CLASH OF THE TITANS: Nespresso 40-Goal Challenge honors ill and injured.

Eight of the world’s highest-ranked players astounded crowds at the prestigious International Polo Club Palm Beach in Wellington, Florida on February 14 to help raise money for the Polo Players Support Group during the Nespresso 40-Goal Challenge fundraiser..

Now in its 14th year, today’s most accomplished and elite players, including the legendary icons of the sport, Sapo Caset and Facundo Pieres, performed in the country’s only 40- Goal exhibition match to help raise funds for seriously injured or ill polo players and grooms nationwide. Prior to the main exhibition match, a number of children of the featured professionals also took to the field for an impressive junior showcase of the next generation of talent.

Two teams of four children between the ages of 10 and 14 opened the event with the Bright’s Creek Future 10s Match. The Bright’s Creek team, comprised of Mia Cambiaso, Lucas Criado Jr., Mackenzie Weisz and Santos Merlos, came out on top with a 4-1 victory over the Grand Champions team of Lucas Escobar, Adolfo Cambiaso Jr., Matias Mac Donough and Mia Novillo Astrada

Shortly after the Bright’s Creek Future 10s Match, the Nespresso 40- Goal Challenge commenced with defending champion Equus & Co., led by Facundo Pieres from Argentina, alongside his brother, Gonzalo Pieres, together with the Uruguayan polo sensation, Pelon Stirling and Argentinean Miguel Novillo Astrada, taking on EFG. The opposing team was comprised of Argentinean players Hilario Ulloa, Polito Pieres, Juan Martin Nero and Sapo Caset. Ulloa stepped in for an injured Adolfo Cambiaso who was nursing a back injury.

EFG took a convincing 6-0 lead, but entered the fifth chukker down 8-6 before coming back for a decisive 11-9 victory thanks to Juan Martin Nero and Sapo Caset, who scored four goals each. Facundo Pieres led the scoring for Equus & Co. with four goals, while Gonzalito Pieres scored three. More than 2,000 polo enthusiasts from all over the country attended the event.

Nespresso, the worldwide pioneer and reference in premium portioned coffee, returned for the second time as a sponsor of the 40-Goal Challenge, and the first year as title sponsor. This year’s event was dedicated to and played in memory of the former 10- goal players Carlos Gracida from Mexico and Javier Novillo Astrada from Argentina. Carlos Gracida died in 2014 from injuries suffered on the field and Javier Novillo Astrada lost his life to cancer last fall. Both were heralded as two of polo’s greatest

competitors on the worldwide circuit. Following the main exhibition match, trophy presentations were made on the field to each of the competing players by team sponsor representatives Keith Gapp of EFG International and Jim Whisenand of Equus & Co. Each bronze trophy awarded to the players was created by famed sculptor Rich Roenisch and generously sponsored by the president of the Mexican Polo Federation, Guillermo Steta. Juan Martin Nero of EFG and his pony, Tatana, was presented with the Best Playing Pony award and the Grey Goose Long Shot of the Day award was presented to Polito Pieres.

Following the trophy presentations, the players, patrons, sponsors and invited guests moved indoors for the annual post-exhibition VIP Reception, hosted by master of ceremonies, Tony Coppola. The 500 VIP attendees made bids on a series of silent auction items that included jewelry, luxury vacations, La Martina polo equipment, art, and Nespresso’s stylish and innovative machines, including the VertuoLine system, which brews both American-Style large cup coffee and authentic espresso at the touch of a button.

During a three-course dinner courtesy of IPC Caterers, guests bid on more than a dozen donated items in the live auction ranging from a day of fishing in Florida on the Miss Budweiser yacht, to a Devon Timepiece, and a polo vacation at the Casa de Campo resort in the Dominican Republic. The annual highlight of the live auction was the players presenting each of their own signed La Martina polo jerseys worn during the match for bidders to win.

“This year’s Nespresso 40-Goal Challenge was one of the best we’ve seen,” said David Offen, co-founder of the Polo Players Support Group. “This [year’s] event has raised close to an astonishing $350,000 for seriously injured or ill polo players and grooms nationwide, and we thank all of our sponsors, patrons, guests and donors for helping to make the event such a resounding success.”

Co-founded in 2002 by Toronto native, David Offen with partners Tim Gannon and Tony Coppola, the Polo Players Support Group was established to provide financial assistance to seriously injured or ill polo players and grooms, and since its inception, the PPSG has paid out over $1.6 million to 53 beneficiaries to date.

“We’re pleased to collaborate with the Polo Players Support Group as the title sponsor to help raise awareness and support for this unique and worthy cause,” said Guillaume Le Cunff, president of Nespresso USA. “This continues to be a premier sporting event and an opportunity to showcase excellence on the field of play and off—celebrating the best polo players from around the globe and the world’s top quality coffee.”

Polo Hall of Fame inductee, Rob Walton, broke his neck while competing in 1995 and is now a quadriplegic. The Rob Walton Arena Benefits at Palm Beach Polo and the Rob Walton 40-Goal that originally took place in 2000 at Royal Palm Polo were the inspirations for the formation of the Polo Players Support Group by David Offen and Tim Gannon in 2002.

The 501(c)(3) non-profit organization continues to provide year-round financial assistance to seriously injured or ill polo players and grooms in the continental United States and overseas.

“This is our seventh year participating in the Nespresso 40-Goal Challenge as the official supplier, and we were delighted with the outcome,” says Adrian Simonetti, CEO of La Martina America. “Witnessing the camaraderie of all the players on the field and everyone involved continues to make the event extra special among all the charity polo events that La Martina participates in. Seeing the bids on the players’ jerseys worn during the match reaching four figures apiece gives us great pleasure in knowing the monies raised will provide financial assistance to the seriously ill or injured players and grooms that have given us so much.”

By Elliot Stares

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