Nov 20, 2018 3:49 PM

2018 National Twenty Goal® Champions Casablanca pictured with USPA CEO Bob Puetz (L to R) Julio Gracida, Pablo Spinacci, Grant Ganzi, Whistle Uys.
2018 National Twenty Goal® Champions: Casablanca - Julio Gracida, Pablo Spinacci, Grant Ganzi, Whistle Uys, pictured with USPA CEO Bob Puetz.

Article courtesy of Grand Champions Polo Club/Sharon Robb

Casablanca defended their title in the National Twenty Goal® Tournament Sunday at windswept Grand Champions Polo Club in Wellington, Florida. In a tightly-contested game, Casablanca (Grant Ganzi*, Whistle Uys, Julio Gracida, Pablo Spinacci) defeated Flexjet (Melissa Ganzi, Jason Crowder, Jeff Blake, Juan Bollini) 11-9.

In a repeat of last year's final, Casablanca broke open a close game in the sixth chukker, outscoring Flexjet 3-1 to clinch the victory. Pablo Spinacci was named Most Valuable Player. Playing from the back, Spinacci was the defensive leader and also scored three goals including a penalty conversion. He finished with seven goals for the tournament. "I am very happy with the game and that we won," Spinacci said. "It was a good game. I liked our team, they were easy to play with."

Flexjet's Jason Crowder on the ball.
Flexjet's Jason Crowder on the ball.

Grant Ganzi added, "I have never played with Pablo before, but many times against him. He is a great player. He hit the ball really well today. He was a good drill sergeant for our team and led us well. I thought he was the best choice for MVP. He was the leader of our team, scored the goals when it mattered and put the ball where it needed to be at the most important part of the game. He was the most solid player on the team, no question."

Bliss, a 5-year-old mare bred and owned by Santa Rita Polo Farm, played by Spinacci, was named the game's Best Playing Pony. Tornado, a seven-year-old chestnut gelding played by Uys and owned by Franklin, Tennessee-based Graymar Farm was Best Playing Pony for the two-day tournament. Cupid, a seven-year-old grey gelding owned and played by Julio Gracida, was selected the American Polo Horse Association Best Playing Pony. The American Polo Horse Association was created in 2006 by Hall of Famer Sunny Hale to recognize polo ponies in America and encourages events that showcase them and the hard-working dedication of grooms.

In addition to Spinacci's three goals, Grant Ganzi scored a team-high four goals and Uys added three goals. For Flexjet, Blake scored a game-high six goals. Melissa Ganzi, Crowder and Bollini each had one goal.

Casablanca's Whistle Uys carries the ball downfield.
Casablanca's Whistle Uys carries the ball downfield.

"I'm really happy with the win, we played really well," said Grant Ganzi. "We came out strong. We had our moments where we lost our men. All in all we played pretty well and were very disciplined. We had a pretty good game plan set and didn't really alter that." As defending champion, the pressure was on Casablanca to repeat. "I tried not to think about it," Ganzi added. "I just tried to think about this game. I didn't want to think about defending the title."

Playing together for the first time in the tournament, Casablanca opened with a one-goal lead on handicap and built a 3-1 lead after two chukkers outscoring Flexjet, 2-1 and 1-0. Behind Blake's three goals, Flexjet outscored Casablanca, 3-1, to even the score at 4-all at the half. Behind Spinacci's two goals and another goal from Ganzi, Casablanca regained the lead, 7-6, at the end of the fourth chukker. Spinacci scored with 28 seconds left in the chukker.

Flexjet bounced back to outscore Casablanca, 2-1, with goals from Crowder and Blake to take an 8-7 lead before another Grant Ganzi goal scored at the 2:15 mark tied the game 8-all. It was all Casablanca in the final chukker. Uys scored early with 7:11 on the clock to retake the lead, 9-8. Two minutes later, Uys scored again for a 10-8 advantage. Melissa Ganzi converted a 30-yard penalty to trail by only one with 3:48 left. After Flexjet missed two scoring opportunities, Julio Gracida scored the insurance goal with 18 seconds left.

National Twenty Goal® Trophy.
National Twenty Goal® Trophy.

Uys, making his final appearance of the fall, finished off an outstanding season. He was a member of four winning teams during the medium-goal season, three titles with Sebucan and one with Whitehall Ranch. It was also his first National Twenty Goal® career title. "I am very happy with the win," Uys said. "I enjoyed it. It was a game that got a little heated and we got to play some good polo. It was fun. We wanted to win the National Twenty Goal®. My teammates were great and the guys we played against were great. They all played well. I am super happy with the season. The fields were good and the footing was incredible. The horses were confident and finished well. I was really happy with that."

In Friday's qualifiers, Flexjet defeated Travieso, 12-8, and Casablanca edged Audi, 10-9. In last year's National Twenty Goal®, Casablanca, one of the winningest teams in club history, won the title. The talented foursome of Grant Ganzi, Juancito Bollini, Mike Azzaro and MVP Jeff Blake defeated defending champion Flexjet (Melissa Ganzi, Jason Crowder, Pablo Dorignac, Juan Bollini) 13-6 to sweep the fall 20-goal tournaments.

*Grant Ganzi is a member of Team USPA. Team USPA is a USPA program designed to enhance and grow the sport of polo in the United States by identifying young, talented American players and providing mentored training and playing opportunities leading to a pool of higher-rated amateur and pro players and the resultant giveback to the sport of polo.

All photos ©ChukkerTV.