From left to right Marc Ganzi (1), Nic Roldan (3), Carlitos Gracida (2) and MVP Michel Dorignac. Photo by Scott Fisher
WELLINGTON, FL-Nov. 10, 2013—-Audi, steeped in winning tradition, opened the 20-goal season at Grand Champions Polo Club with a thrilling 11-10 victory over Casablanca to capture the USPA North American Cup presented by Beluga in front of a packed house.
It was the second consecutive title for the defending champions who came from behind in the sixth chukker to knock off the hottest team of the fall season.
“It’s great to win two years in a row,” said Audi’s Marc Ganzi. “What was impressive to me is that it was a really tough game, two good teams, very evenly-matched, good horses.
“The level has come so far here,” Ganzi said. “The real winner today honestly was Wellington. Wellington now gets to see really high quality 20-goal polo in the fall and that was a vision that Melissa and I felt was really important for the club.”
|Audi Most Valuable Player Michel Dorignac has his arms full with awards and Beluga Vodka. Photo by Scott Fisher|
Audi’s newest player, Michel Dorignac, made his debut for the 20-goal team and played well with veteran teammates Nic Roldan, Carlitos Gracida and Ganzi.
Dorignac, outstanding defensively throughout the game, was named Most Valuable Player.
“I knew it would be a close game,” Dorignac said. “I thought our semifinal game was really tough, but this one was going to be even tougher with players like Mike Azzaro and Jeff Hall with a lot of experience; Brandon Phillips, a really solid player; and Granti Ganzi who is growing up and improving every single game so I knew it would be really tough.”
|Audi MVP Michel Dorignac (4) pursuing Casablanca’s Brandon Phillips (2). Photo by Scott Fisher|
Audi defeated Berlin Polo with a hardfought 12-9 victory in the semifinals.
The highly-anticipated championship final lived up to expectations. After a seesaw battle in the first two chukkers, Dorignac’s only goal of the game tied the score at 4-4.
Roldan scored two of his game-high six goals on a well-hit shot in a crowd at the 4:36 mark and 60-yard penalty shot in the final seconds of the chukker for a 6-4 halftime advantage. Three of Casablanca’s first-half goals were penalty shots.
|Audi’s Carlitos Gracida (2) and teammate Michel Dorignac (4) back up teammate Nic Roldan (3). Photo by Scott Fisher|
Casablanca came roaring back early in the fourth chukker when Grant Ganzi converted a penalty-two and then backhanded a pass to Azzaro, who scored from the field at 5:38 to tie the game at 6-6.
The lead changed hands five more times before Casablanca took a 9-8 lead on another Azzaro goal.
Audi regained its composure and the lead after Roldan’s rifle shot tied the game (9-9) and Marc Ganzi put Audi ahead (10-9) on a penalty goal. Roldan added an insurance goal (11-9) by maintaining possession and driving the length of the field for his final goal of the game.
“We had some issues fouling a bit,” Ganzi said. “We knew if we could cut down our mistakes we could beat them on the field. Once we did, the game turned.”
Casablanca tried to mount a late rally with 1:29 left when Azzaro scored a quick goal cutting his team’s deficit to one goal. Casablanca took possession after the throw-in but Audi’s swarming defense led by Gracida, who played pressure defense the entire game and stopped two goal attempts, turned back Casablanca as time ran out.
|Audi’s Carlitos Gracida (2) hooks Casablanca’s Mike Azzaro (3) with teammate Jeff Hall (4) coming up to help. Photo by Scott Fisher|
“We started up really well, then they got their momentum, tied the game and then took the lead,” Dorignac said. “I think the key to the game was we remained patient. We tried to calm down and focused on getting back into the game. We played hard and got tough. We were patient with cool heads in the end.”
Dorignac was a last-minute replacement for Hall of Famer and former 10-goaler Carlos Gracida, who was competing in a tournament in Mexico. It was Dorignac’s first MVP award in his first season at Grand Champions.
“When Marc called me I said yes right away because it is a great opportunity just to play,” Dorignac said. “I went for it and I enjoyed it. I tried to do well, of course. I think every player in the game deserved MVP, any of the eight players because they all played great out there.”
Roldan finished with 14 goals in two games during the tournament.
“That was fun, wasn’t it?” Roldan said with a smile. “We just had good chemistry luckily especially with Michel coming in late. The whole team played well. The other team played really well, too and honestly it could have gone either way. Today was just our day.
“We are a disciplined team that sticks to its plan,” Roldan said when asked what makes Audi so good year-in and year-out. “We try to have as much fun as possible but the moment we get on the field we are all business. We have played together for a long time and have the experience.”
In addition to Roldan’s six goals in the final, Marc Ganzi scored three goals, all on penalty shots and Dorignac had one goal. For Casablanca, Azzaro led with four goals and Grant Ganzi and Hall each had three goals.
|Casablanca’s Brandon Phillips (2) avoids the foul as Audi’s Nic Roldan (3) goes for the ball. Photo by Scott Fisher|
Azzaro’s 3-year-old black mare, Gypsy Girl, was named Best Playing Pony.
It was Casablanca’s fourth appearance in a championship final this season at Grand Champions.
“I guess it was about time we lose a final,” Azzaro said. “We had our chances, we had our opportunities. The ball didn’t bounce our way today. We had the game controlled, they just had a better break at the end. Unfortunately, for us that’s the way it rolled.”
The final pitted father-son Marc and Grant Ganzi against each other.
“It’s never fun to win against your son, but that’s polo,” Ganzi said. “I’ve been on that other side of that equation losing to Melissa. Grant’s maturation as a player has really surprised me. It’s not just his ability to hit the ball and to ride. His field intelligence is so far beyond his years. His ability to read the play and to anticipate is really uncanny for a kid his age.”
At 15, Ganzi, a sophomore at St. Andrew’s School, was the youngest player in the 20-goal tournament.
“I think I played well,” Ganzi said. “It was a lot of fun and a great opportunity. I really don’t have anything to lose, win or lose. If I play well, I play well, but if I play poorly it’s still a great opportunity. I am playing with great players, Mike, Brandon and Jeff.”
|Eye on the prize, the USPA North American Cup. Photo by Scott Fisher|
|Winners of the Beluga Cup from left to right, ELG teammates Avery Chapman (1), Guille Aguero (2), Kris Kampsen (3) and Carlucho Arellano (4). Photo by Scott Fisher|
In the opening game, ELG took control early and led from start-to-finish to defeat Beluga, 15-8, to win the Beluga Cup.
|Beluga’s Jeff Blake (3) tries to hook ELG’s Guille Aguero (2) with teammate Avery Chapman (1) looking on. Photo by Scott Fisher|
ELG (Avery Chapman, Guille Aguero, Kris Kampsen, Carlucho Arellano) was too quick for Beluga (Misha Rodzianko, Luis Escobar, Jeff Blake and Joey Casey).
|ELG’s Kris Kampsen (3) leans into his shot with Beluga’s Luis Escobar (2) looking on. Photo by Scott Fisher|
After two chukkers, ELG (Equine Law Group) led 6-2 and shut down Beluga defensively. Beluga tried to dig itself out of a hole, cutting its deficit to two, but ELG had too much chemistry and poise for Beluga.
|Beluga’s Luis Escobar (2) trying to bump Avery Chapman (1) of ELG out of the play in pursuit of the ball. Photo by Scott Fisher|
Aguero led with five goals, Arellano had four and Chapman, who played defensively, and Kampsen each had three goals. Escobar led Beluga with three goals.
Bungalow 8, a 6-year-old bay mare, owned by Halo Polo, was named Best Playing Pony.
|Beluga’s Misha Rodzianko (1) tries to fight for the ball against defender Avery Chapman of ELG (1). Photo by Scott Fisher|
The three-day, six-team USPA North American Cup presented by Beluga was the first of two 20-goal fall tournaments at Grand Champions. The other 20-goal tournament, USPA National 20-Goal Championship, begins on Wednesday. Audi won the 2012 tournament with Marc Ganzi, Nic Roldan, Carlos Gracida and Carlitos Gracida.
During and after Saturday’s game, polo fans were treated to Beluga Noble Russian Vodka and great food in the lavish Beluga VIP tent while listening to play-by-play announcer Tony Coppola, the voice of polo.
|Spectators in the Beluga VIP tent enjoying the finals of the USPA North American Cup presented by Beluga at Grand Champions. Photo by Scott Fisher|
Beluga Noble Vodka is produced in the heart of Siberia, one of the most ecologically clean in Russia. Beluga Noble is refined in every way. Thanks to its unique production technology, including both innovations and centuries-old traditions, the flavor of Beluga Noble has an irreproducible smoothness.
|Polo fashionistas among the crowd at the USPA North American Cup presented by Beluga. Photo by Scott Fisher|
All the ingredients of Beluga Noble pass through a strict system of purification and filtration, which guarantees the maximum level of purity and quality in the final product. Beluga Noble “rests” for 30 days. The refined design of the bottle with hand-made elements perfectly reflects the nobility of Beluga Noble. On every one of the bottles there is one important feature, a small Beluga fish, traditionally fitted by hand, making every bottle unique.
GRAND CHAMPIONS FALL SCHEDULE
Nov. 13-23, USPA National 20-Goal Championship
Nov. 24, Juniors Tournament
Nov. 30, The Legends of Polo, 1 p.m. and International Cup, Team USA vs. Chile, 3 p.m.
GRAND CHAMPIONS POLO CLUB
WHERE: 13444 Southfields Road, on the corner of South Shore Boulevard and Lake Worth Road, Wellington, 561-644-5050.
INFORMATION: There are great field side views for tournament action at the home base of pro team Audi. Everyone is welcome to watch high and medium goal polo in a relaxed atmosphere during the spring and fall tournament season and other special events including the International Cup in November, Buzz Welker Memorial Junior Tournament in March, ProKidz Tournaments in the spring and fall, Women’s Championship Tournament and Gay Polo League International Tournament, both in April.