COAST TO COAST: Open play held in Greenwich, Santa Barbara.

Lucchese came away the winner in the 16-goal Gulfstream Pacific Coast Open 13-10 over Alegría/Valiente at the Santa Barbara Polo Club in Carpinteria, California on August 30. A week later, Audi upset White Birch in a 14-13 overtime final of the 20-goal East Coast Open at the Greenwich Polo Club in Connecticut.

Alegría/Valiente gets the boot In past years, the historic Pacific Coast Open has been played as a 20-goal event but was lowered this year to 16 goals in the hopes of attracting more teams. Five teams rounded out the tournament played between August 14-30, each playing the other four teams.

In the opening round on August 14, Alegría/Valiente edged Farmers and Merchants Bank 13-12. Later in the day, Wildcat crushed Klentner Ranch 15-7. Two days later, Klentner Ranch bounced back to defeat Farmers and Merchants Bank 13-12 in overtime, while Lucchese edged Wildcat 13-12, also in overtime.

Play continued with Wildcat getting the best of Alegría/Valiente 16-9 while Klentner Ranch beat Lucchese 12-10. On Friday, August 21, Farmers and Merchants Bank met Lucchese, however the game stopped when Lucchese’s Nacho Badiola collided with Farmers’ Geronimo Obregon. Badiola was knocked unconscious and transported by helicopter to a nearby hospital. He suffered a serious concussion, punctured lung and several broken bones. He is expected to recover after several months of rest.

The players were too rattled to continue so the game was postponed for several days. Badiola’s teammate Jeff Hall was later put on probation for the remainder of the year after losing his temper during the incident and employing unsportsmanlike conduct toward the umpires. Obregon was later suspended for the remainder of the year for his involvement in the accident. Julio Gracida replaced him on the team.

Play continued later in the day with Alegría/Valiente defeating Klentner Ranch 11-7. A few days later, Lucchese finished the game against Farmers and Merchants with a 13-10 victory. With Facundo Obregon in the irons for Badiola on Badiola’s top horses, Lucchese won its next game against Wildcat, 17-12, securing a place in the final. The same day, Alegría/Valiente edged Klentner Ranch 9-8 to advance to the final.

In the final, Lucchese led almost the entire way to capture the title. Facundo Obregon got the scoring started with a penalty conversion and Jeff Hall added a field goal for a 2-0 lead after the first chukker. Julian Mannix got Alegría on the board in the second and teammate Sterling Giannico followed with a goal to tie the match, but Obregon split the uprights and Hall converted a penalty to go up by two. A Penalty 1 in Lucchese’s favor gave it a three-goal advantage.

Santi Torres got Alegría back in the game with a pair of goals and Mannix tied the score at 5-5. Obregon converted a penalty to put Lucchese back on top but Giannico answered to tie the score at 6 at the half.

Obregon took back the lead with a penalty conversion, then a field goal by John Muse increased the lead to two. Mannix scored a penalty conversion but Tete Grahn responded to keep Lucchese ahead 9-7. Grahn scored another early in the fifth before Mannix scored a penalty and a field goal to bring Alegría within one, 10-9 going into the final period.

Costly mistakes by Alegría gave Lucchese two opportunities from the penalty line, of which Obregon took full advantage, added to a field goal for a 13- 9 score. Mannix scored in the waning minutes, but it was not enough and Lucchese had the win.

Tete Grahn was named MVP, while Jeff Hall’s Rocky was Best Playing Pony. In the consolation Western Badge and Trophy final, Farmers and Merchants Bank got the best of Klentner Ranch 9-8. Remy Muller was named MVP and Jesse Bray’s Feliz was Best Playing Pony.

Audi slips White Birch a Miki In a joint effort about a year in the planning and implementation, the USPA joined with the Greenwich Polo Club to host the East Coast Open complete with one of the truly legendary polo trophies, the Perry Cup (see sidebar).

Established in 1981 by Peter Brant, the Greenwich Polo Club is one of the most beautiful venues for high-goal polo during the summer season, located in the fabled greenbelt of Greenwich.

The East Coast Open was founded in Rhode Island in 1905 and was played continuously until World War I. It had a renaissance starting in 1978 when Donald Little, then president of the United States Polo Association and captain of the Myopia Polo Club, resurrected the tournament and brought it to Myopia Polo Club in South Hamilton, Massachusetts where it was played until the early 2000s. It later made its way to Greenwich. Through its history, some of the best players in the world have participated in the event.

The tournament was played in a crossbracketed format with teams in each division playing each of the teams in the opposite division. The top four teams based on win/loss record advanced to the semifinal matches.

ChukkerTV live-streamed all the matches and provided excellent replay for the USPA officials assigned to the tournament.

To kickstart the event, the draw was held at jewelers Shreve, Crump & Low on Greenwich Avenue where Joaquin Panelo and Santino Magrini and two well-attired polo ponies greeted the curious and delighted public outside. It was a very successful evening with over 200 people stopping by to engage with the polo players and take photos with the horses.

Six very competitive teams entered the draw, with Audi having to completely reorganize its lineup when Kris Kampsen suffered a serious neck injury while riding a bicycle. Ganzi enlisted the help of Miguel Novillo Astrada and Juancito Bollini to fill the void.

The team’s troubles did not end there. On the way to Greenwich from Aspen, the truck pulling the Audi horse trailer blew an engine in Kansas. A replacement truck was quickly brought in so the horses could be on their way, but it was a long day on the road for them.

Later, while traveling through Ohio, Pennsylvania, the trailer was rear-ended by a semi truck. The impact broke the trailer hitch and cracked the trailer.

Fortunately, the horses suffered only superficial cuts and bruises to their faces and legs. Another trailer was brought in to get the horses safely to Greenwich, but it was another long day for the horses. Once the teams were settled in, the opening round of the East Coast Open commenced August 22 under a beautiful blue sky with Audi, White Birch and Airstream earning hard-fought victories.

The first match of the day featured Chris Brant’s McLaren against his father’s tough White Birch team. It was a very fast and open game with the skill and experience of Mariano Aguerre, Hilario Ulloa and Peter Brant matching the energy from 14-year-old Santino Magrini helping to overcome McLaren’s Tommy Biddle, Nick Manifold and Joao Paulo Ganon 16-12.

Later that afternoon, Peter Orthwein’s powerful Airstream squad, with Gigi Aguero, Michel Dorignac and Matias Magrini, took on underdog Turkish Airlines comprised of Bruce Colley and Joseph Meyer splitting the No. 1 position, Joaquin Panelo, Tomas Garcia del Rio and Stevie Orthwein. Turkish Airlines began the match with a three-goal handicap, but Airstream proved a tough and resilient combination, winning 17-13.

The first Sunday match drew a large crowd as Marc Ganzi’s Audi squared off against Bash Kazi’s KIG. Miguel Novillo Astrada, Nic Roldan and Juancito Bollini joined Ganzi to battle Kazi’s spirited team of Mariano Obregon, Pelon Escapite and Valerio Zubiaurre. Despite valiant efforts by a determined KIG team, the final score was 11-6 in favor of Audi. Nic Roldan was named the Most Valuable Player and high scorer with six goals.

The next playoff match was scheduled for Wednesday, August 26. White Birch survived a valiant effort by Airstream to win a close one 11-10. Airstream trailed the match the entire day, however, but mounted a comeback in the sixth chukker when it was on the short end of an 11-8 score.

A double-header was scheduled for the following day. Audi met Turkish Airlines in a game in which, despite a three-goal handicap advantage, Turkish Airlines found itself overmatched by a powerful Audi effort that revved the halftime score to 12-5. The second half was a bit lackluster with Audi building a 14-6 lead into the sixth before ultimately winning 14-9.

Later that day, McLaren started strong against KIG, adding to its one-goal handicap and gaining a 6-3 advantage after two periods. KIG scored five unanswered goals in the third, led by Escapite, making the halftime score 8-6 in KIG’s favor. The second half continued to be the Escapite show and before the day was over, he scored a game high nine goals to lead his team to a 16-12 win.

Biddle scored eight in a losing cause.

On Saturday, August 29, Airstream edged KIG 8-4 at the half. KIG’s Obregon led a counterattack with five second-half goals and his best performance of the tournament, only to fall to Airstream 13- 11. The last of the playoffs were held the next day. Based on their winning records, the Audi vs. White Birch game would determine semifinal seeding. White Birch led 7-4 at the half and cruised to a 13-9 win.

Before another large crowd for the feature match, McLaren surprised everyone with a comeback win over an eager Turkish Airlines team. If Turkish Airlines had won, a shootout would have been necessary to determine the semifinalists. Building on a two-goal handicap advantage, Turkish Airlines built an 8-3 lead and seemed in total command of the match. The teams traded goals in the fourth, with Turkish Airlines maintaining its lead at 10-6 to begin the fifth. Biddle and Ganon took over the match, combining for five goals in the last two periods to get the 12-11 edge in one of the more entertaining games to watch in the entire playoff round.

In the much-anticipated semi-final round on Wednesday, September 2, topseed White Birch defeated fourth-seeded KIG 11-7, after building a formidable 8-3 halftime lead.

No. 2 seed Audi advanced later that day with an impressive 14-10 victory over No. 3 Airstream. Roldan put in a 10-goal effort, leading the team with eight goals. Audi played smart, team-oriented polo and was aggressive from the opening chukker. Bollini, 19, turned in his finest performance of the tournament, defending the veteran Magrini well and scoring an incredible nearside neck shot in the opening chukker from a pass from Novillo Astrada. Audi led from wire-towire, increasing its 8-5 halftime lead to a six-goal cushion after five periods.

Turkish Airlines and McLaren met on September 5 to play for the Thomas Glynn Cup, a consolation event that provided the fans with a great deal of entertaining and high-quality polo.

Turkish Airlines led the game 8-1 going into the second chukker before Biddle scored eight goals in the first half to make the score 10-8. After needing overtime to determine the winner, Biddle’s 12th goal, a Penalty 4 conversion, captured the cup for the McLaren team.

The final game was played September 6 before a standing-room-only crowd that came to witness an intriguing match-up of two powerhouse high-goal polo teams meeting for the first time in a major USPA competition.

Peter Brant, one of the highest-rated amateurs when he held a 7-goal rating, and his White Birch team held a 4-0 record in this tournament and had not lost a game in three years.

Earlier in the week, a 13-9 defeat of Audi proved little to most who understand the machination of winning polo events. Audi’s Marc Ganzi built a dynamo of a polo operation, competing successfully in the Florida high-goal. His Audi team won the 2015 26-goal USPA Gold Cup over some of the best players and horses in the world.

A pair of former 10-goal masters of the game, Aguerre for White Birch and Astrada for Audi, led these two wellmounted and well-prepared teams. Both teams featured teenagers Magrini and Bollini who have high-goal fathers. Both teams had what many feel will be 10-goal players in the near future in Ulloa and Roldan. And both teams had veteran owners who wanted to win this prized tournament. While Ganzi was hoping to add his name to the trophy for the first time, Brant was hoping for a baker’s dozen, having won it 12 times before.

It seemed fitting when Brant scored the first goal. The White Birch lead was short lived though, as Astrada shot back with two first-period goals. Both teams seemed tense, hurried and looking for real and imagined penalty calls from professional umpires Kevin Fawcett and Horton Schwartz. White Birch held on to a narrow 7-6 lead before the large, enthusiastic crowd made their way on the field to stomp in divots at halftime.

The second half opened up a bit, however, showing the match to be a cat and mouse game—players rushing to plays and costly penalties resulting in open-goal opportunities for both teams. Aguerre seemed to take over the game in the fourth on his feisty mare, Scarlett, and White Birch sported its biggest lead at three goals. A deep neckshot by Roldan and a Penalty 2 conversion by Astrada kept Audi in the running.

Meanwhile, Astrada, known to his teammates as Miki, kept up the pressure, continually sending passes to teammates, converting penalty opportunities and keeping his team focused on staying close to White Birch.

White Birch led 13-12 with 2:03 on the clock in the sixth when Audi was whistled on the play. Ulloa, 100 percent with his penalty conversions thus far, took the shot. However, Astrada, standing on the field by the goal mouth, incredibly poked the ball out of the air and sent it over the backline. A Safety was called and Ulloa got another shot from 60-yards, but it was not to be.

Audi breathed a sigh of relief and kept on fighting. With less than a minute left, Astrada stretched out across his pony’s ears, hooked Aguerre and made an incredible backshot all in one smooth motion. The ball found Ganzi who was closing in on the goal, but a White Birch player crossed him and drew a whistle. Audi was awarded a Penalty 2, which Astrada easily slipped through the posts, sending the tied game into overtime.

The overtime period was anyone’s game. The ball bounced in White Birch’s favor from the throw in; Roldan backed it but blocked by a horse, Aguerre sent it back up field. The ball took a bad bounce, but he was able to flip it to Ulloa. Ulloa, being ridden hard, was unable to get to it, but Astrada got the backshot.

Ganzi spun his horse around, jumped on the pass and made a breakaway. Roldan ran out front but could not connect with the pass. Ganzi passed the ball again, and this time Roldan found the mark. The game was over and Audi was on top 14-13! Miguel Novillo Astrada was deservedly honored as MVP, while Mariano Aguerre’s Machitos Avispa, a pretty chestnut, was named Best Playing Pony.

The NBC Sports Network aired a 60- minute national broadcast of the final on September 13 with color analysis by former 10-goaler Adam Snow. According to preliminary estimates, the broadcast reached over 184,000 viewers.

By Peter J. Rizzo

     
 

The Perry Trophy

The Perry Trophy Since 1905, players in the East Coast Open championship have competed for the right to have their names etched in the Perry Trophy. It was donated by Mrs. Marsden Jaseal Perry, wife of a respected businessman, well-known clubman and owner of the largest Shakespearian library in the United States, for the competition. Perry was a descendent of the prominent Perry Family of Rhode Island, many of whom had distinguished navy careers.

The trophy, designed by noted American sculptor Oscar L. Lenz and created by Gorham manufacturing Company in Rhode Island, includes a ring dial (naval tool) floating on waves. A nautical figurehead, which traditionally leads sailors safely on their way, is attached to the side of the dial, and is reaching up to offer a mounted polo player a leaf, believed to be a symbol of peace, protection and achievement.

The cup has recently been restored and is making its second renaissance debut after nearly 15 years.

 

 
     

 

 
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