Grand Champions Defeats Valiente, Secures Final Semifinal Berth In Palm Beach Open; Doubleheader On Sunday At Grand Champions Polo Club
WELLINGTON, Fl., March 17, 2019---The stage is set for this week's semifinals of the Palm Beach Open.
In a wild World Polo League game Saturday at Valiente Polo Farm, Grand Champions (Grant Ganzi, 3, Juancito Bollini, 4, Rodrigo Andrade, 9, Juan Martin Nero, 10) held off Valiente (Bob Jornayvaz, 2, Agustin Nero, 6, Alejandro Taranco, 8, Pelon Stirling, 10) for a thrilling 8-7 victory to clinch the fourth and final semifinal spot at Valiente Polo Farm.
Grand Champions (3-1) now joins Colorado (3-0), SD Farms (4-0) and Audi (3-0) for what promises to be two exciting semifinal games next week.
"I'm really happy to make it to the semis, it means a lot to me," said Ganzi, whose team won the Founders Cup. "Two semis, two tournaments in a row. It was a really tough game, it could have gone either way honestly. We had some moments at the end where we almost let up. I'm just happy we were able to hold on and play some good defense when it mattered.
"It's any team's tournament now," Ganzi said. "The other three teams are tough teams. They are well-organized and they are all four complete teams. Sayyu is a hell of a player, my dad is playing some of his best polo now and Kian has played well in Rob's absence. I don't think it's a coincidence you have four guys playing well at the moment."
On Sunday, Audi plays Alegria at 11 a.m. at Grand Champions Field One and at 4 p.m. in the WPL feature game at Grand Champions Field 2, Colorado plays Black Watch to complete bracket play.
Valiente, looking for its first win of the Palm Beach Open, gave Grand Champions everything it could handle, leading by two goals in the fifth chukker, in a hardfought battle before falling to 0-4.
"I wouldn't have believed it if someone told me Valiente was 0-4," Ganzi said. "I don't think it's ever happened before. This tournament has definitely had things happen that no one expected. You couldn't have predicted all the stuff that has happened, a lot of crazy things.
"We showed determination in this game, being down two goals and coming back," Ganzi said. "We were fighting the whole time. We had a one-goal lead and kept pushing and pushing. We just kept retaliating back and holding back. It was huge to maintain that lead until the end and showing resilience."
After tying 1-1 and 2-2 after the first two chukkers, Valiente took a 5-4 halftime lead on Agustin Nero's goal in the closing minute.
Grand Champions opened the second half outscoring Valiente, 2-0, with back-to-back goals from Bollini. Valiente counter punched with a 2-1 fifth chukker to tie 7-7 and set up an exciting sixth chukker.
The final chukker was a dogfight. While both teams squandered away scoring opportunities, it was both defenses that came up big. Ganzi turned away Nero's scoring threat early in the chukker.
With 3:40 left, Juan Martin Nero scored what turned out to be the winning goal off a broken play. Andrade shook off a brief injury with 3:17 remaining.
Both teams missed scoring opportunities in the final two minutes. Andrade turned away a Valiente scoring attempt and Bollini then cleared away Taranco's scoring attempt to end the game.
"We have had some tough games," Bollini said. "We expected this kind of game from them. In some parts we played very, very well and in some parts we can improve on. I'm just happy we won, it was a war.
"It was very important for us to win because this gets us straight to the semis and no penalty shootout," Bollini said. "I think we were all in the same boat, we knew this was an important game and that was our common thought."
Argentine 10-goaler Juan Martin Nero led Grand Champions with a team-high four goals, including two on penalty conversions. Bollini added three goals including back-to-back goals in the fourth chukker and Andrade added one goal.
Nero's brother Agustin was leading scorer on his team with a team-high four goals. Stirling scored two goals and Taranco added one goal.
The only blemish on Grand Champions record is the tournament-opening loss to Alegria. Since then, the four-man team has scratched and clawed its way back to be in championship contention.
"I forgot that loss the second we stopped playing the game," Ganzi said. "Once that game ended, I was already focused on the next game. That game was already behind us. We had a little slump to begin the tournament after our huge last tournament win. We have played better since then. Every game we have showed very good moments as a team."
In the early morning game at Jan Pamela Field, SD Farms (Sayyu Dantata, 2, Santi Torres, 6, Guillermo Terrera, 8, Adolfo Cambiaso, 10) defeated Flexjet, 13-10, in a fun, light atmosphere.
With SD Farms already in the semifinals, the game was an opportunity to fine tune horses. The game was close in the first half with Flexjet taking a 2-1 lead after the opening chukker. SD Farms came back with a 3-2 second chukker for a 4-4 tie. The seesaw battle continued with Flexjet taking a 6-5 halftime lead on one of Ganzi's game-high seven goals.
SD Farms came out strong in the fourth chukker, outscoring Flexjet, 4-1, for a 9-7 lead. SD Farms controlled the momentum and never relinquished the lead after that despite Flexjet closing the gap, 9-8, in the fifth chukker.
Santi Torres and Guillermo Tererra shared scoring honors each with four goals. Dantata added three goals and Cambiaso had two goals.
Melissa Ganzi scored a game-high seven goals. Alejandro Novillo Astrada had three goals and Alfredo Bigatti added one goal. Ganzi, the only woman competing in the World Polo League, has scored 19 goals in the last three games.
WPL Commissioner Dale Smicklas continues to be pleased with the level of play in the 26-goal league headed into the semifinals and final of the Palm Beach Open, the season's third tournament.
"I have to say that I am still impressed with the time it takes to play a game," Smicklas said. "I am impressed with not only have the players helped us play the kind of polo that I want to play, but the umpires have helped that happen. The level of respect between the players and umpires is second to nothing I have ever seen.
"I think that next week's semifinals for both the open and handicap portions there is going to be some great polo ahead of us," Smicklas said.
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.