, the game was penalty-free.

In 2021, Santa Rita’s foursome of Paquito de Narvaez, Torito Ruiz, Juan Martin Zubia and Alejandro Novillo Astrada defeated Richard Mille (Marc Ganzi, Jeta Castagnola, Poroto Cambiaso, Lolo Castagnola), 16-14. Zubia was named MVP. It was Paquito de Navaez’s first venture into high goal polo at age 13.

The 2017 inaugural champion was Palm Beach Illustrated, a 21-goal underdog with players Jared Zenni, Santi Torres, Agustin Obregon and Tommy Collingwood, all young, talented rising stars. Past winners include Palm Beach Illustrated twice and Gracida Wine.

The tournament was resurrected by Grand Champions owner and president Melissa Ganzi. It was last played at Palm Beach Polo and Country Club in the 1990s.

What makes the tournament so unique is the fact it’s open to teams 0-40 goal on handicap, similar to the Copa Republica in Argentina where teams of any handicap from 0-to-40 can compete.

In 2017, the lowest rated team was Equuleus at four goals and highest ranked teams were Orchard Hill, Audi, Valiente and Flexjet at 26 goals. The 2017 tournament featured 10-goaler Adolfo Cambiaso playing with his son Poroto in a U.S. tournament for the first time.

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 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, WCT Finals, The Polo School Women’s Weekly league play and 26-goal WPL tournaments at both Grand Champions and Santa Rita.

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.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.