GSA WINS GREENWICH: Youth prevails in East Coast Open.

A team of up-and-coming players, led by veteran Matias Magrini, came away with a victory in the season finale East Coast Open held at the Greenwich Polo Club in Greenwich, Connecticut.

Four teams, rated from 17 to 20 goals, competed over two weeks for a chance at raising the coveted Perry Trophy. GSA (Global Student Accommodation) included Henry Porter from Britain and Victorino ‘Toro’ Ruiz Jorba from Argentina, both 18 years old, Argentine Santino Magrini, 15, and his father Matias Magrini.

Temporary setback

Two years ago, after winning a 16-goal tournament, Annabelle Gundlach sat down with her pro, Brandon Phillips, to map out their future polo plans. Gundlach explained, “ ... I started in the sport for fun, but really, I always love to use the Winston Churchill aspect of the sport which is, polo is a passport to the world. With that we played in Germany, [and] I was invited to play in Africa. I made tons of new friends I probably wouldn’t have otherwise. So, in that vein, I call it check-the-box polo. Where would be a really great place to play? One of them obviously is in my backyard, Field 1 at IPC.”

IPC had just been sold to Mark Bellissimo and rumors abounded regarding the club’s future. The club was holding 20- and 26-goal polo, so that became Gundlach’s aim.

"It started with, OK, we don’t know what’s going to happen at IPC. We better hurry up and let’s do this,” said Gundlach. “The first thing we knew is I was going to have to up my string. ... The second thing we obviously had to figure out was what’s the best stepping stone to get there ... so we decided to play in Greenwich. [We] didn’t have to have the winning team, but needed that kind of experience and Greenwich was the perfect venue.”

The spring before the first 20-goal in Greenwich, Gundlach and Phillips went to Los Machitos, Mariano Aguerre and Nick Manifold’s breeding farm in Argentina. They focused on finding horses to be competitive.

They prepared to play at IPC with Aguerre as team captain. After the Greenwich season, they decided to round out the team with 6- goal Kris Kampsen. The team played the month of November in Argentina to get some experience, which Gundlach said was invaluable.

The team got its chance on IPC’s Field No. 1 earlier than expected, in the final of the Herbie Pennell Cup on New Years Day. “We were all laughing because we were like, OK, well, can we go home now? Are we done yet? Checked the box!” quipped Gundlach. “It was an amazing experience. The learning curve was ridiculously steep but it was an incredible experience.”

Gundlach says she is in a really nice position and happy with her string now. “I’m at least at the point where I can say, if I find something that’s better than my worse horse [or] better than my best horse, that’s where I am.”

After a fun season, Gundlach was looking forward to another season at Greenwich. She got there in May and it was rainy and cold. Phillips was still in Florida so she called him to say mentally she needed to get on a horse. She went over to the barn to ride with a friend, who she put on a normally quiet mare that you need to kick to make go. The horse was acting up and the one Gundlach was riding was quiet so she offered to switch. Gundlach adjusted the stirrups for herself but they were a bit too long and wouldn’t go up any more. She got on anyway and on the cold, miserable day, the horse spooked at something, and with all four feet in the air did a 180. Annabelle fell to the ground and broke her hand.

Determined to play the start of the season, Gundlach started getting injections in her hand. But after only the second game of the Monty Waterbury Cup, she broke four traverse processess—the bony projections off the side of each vertebrae where spinal muscles and ligaments attach—falling down stairs. Her doctors told her to stay off horses for six to eight weeks.

Intent on salvaging at least part of her summer polo season, she set her sights on getting healed up in time to compete in the East Coast Open, set to begin nine weeks later. With plenty of physical therapy and personal training she was back on a horse in three weeks preparing for the tournament.

Her team finished up the Monty Waterbury with a substitute and took the title. Next up was the Silver Cup. She had several options to consider: pulling her team, getting a substitute or offering the team to another patron.

Gundlach said, “I put every option on the table. I wasn’t going to pull out because that’s not really my style and none of this was [my teammates’] fault. We had another option of bringing in some Argentine 2-goal player ... that’s really like a 4, and doing it that way, and actually I offered the team to Maureen Brennan but it didn’t work out for her ... but at the same time, I was like, maybe there’s something better to do.”

Gundlach explained that she had met Joe Manheim, the patron of the Work to Ride team in the Monty Waterbury and Silver Cups and a board member of the Work to Ride program, in Argentina a year ago. He introduced her to Lezlie Hiner and showed her a video on the program. “I was blown away by the operation,” said Gundlach.

Gundlach decided to call Hiner to see if she had anyone from the program that could fill in for her in the Silver Cup. Hiner recommended Shariah Harris, who had played on her interscholastic team, had been to Argentina and played in some faster polo on the grass and was now attending Cornell University on a well-deserved scholarship.

For Gundlach, she liked the idea of giving back and doing something good better than winning at all costs. “For me it was really important that people recognize there are other options if something goes wrong,” explained Gundlach. “Instead of just pulling out a team or this or that, there are ways to do it that benefit everybody involved.

It’s giving back, it’s beneficial. It helps me, it helps the organization, it helps the person. It’s a wonderful collaborative effort.”

Gundlach reached her goal to be ready to play the East Coast Open. In the end, the team settled for winner of the consolation match in that event. Gundlach, Phillips, Kampsen and Aguerre will again train in Argentina this fall to get ready for the 20-goal winter season at International Polo Club.

Opportunity knocks
Harris was on the road traveling with Team USPA from Aiken, South Carolina to Sheridan, Wyoming when her phone rang. “I got the call while we had just stopped at the check point in Denver, Colorado. Another call came again within a few hours confirmed for the tournament and I was on the next flight out of Denver back to Philadelphia the next morning,” she explained.

She says she couldn’t believe it when she first found out she was being invited to play, and she screamed into the phone jumping up and down. “I’m sure people gave me weird looks but I didn’t care! I was so happy I would get a chance to play with and against people I admire in the sport. I was in shock,” she said.

Harris stayed in Greenwich for about two and a half weeks. “We had dinner all the time with my teammates and also the other players in the tournament. It was really nice to have those dinners to get to know what [the players] were like off the field. Fortunately, I was able to ride and exercise a good amount. I got to exercise some of Kris and Brandon’s horses, and we had a few practices,” she explained.

Gundlach had leased horses from Matias Magrini for Harris to play but with her interscholastic and intercollegiate experiences, she said it wasn’t hard getting used to them. “... I always had to ride and play new, unfamiliar horses. Adjusting to the speed was a bit difficult. Watching how it flows in the videos is nothing compared to when you’re actually on the field. Everything flies by so fast so you always have to be ready for anything and think 10 steps ahead,” said Harris. “The speed is the most fun part. You are almost never standing still or going slow, and the horses are amazing.”

Harris says she got a lot of helpful encouragement from her teammates. “All of my teammates were extremely helpful, encouraging and pushed me to make plays, which I appreciated a lot. Even some of the other players helped to direct me, especially in practices. Everyone was very helpful,” she explained. “I was extremely nervous, more so than I usually am when I’m going into games. The nerves disappeared a bit after I started getting more comfortable with my teammates though.”

As if playing in high-goal polo wasn’t enough, Harris didn’t realize she was also making history as the first black woman to play highgoal polo.

“Honestly, when it hit me that I would be playing in this tournament, I didn’t give much thought to the fact that I would be the first black woman to do so. I just knew this was a childhood dream that was finally happening. After I started realizing that I was making history, I was proud that I would be the one to start something that will hopefully promote more women of color or women to adopt the sport or at least peak their interest,” said Harris.

“I had a lot of mothers coming up to me, telling me that I was an inspiration to their daughters and then getting a chance to meet their daughters, who were really excited to get a picture with me. It was all a bit overwhelming to be honest, but opened my eyes to how people are starting to look up to me now.”

What advice would she give others pursuing something they love? “I would tell them to keep pursuing what makes them happy. If it’s difficult to achieve then that makes it all the more worthy of pursuing,” says Harris. “My mom always tells me that nothing good in life comes easy and I’d like to think that’s a saying that I’ve shaped my life around and I would encourage others to do the same.”

Harris got started in the sport at 8 or 9 years old, almost by accident. “My mom had gotten lost in [Philadelphia’s] Fairmount Park and made a wrong turn, which led her to the barn of the [Work to Ride] program. When we saw the horses, we wanted to go inside, and my mom actually met Lezlie Hiner, the director of the program, got applications for my brother, sister and I and we all applied. A few months later, we were accepted into the program.”

She says what drew her to the sport was watching the older boys in the program practice and play. “I was drawn into how physical the game looked, and to see how much fun they were having whenever they played. I decided that I wanted to be like them and play, so Lezlie started teaching me.”

The program has offered Harris many great opportunities. “My most memorable moment in the sport was when I got to travel with two of the boys that I looked up to in the program, Kareem and Daymar Rosser, and my older sister, She’Ree Harris, to play in the Unicef tournament in Nigeria when I was in ninth grade. It was my first time being out of the country, which made it very memorable. We also won the tournament, which was the icing on the cake,” explained Harris.

If given the opportunity to play high-goal polo again, Harris says she would jump at the chance. She would also like to compete one day with Adolfo Cambiaso.

Shortly after the Greenwich tournament, Harris was back to Cornell where she is an animal science major. She is also captain of the school’s women’s polo team so she will continue to compete in the sport.

The young men played together earlier this year, along with 18-year-old Juan Martin Zubia, capturing three 12-goals: the $50,000 National 12-goal, the Sieber Memorial and the Limited Edition 12-goal Series Handicap.

The team got off to a great start in the opening match of the East Coast Open tournament against Audi’s Chris Brant, Nick Manifold, Mariano Aguerre and Mariano Gonzalez. GSA began with a three-goal handicap, but costly mistakes early in the game gave Audi three opportunities from the penalty line, which they seized on to level the score. Ruiz knocked in a field goal that was matched by Gonzalez to even the score at 4-4 to end the first chukker.

The mistakes continued into the second with Audi capitalizing on three penalties, including a Penalty 1. Porter made two successful runs to goal and Ruiz split the uprights to knot the score at 7-all at the end of the chukker.

The young guns got their act together in the next two periods, scoring a combined six goals while Matias Magrini closed the back door on Audi to take a 13- 7 lead. The teams matched goals in the fifth before Audi rallied, outscoring GSA 3-1 in the sixth, but GSA held on for the 16-12 win.

Audi rebounded in its next game, edging Postage Stamp Farm (Annabelle Gundlach, Brandon Phillips, Miguel Astrada, Kris Kampsen) 12-11. It was the first game back for Postage Stamp’s Annabelle Gundlach, who was out for most of the season with injuries (see sidebar).

Audi’s Nick Manifold was injured in the first game of the East Coast Open and was replaced by Francisco Mera for the rest of the tournament. Mera struck first but Brandon Phillips responded for PSF.

Adding insult to injury, shortly after the game got underway, Gundlach was drilled with a ball just above the elbow. After a moment or two to shake it off, Gundlach was back in the game. Aguerre and Gonzalez shot to goal, giving Audi a 3- 1 lead after the first seven minutes. Audi doubled PSF’s score in the second and third chukkers (6-3, 10-5). PSF fought its way back with a pair of unanswered goals in the fourth. Audi outscored it 2-1 in the fifth, but PSF rallied for three unanswered goals in the sixth. Still it fell short and Audi had the narrow victory.

GSA’s next win was courtesy of Hublot (Bash Kazi, Marcos Garcia del Rio, Tomas Garcia del Rio, Tommy Biddle). GSA led after each chukker until the fourth, when Hublot caught up, 8-8. GSA took a 12-11 lead in the fifth and increased it to 13-11 for the win.

Hublot notched its first win with a 9-7 defeat of PSF. While Hublot led 6-2 at the half, PSF outscored Hublot 5-3 in the second half. Still, Hublot was able to hold on for the win.

With the preliminary games completed the teams faced off in the semifinals. PSF faced GSA, while Hublot faced Audi. GSA began with a three-goal handicap and doubled it within the first seven minutes. PSF got on the board in the second chukker, but GSA matched it. GSA’s Toro Ruiz sunk a Penalty 4 in the third and Kris Kampsen added two goals for PSF, ending the half 8-3 in favor of GSA. PSF rallied in the second with six goals but GSA added another five keeping it comfortably ahead 13-9 at the bell.

In the other semifinal, Audi took on Hublot, which began with a two-goal handicap. The teams traded goals in the first and Gonzalez added a pair of unanswered goals in the second, tying the score at 3-3 at the end of the second. Audi added three more in the third, while Hublot was silenced to end the half 6-3. Audi increased its lead to five in the fourth. Hublot scored its second goal in the fifth, but Audi responded with two more. Hublot added three goals in the sixth but it was too little, too late. Audi won 10-7, advancing to the final against a tough GSA squad.

The final was a rematch of the opening day game when Audi fell to GSA. But, this time, it was a much different game. Audi was better prepared and it showed. GSA started with a three-goal handicap, but was held to just one from the field. Mariano Aguerre put Audi on the board in the second, while GSA was shut down. GSA turned the tables in the third, shutting down Audi and scoring two more to end the half ahead 6-1.

Audi came back in the fourth with three in a row, including two open-goal penalties to come within two, but a goal by Santino Magrini put GSA ahead 7-4. Gonzalez sunk another Penalty 2 in the fifth, but Ruiz scored two in a row for GSA. A determined Audi got back in the game, scoring two quick goals. Ruiz sunk a Penalty 3 to keep a three-goal spread. Audi jumped right back in with two more to come within one but time wasn’t on its side and GSA held on for the win.

Santino Magrini was on the team that won last year (along with this year’s opponent Mariano Aguirre). Matias Magrini was named MVP and Machitos Tere, owned and played by Mariano Aguerre was named Best Playing Pony.

PSF ended on a good note after getting its first win in the Tommy B. Glynn subsidiary final against Hublot. Hublot held a 6-4 lead at the half but PSF knotted the score in the fourth. It took a first-time lead in the fifth scoring three goals to Hublot’s two. PSF scored three more in the sixth while Hublot was held to one giving PSF the 13-9 victory.

Usually, one team seems to dominate a polo season but this year was different when one patron decided not to play and other patrons switched teams from tournament to tournament. Peter Brant’s White Birch team, led by his longtime pro Mariano Aguerre, is always the team to beat. Brant hung up his mallets this year, however Aguerre joined forces with Joseph Manheim on the Work to Ride-Los Machitos team. The team played in the Monty Waterbury and the Silver Cup, before Chris Brant took over Manheim’s place for the East Coast Open wearing the Audi jerseys. Chris Brant played in the Monty Waterbury as Airstream, a team Mike Davis took over in the Silver Cup and East Coast Open under the Hublot name. Chris Brant sat out the Silver Cup.

In the Monty Waterbury, Work to Ride was caught in a three-way tie between Postage Stamp Farm and Airstream after all finished with 2-1 records. A fourth team, Mike Davis’ Cavalleria Toscana, finished 0-3. The Cavalleria team played under the Hublot name for the Silver Cup and Bash Kazi took Davis’ place for the East Coast Open. Postage Stamp and Airstream advanced to the final of the Monty Waterbury with Postage Stamp ultimately prevailing 9-7.

The Silver Cup was played the first two weeks in July. The first game pitted PSF against Work to Ride-Los Machitos. While PSF struggled to reach the goal, WTR led the day finishing on top, 11-8. WTR took its next game against Phoenix, but it was much closer. Phoenix began with two goals and led the first two chukkers. WTR took the lead in the third, 8-7, and held a one-goal lead to the end, 11-10.

Phoenix counted its first win over PSF, 9-8. PSF tallied five goals from the penalty line in a choppy game. Phoenix led 5-3 at the half. Postage Stamp took the lead, 7-6, but a strong sixth gave Phoenix the win. WTR took on Hublot in game four, winning the match, 9-8, with more than half its goals scored from the penalty line. Hublot fell in its next match, this time to Phoenix 6-5. Toro Ruiz and Matias Magrini scored three each in the win.

Hublot rebounded in its next match, this time against PSF. A hungry Hublot led 4- 0 after the first seven minutes. PSF chipped away at the deficit, coming within two at the half, 6-4. It trailed by just a goal in the fourth and fifth but Hublot increased the lead to two to ensure the 11- 9 win.

The final had Work to Ride-Los Machitos taking on Phoenix, which began with a two-goal handicap. WTR overcame the handicap midway through the second but Magrini scored to keep Phoenix on top 3-2. Aguerre scored a lone goal in the third to level the score at 3-3 at the half.

Aguerre traded goals with Ruiz in the fourth but a Penalty 3 conversion by Mariano Gonzalez put WTR on top 5-4. The teams traded goals in the fifth and again in the sixth leaving WTR narrowly ahead 8-7 at the final bell. Aguerre scored a game-high six goals. Ruiz, who led Phoenix with three goals, was honored with the MVP award and Aguerre’s Machitos Melody, a mare from his breeding program, was named Best Playing Pony.

In the subsidiary, Hublot edged PSF 13-11. The teams were knotted at 3-3 after the first chukker before PSF narrowly edged ahead 6-5 at the end of the second. A strong third chukker put Hublot up 10- 6 at the half. PSF scored four open-goal penalties in the second half, along with a field goal, but three tallies by Hublot kept its head above water, allowing it to take the 13-11 victory.

by Gwen Rizzo



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