Black Watch Stuns Colorado In Palm Beach Open; Pite Merlos Named MVP; Semifinal Pairings Announced

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WELLINGTON, Fl., March 18, 2019---Let the showdown begin in the World Polo League's Palm Beach Open.

The semifinal schedule for the open and handicap tournament games were announced on Monday.

In the handicap games on Wednesday, Flexjet plays Alegria at 11 a.m. at Jan Pamela Field 3 and Valiente will face Black Watch at 4 p.m. at Grand Champions Field One.

On Thursday in the open games, SD Farms (4-0) plays Grand Champions (3-1) at 11 a.m. at Valiente Field 2 and Audi (4-0) plays Colorado (3-1) at 4 p.m. at Valiente Field 3. 

"It's now a knockout tournament with four really good teams," said Audi team sponsor Marc Ganzi. "It's going to be a very, very fun semifinal."

Added Audi's Kris Kampsen, "Anybody can win out of those four teams. The super organized teams came through and I think at this level you have to be super organized. You can't have a weak horse. You can't have a weak player. You can't have anything in doubt."

In final bracket play on Sunday at Grand Champions Polo Club, Black Watch (Juan Cruz Merlos, 5, Nacho Figueras, 6, Pite Merlos, 8, Tommy Biddle, 5) won its first game of the World Polo League with an 8-6 upset victory over previously unbeaten Colorado (Rob Jornayvaz, 2, Juan Martin Zubia, 7, Diego Cavanagh, 9, Jero Del Carril, 7). 

In the opening game, Audi (Marc Ganzi, 2, Nic Roldan, 8, Pablo MacDonough, 10, Kris Kampsen, 6) remained undefeated with a hardfought 12-9 victory over Alegria (Freddie Mannix, 8, Jesse Bray, 6, Gringo Colombres, 7, Juan Martin Obregon, 5). 

In the feature game Black Watch gave previously undefeated Colorado everything it could handle. After trailing 1-0 in the first chukker, Black Watch got hot, outscoring Colorado 3-1 in the second chukker to lead, 3-2. After a scoreless third chukker, Black Watch shut out Colorado, 1-0, to extend its lead to 4-2. Black Watch never lost the lead despite Colorado's attempt to rally in the final chukker.

Argentine 8-goaler Pite Merlos was Most Valuable Player.

Biddle led scoring with four goals. Juan Cruz Merlos added three and Pite Merlos had one while playing a strong defensive game. For Colorado, Zubia led with three goals, Cavanagh had two and Del Carril had one.

The Grand Champions Best Playing Pony was Kiwi, owned and played by Tommy Biddle.

The American Polo Horse Association Best Playing Pony was Cria Yatay Lohan, owned and ridden by Nacho Figueras.

The APHA was created in 2006 by the legendary Polo Hall of Famer Sunny Hale to recognize polo ponies in America and encourages events that showcase them and hard-working dedication of grooms.

In a physical opening game, Audi turned back upset-minded Alegria that came within one goal of the unbeaten team. Alegria jumped out to a 2-1 lead in the opening chukker. The lead changed hands six times before Audi took a 6-3 lead early in the third chukker and 8-4 halftime lead.

Alegria dug its way back to trail 9-8 in the fifth quarter but could get no closer.

"There's still a lot to improve on," Ganzi said. "That is a good team to play before the semis because they had nothing to lose today so they played hard. It was a fast game and very high on the physicality spectrum so that should get us ready from a physical perspective. I think we have to be more careful with the ball and finish goals."  

Roldan scored a game-high six goals. 

"This was a good tuneup for us," said Roldan. "Every game has been difficult for us in certain different ways. Today was good for us to work on our patience and focus.

"We knew this one was not going to be easy," Roldan said. "We knew we had to stick to our plan and what we know. We did. They got within one and we kept our composure and fought back, and got it to within three again."

MacDonough added four goals and Ganzi and Kampsen each had one goal.

"It was a really good tuneup," Kampsen said. "These guys go hard. They are four pros that play very well. We stayed with the system and didn't stress. We told ourselves not to overcommit or make mistakes."

Juan Martin Obregon led Alegria with five goals. Gringo Colombres and Jesse Bray each had two.

"I think this game was important even though we were already in the semis," MacDonough said. "Going into the semis with a win against a team like this is good for the confidence, you keep your focus. 

"Alegria is a good team, a very balanced team," MacDonough said. "They have had some good games. It's very difficult to beat them so we are happy we did it. We put ourselves in a good position. We have good momentum going in to the semis. I feel very good about our team's chances. We have a great team. It's good fun play here."

The WPL is being live streamed on ESPN Deportes and ChukkerTV/Horseplay with Gus Whitelaw calling the action. For more information go to www.worldpolo.org.

Co-founded by Grand Champions owners Melissa and Marc Ganzi and Valiente Polo Farm owner Bob Jornayvaz, the World Polo League is the only 26-goal polo in the world outside of Argentina. The WPL is preserving the highest level of polo and its rich, hallowed tradition in the U.S. 

The WPL has its own set of simpler fan-friendly rules to improve the flow and action of the game.

The WPL, with 14 tournament-quality fields to play on, includes the All-Star Challenge Draw Tournament, Founders Cup, Palm Beach Open and Triple Crown of Polo.

The World Polo League is open to other teams that wish to compete in one or more of the tournaments. Games are offered on the flat (Open) and on Handicap.

The World Polo League has attracted a large international field of players from all corners of the world  including Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Costa Rica, Nigeria, Uruguay and U.S.

Grand Champions and Valiente are also launching the U.S. National Mixed Doubles Championship, featuring two men and two women with combined handicaps, in March.

In addition to the World Polo League, season highlights for 2019 at Grand Champions are the Sterling Cup, $50,000 National 12-Goal Tournament, John T. Oxley Memorial and $100,000 World Cup Tournament, a unique 0-40-goal, winner-take-all single-elimination tournament and WCT Final.

Grand Champions and Santa Rita Polo Farm is the largest and most unique polo facility in Wellington with 120 stalls in five self-contained barns, exercise track, five climate-controlled tack rooms, vet room, staff quarters, guest house and three polo fields with state-of-the-art underground irrigation including one field for stick-and-ball with plans to build more polo fields in the future.

Candace Ferreira