In front of a good crowd, Gracida Wine (Carlitos Gracida 4, Juan Monteverde 5, Peco Polledo 6, Sterling Giannico 4) defeated Dundas Polo (Santos Merlos 2, Isidro Strada 7, Salvador Lockey 2, Jejo Taranco 8), 12-7.
Tied 6-6 going into the final chukker, Gracida Wine outscored Dundas Polo, 6-1. The lead changed hands six times before Gracida Wine rallied to win its first major tournament.
All eyes on Carlitos Gracida of Gracida Wine as he works his way through a crowd.
"We have been working so hard, hard work pays off," said Carlitos Gracida, son of Hall of Famer and former 10-goaler Carlos Gracida. "This is a great way to end the tournament."
Gracida, Monteverde and Polledo were members of the 2018 Palm Beach Illustrated champion team. Giannico, making his winter season debut at Grand Champions, filled the vacant spot left by Tommy Collingwood playing at IPC.
"This is the second time we win with the same team with Sterling playing for us this year," Polledo said. "He is a very good teammate and very good player. It was an amazing game, very fast."
Salvador Lockey of Dundas Polo goes for the big hit as Carlitos Gracida of
Gracide Wine defends.
Team newcomer Sterling Giannico, who turns 27 in March, was Most Valuable Player. Evancha, played by Giannico, was Grand Champions Best Playing Pony.
"This was a big win for this team," Giannico said. "To be honest I don't know what it means to win this tournament. I am a little in shock. This is big.
"I had a lot of pressure playing with these guys. They won it two years ago. I had to step up my game and luckily the boys helped me out and gave me the confidence and we won the game by a big difference.
Santos Merlos of Dundas Polo reaches for the ball with Gracida Wine teammates Carlitos Gracida and Peco Polledo defending.
"We're young and we grew up together in Argentina," Giannico said. "I know Juan and Peco, we used to go to school down there and we have known each other for a long time. I used to work with Memo and Carlos and I knew Carlitos. Just going out and winning it for Carlitos and everybody, it just means a lot to the family."
Vicki, played by Gracida and named after Fort Lauderdale-born Vicki Armour, was American Polo Horse Association Best Playing Pony. The American Polo Horse Association 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.
Juan Monteverde of Gracida Wine shows his winning form with a neck shot.
For Gracida, the win was emotionally-charged. Gracida's team practiced only one time before the tournament and Gracida has practiced only three times because no high goal team has picked him up and it's been hard finding practice sessions.
"The emotion is coming from every day working, every day not having a job for two years in the high goal," Gracida said. "Everyone that helped me play this tournament is huge. It's exposure for me and this is what I work for, the chance to do what I love to do."
The lead changed hands six times in rainy and windy conditions. The teams battled to a 2-2 tie at the end of the first chukker. Gracida Wine pulled ahead 3-2 on Gracida's 60-yard penalty conversion and pulled away 5-2 on another Gracida penalty conversion before settling for a 5-3 halftime lead.
Carlitos Gracida of Gracida Wine plays the near side shot with Isidro Strada of Dundas Polo attempting to hook.
Dundas Polo started reeling them in late in the fourth chukker and scored back-to-back goals in the fifth chukker to tie the game at 6-6 before Gracida Wine's heroics in the sixth and final chukker.
"I am very happy to win it again," Monteverde said. "It's a great feeling and great team. I still don't understand what happened. The guys played amazing in the sixth chukker. They connected in every way. I think we just match in the field. Every one plays their position and it works. We just changed the back this year and you saw him scoring five goals. This is amazing."
Gracida and Giannico shared scoring honors each with a game-high five goals. Monteverde and Polledo each had one goal.
Jejo Taranco of Dundas Polo moves in on Juan Monteverde of Gracida Wine.
Strada led Dundas Polo with four goals. Merlos, Lockey and Taranco each had one goal.
In the semifinals Dundas Polo defeated Audi, 9-7, and Gracida Wine eliminated Beverly Equestrian, 13-10.
The single-elimination, winner-take-all tournament, coming off a year's hiatus in 2019, is the richest prize purse offered in club history. The tournament showcased the sport and its players at every level competing for the one of richest prize purses in the nation.
Teenager Santos Merlos of Dundas Polo hits a near side shot.
Each player on the winning team received $25,000 in prize money. The six-day tournament featured ten teams from 12 to 27-goal rating.
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.
Palm Beach Illustrated repeated as champions in 2018. Only Collingwood returned from the original team.
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.
Grand Champions Best Playing Pony Revancha played by Sterling Giannico
of Gracida Wine.
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 also featured 10-goaler Adolfo Cambiaso playing with his son Poroto in a U.S. tournament for the first time.
During the winter season in Wellington, Grand Champions is hosting 19 tournaments, the most of any club in the U.S., including four in January. The highlight of the schedule is the second season of the 26-goal World Polo League currently underway with the All Star Challenge followed by the Founder's Cup, marking the debut of 10-goaler Hilario Ulloa for Casablanca. Ulloa will replace 10-goaler and Argentine Open winner Juan Martin Nero, who re-injured his ankle.
American Polo Horse Association Best Playing Pony Vicki played by Carlitos Gracida of Gracida Wine.
With 18 safe and well-manicured fields, including 11-tournament grade, the club is hosting every level of polo for men, women and children including the WPL, the only 26-goal polo held outside of Argentina featuring the best players in the world.
The club attracts a large international field of players from all corners of the world including Australia, Chile, India, Mexico, New Zealand, Costa Rica, Argentina, Canada, Ecuador, Brazil, Switzerland, France, Germany, Uruguay, Venezuela, Azerbaijan, South Africa, Nigeria and England.
Grand Champions is coming off its finest fall season in the club's 13-year history. It was the only club in the nation to stage two 20-goal fall tournaments in addition to the International Cup and Legends of Polo Carlos Gracida Memorial. The club also hosted a full schedule of successful and highly-competitive medium goal tournaments.
Grand Champions Polo Club awards table for $100,000 World Cup.
Photos by ChukkerTV
Grand Champions and Santa Rita Polo Farm is the largest and most unique polo facility, nestled in the heart of the world's winter equestrian capital Wellington. It features 120 stalls in five self-contained barns, exercise track, five climate-controlled tack rooms, vet room, staff quarters, guest house and four polo fields with state-of-the-art underground irrigation including one field for stick-and-ball and new parking lot.
Grand Champions Polo Club and Santa Rita Polo Farm's 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, created by Melissa Ganzi when the club first opened.
The Polo School, a stand-alone USPA-sanctioned polo club, is thriving at Grand Champions and Santa Rita Polo Farm. 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. Scholarships are available. The Polo School operates in Wellington January through May and September through November. Headed by Director of Operations Juan Bollini, The Polo School has nurtured several men and women polo players now playing in the pro and amateur ranks since its inception.
2020 WINTER SCHEDULE
Top Pony 8 Goal
Monday 2/17 10 a.m. Woodrow vs Altaris
Saturday 2/22 10 a.m. WPL vs Skeneateles
Friday 2/28 Handicap Final
Saturday 2/29 Final
Halo Polo Trophy 6 Goal
Sunday 2/16 TuffRider vs Mayer Ranch
Monday 2/17 Mayer Ranch vs WPL
Seiber Memorial Trophy 12 Goal
Monday 2/17 3 p.m. Novo Polo vs Palm Beach Equine
WPL All Star Challenge
Sunday 2/16 4 p.m. Final at GCPC Field 2
Valiente vs SD Farms
FEB 19-MAR 1 WPL Founders Cup
FEB 25-MAR 8 $50,000 National 12-Goal
MAR 8 10 a.m. Great Futures Polo Day
MAR 1-29 Madelon Bourdieu Memorial
MAR 1-29 Limited Edition 8-Goal Series
MAR 1-28 Top Pony 12-Goal Series
MAR 4-22 WPL Palm Beach Open
MAR 28-APR 18 WPL Triple Crown of Polo
MAR 31-APR 4 WCT Finals
APR 4-19 Las Acacias, 4-8
APR 6-12 U.S. National Mixed Doubles Polo Championship
APR 9-12 World Polo League Beach Polo World Cup, Miami Beach
FEB-APR WCT Ladies Wednesday League
Polo Hotline 561-644-5050
THE POLO SCHOOL
The Polo School at Grand Champions and Director of Operations Juan Bollini are dedicated to teaching polo to all ages, particularly grass roots youth. The school's mission is to provide individuals opportunities in polo. The Polo School operates in Wellington January through May and September through November. For lessons contact Juan Bollini at 561-346-1099.
ChukkerTV, featuring cutting-edge technology, was the first to introduce state-of-the-art live streaming technology and instant replay in January, 2014 at Grand Champions Polo Club. For advertising opportunities on ChukkerTV please contact Mike Ferreira at email@example.com.
INFORMATION: For spectators, there are great field side views for tournament action and also the Grand Champions Polo Club Boutique. The club is home base for pro teams Audi and Flexjet. Everyone is welcome to watch every level of polo in a relaxed atmosphere with food and refreshments during the featured games of the winter, spring and fall tournament seasons and other special events. Admission is free except for some special events.