Nov 07, 2017 10:00 AM


By Sharon Robb

In a wild game to the finish, Casablanca won the coveted North American Cup® with a hard-fought 11-9 victory over Audi Sunday, November 5, at Grand Champions Polo Club in Wellington, Florida.

In front of a packed house, worldwide ChukkerTV and USPA Polo Network audience, Casablanca (Grant Ganzi, 2, Juancito Bollini, 3, Mike Azzaro, 6, Julio Arellano, 8) and Audi (Guillermo Aguero, 5, Brandon Phillips, 5, Marc Ganzi, 2, Carlucho Arellano, 5) turned in one of the most physically-contested and closest finals of the fall season.

Image of North American Cup Polo winners Casablanca
Winning Casablanca team with awards presenter USPA CEO Bob Puetz.

"That was a very physically tough game," Arellano said. "I knew it would be a tougher game than the other day, but not that much. Everybody wanted to win and that's what happens. Winning one of the 20-goal tournaments here is always awesome. It was a step up. They were a good team so I was very happy." It was the third tournament victory for Casablanca, making their fifth championship finals appearance this season. Casablanca also won the US Trust Cup and USPA Fall Classic. It was Casablanca's second North American Cup title in tournament history.

"We expected that kind of game, but I think we were prepared," Bollini said. "This is a big win for us. It's always a big win when I play with Grant. It was probably not the best game to watch because there were a lot of fouls, but it was intense. We had three really good chukkers and they had three really good chukkers. But when the moments were tough I think we were the ones that ended up with the key plays."

Image of polo player Grant Ganzi
Grant Ganzi of Casablanca pursues Carlucho Arellano while Marc Ganzi defends.

Legendary Hall of Famer and former 10-goaler Mike Azzaro was named Most Valuable Player. The field general was clutch down the stretch and scored the go-ahead goal in the sixth chukker for a 10-9 lead. "This is an enormous win for us," Azzaro said. "I have won this a few times over the years but it's nice to win today. Grant, Juancito and I have been winning pretty much every tournament and playing well together. Twenty-goal polo is different than 12-goal," Azzaro continued. "We really did earn this. You really have to have the team clicking well to dominate. On Friday we had a hard game and it took a lot out of the horses. To come back today was difficult. We really had to be disciplined and mark them tight."

Audi started out with a 2-0 lead based on handicap which Casablanca quickly made up in the first four minutes of the game. With the score tied 2-2 with goals from Arellano and Ganzi, Audi took a brief lead, 3-2, on Phillips' goal with 3:08 left in the first chukker. Arellano tied the game to end the first chukker at 3-3. Back-to-back goals from Bollini gave Casablanca a 5-3 lead, but Audi came right back in a rainy second chukker, slowing the game and taking Casablanca out of their rhythm and trailed only 5-4 on another Phillips goal. "It was a good game," Arellano said. "We started off well, then they played well in the middle chukkers and then we were able to get our rhythm back at the end."

Image of polo player Juancito Bollini
Juancito Bollini of Casablanca goes to hook Carlucho Arellano of Audi.

The lead changed hands nine times as the physicality and intensity increased along with missed scoring opportunities, both from the field and penalty line, by both teams. By the fourth chukker, both teams missed a combined eight penalty shots. "Those guys are mounted really well," Azzaro said. "They are three solid, experienced players and Marc fights for everything, keeps his guys together and contributes on the field. They had a strong team." Azzaro quickly recovered from a fifth-chukker tumble when his horse stumbled at the 2:28 mark. He broke a 9-9 tie early in the sixth chukker on a nice run to goal after a steal. Arellano scored an insurance goal on a Penalty 3 with 3:03 left.

Image of BPP Antojo
Best Playing Pony Antojo, a 12-year-old gelding owned by Guillermo Aguero.

"It was a big win no doubt, we had to fight for everything," Ganzi said. "We wanted to use everyone, hit the ball and make it simple. But they got us a little rattled and took us out of our game. Audi played really well and had a good game plan. They were countering what we were doing and that's what good game plans do. They threw us off our plan for a while. Juancito and I had to work a lot more than we had been. Today was anyone's game. I never felt we were out of it. I always felt like we were there, but it was tough."

Antojo, a 12-year-old gelding owned and ridden by Aguero, was selected Best Playing Pony by the Tournament Committee.