Palm Beach Polo rallied for four goals in the final chukker to capture the USPA Spring Challenge Cup on a sun-drenched Sunday at Grand Champions Polo Club.
Trailing 8-7 going into the final chukker, Palm Beach Polo (Alejandro Gonzalez, Brandon Phillips, Tommy Biddle, Glenn Straub), battled back for a hardfought 11-10 victory over Ride To Shine (Marc Ganzi, Neku Atawodi, Nic Roldan, Martin Estrada).
Straub was named Most Valuable Player after playing well on both ends of the field, scoring a clutch goal in the sixth chukker and blocking Roldan’s penalty shot in the second chukker.
“That was a very nice win,” Straub said. “They played three days in a row down at beach polo and came back and gave it their all.
“When Tommy is knocking it you just run as hard as you can run, as far as you can run and for some reason the ball is still in front of you,” Straub said. “He can hit the ball. Brandon did a nice job and that young boy Alejandro I will hire any time I can. He’s going to move up quickly.”
Gonzalez led Palm Beach Polo in scoring with five goals. Big-hitting Biddle had three and Phillips added two.
For Ride To Shine, Ganzi scored a season-high seven goals. Estrada had two and Roldan added one.
Ganzi’s horse Felony, a 7-year-old chestnut mare, was named Best Playing Pony.
Palm Beach Polo made it look easy jumping out to a 6-2 halftime advantage behind three goals by Gonzalez, two by Biddle and one by Phillips while taking advantage of missed scoring opportunities by Ride To Shine.
Ride To Shine regrouped early in the second half and looked like a different team reeling in Palm Beach Polo and scoring four unanswered goals to tie the game at 6-6.
The lead changed hands two more times before Palm Beach Polo mounted its sixth-chukker rally.
Biddle scored on a 90-yarder with 5:21 to tie the game at 8-8 followed by goals from Phillips and Gonzalez for a 10-8 advantage.
With 2:34 left in the game, Straub scored on a breakaway that turned out to be the winning goal after Ganzi and Estrada added two more goals for Ride To Shine as time ran out.
“It was good fun today,” Ganzi said. “They jumped on a couple good horses in the sixth and our marking got a little loose. We felt like we had control of the game.
“Tommy and Brandon are really good. Alejandro played really great, he is going to three goals at the end of the year. The kid is really gifted with a good head on his shoulders and has a really bright future in polo.”
It was the first time Ganzi competed for Ride To Shine.
“Neku has been here for most of the season playing here at Grand Champions and is really enthusiastic,” Ganzi said. “This is a fun time of the year when some of the customers get to stay and we get a chance to play with them. I think she had a great time. We thought we had them, tough luck for her.
“This was really a good tournament,” Ganzi said. “This is a nice trophy to win.”
At 19, Gonzalez was the youngest player on the field. After finishing school in Mexico, Gonzalez said his focus is playing polo with and against good players.
“Today was fun,” said Gonzalez, who first played with his teammates in Friday’s qualifier which Palm Beach Polo won, 11-10, over Power Horse on Biddle’s winning penalty shot.
“It’s an easy sport if everyone does their job,” Gonzalez said. “If everyone does what they say they are going to do then it works out for everyone and we all know what’s going on.”
Even when his team fell behind, Gonzalez said he was confident it was a momentary lapse.
“When you start losing and then someone scores an important goal everyone just feels it and says ’let’s go guys, let’s win, let’s win.’ You just have to let the game run and see what happens.
“We just started winning a lot of throw-ins. You start winning the throw-ins, you start scoring. We got lucky.”
Gonzalez said he is benefiting from playing with and against better players.
“I love how Tommy hits the ball, that’s how I like polo, hit and run,” Gonzalez said. “Glenn is amazing. He told me he came back from a late night in Miami Beach so we didn’t know what to expect but he was amazing and we won.”
Atawodi was one of two women in the tournament field. Atawodi, a native of Nigeria, is the first African woman international polo player. She owns a hotel in Nigeria and founded Ride To Shine, a charity that helps younger children particularly orphans, to pursue polo by giving them the opportunity to ride horses.
In the tournament’s consolation round robin, Casablanca (Grant Ganzi, Juancito Bollini, LucasLalor, Guille Aguero) won the consolation title with wins over Pony Express (Benji Daniels, Justin Daniels, Pancho Eddy, Tomas Goti), 8-4 and Power Horse (Melissa Ganzi, Walter Scherb, Jeff Hall, Juan Bollini, 6.5-5.
The five-team tournament was the second of six medium-goal tournaments. Psycho Bunny won the opening tournament.
The remainder of the Grand Champions spring schedule is: May 2-4, USPA Sun Cup, May 8-11, The USPA Eastern Challenge; May 15-18 The Polo Gear Challenge Cup and May 22-26 The Memorial.
During the Grand Champions’ 2014 spring season, which is live-streamed around the world by PoloNow Network, amateur polo players play with and against some of the world’s top pros. State-of-the-art instant replay and team challenges are also used in the games.
Admission is free to spectators.
For game recaps, news, features and photos of Grand Champions Polo Club-related eventsLive, go to www.grandchampionspoloclub.org.
GRAND CHAMPIONS 2014 SPRING SCHEDULE (561-644-5050)
MAY 2-4: The USPA Sun Cup
MAY 8-11: The USPA Eastern Challenge
MAY 15-18: The Polo Gear Challenge Cup
MAY 22-26: The Memorial
Grand Champions Polo Club trophy table with the prestigious USPA Spring Challenge Cup. Photo by Scott Fisher
GRAND CHAMPIONS POLO CLUB
WHERE: 13444 Southfields Road, on the corner of South Shore Boulevard and Lake Worth Road, Wellington, 33414.