Oct 16, 2017 12:00 AM


By Sharon Robb

After getting to three finals and winning back-to-back tournaments, Casablanca is already the most dominant team of the fall season at Grand Champions Polo Club in Wellington, Florida.

On Saturday, October 14, at Santa Rita Polo Farm's Aspen Field, the foursome of Cacho Galindo, Grant Ganzi, Juancito Bollini and Mike Azzaro edged out Team USPA 9-8, to win the USPA Fall Classic.

winning Casablanca teammates
Winning Casablanca teammates Cacho Galindo, Juancito Bollini, MVP Mike Azzaro and Grant Ganzi.

In front of a local crowd and worldwide ChukkerTV audience, Casablanca held on for the win after leading Team USPA (Matias Gonzalez, Jesse Bray, Felipe Viana, Jimmy Wright) from start to finish.

It was Team USPA's final appearance after a successful training camp at Grand Champions Polo Club. The team left Sunday, October 15, for Sydney, Australia, site of the October 21-29 XI FIP World Polo Championship. Team USPA, which has been practicing and playing on various horses at Santa Rita Polo Farm, is one of eight teams from five world zones.

Casablanca and Team USPA
USPA Fall Classic finalists Casablanca and Team USPA with awards presenter Marc Ganzi.

"I think Team USPA is ready for worlds," said Ganzi. "I really liked the way they played today. They have made a lot of improvements since they started training here. In the beginning, they were missing back shots that were key, tapping the ball and turning it too much. Now on those crucial plays where they need to hit the backshot or hit the ball they do it and I think that's going to make the difference."

For the second consecutive week, legendary Hall of Famer and former 10-goaler Mike Azzaro of Casablanca was selected Most Valuable Player. Azzaro, a 6-goal player, scored two goals and provided leadership and playmaking on the field for his three young teammates.

BPP Girl Power
Best Playing Pony Girl Power owned by Santa Rita Polo Farm.

Girl Power was chosen Best Playing Pony. The 6-year-old mare was ridden by Ganzi, and owned by Santa Rita Polo Farm. Bollini led Casablanca scoring with four goals and Ganzi added three. Viana led Team USPA scoring with five goals and Wright added three goals including a 230-yard run to goal after taking a knock-in to cut Casablanca's lead to 9-7 with 3:46 left in the game. Viana converted a 60-yard penalty with 34 seconds left.

Ganzi is a repeat winner of the USPA Fall Classic as a member of the last year's winning Casablanca team along with MVP Jesse Bray, Jared Sheldon and Tony Calle. It was also the second consecutive tournament victory for Ganzi, Azzaro and Galindo.

Jesse Bray and Grant Ganzi
Jesse Bray of Team USPA defends Grant Ganzi of Casablanca.

Ganzi, 19, and Bollini, 21, are coming off a successful summer polo season at Aspen Valley Polo Club in Carbondale, Colorado, where they finished with five tournament victories as teammates and Casablanca finished with three tournament wins, the most of any team during the summer season.

"Aspen was really special, we just had everything clicking," said Ganzi. "We had good teammates and playing with Mike obviously helped. We had tough opponents. Juan and I were just on most weekends. We were able to be consistently competitive. I want to improve and my biggest goal is I want to win.”

"Today Team USPA was really tight on the man," continued Ganzi. "I think we missed a few, but we missed a lot more the other day. What made the game messy at times was it really wasn't very open, only when there were counter attacks did the play open up. Team USPA closed the game down. We did a good job defensively."

Cacho Galindo scores
Cacho Galindo of Casablanca scores in the third chukker with Matias Gonzalez defending.

Casablanca started off strong jumping out to a 4-1 lead early in the second chukker behind two goals by Ganzi. Team USPA started whittling away the lead by the end of the chukker closing down Casablanca's open field and playing the man. In the second half, Team USPA cut Casablanca's lead to one twice (6-5, 7-6) but was unable to overtake them. Casablanca led every chukker, 2-1, 4-3, 6-4, 7-5 and 8-6.

"The whole idea was to win," said Azzaro. "From my side, I wanted to really challenge our players and let Grant, Juancito and Cacho pick it up. Those boys played awesome today. They came through and did what they needed to do. Grant and Juancito were rotating and making the important plays. Team USPA played a really solid game. If they go over and play like they did today, they will win. We were up by three goals, but they put pressure on us. We made mistakes and they capitalized."

Casablanca talks strategy
Casablanca's united teammates including MVP Mike Azzaro talk strategy between chukkers.

Azzaro enjoys his playmaking field general role mentoring his teammates. There were several opportunities where he had scoring opportunities but unselfishly passed off to his teammates. "I don't want to be that 10-goal player out there dominating the plays, how are they going to learn?" said Azzaro. "When I need to score I do. I understand the boys and I try to play with them. I don't try to control them, I try to teach them and put the reins in their hands. Everything is positive."

Mike Azzaro
MVP Mike Azzaro

In the opening Grand Champions Cup subsidiary, Sebucan (Guille Aguero, Pablo Pulido, Marc Ganzi, Jason Crowder) edged Flexjet (Melissa Ganzi, Andres "Lala" LaPlacette, Brandon Phillips, Juan Bollini), 9-8. Sebucan jumped out to a 4-1 lead in the second chukker and led 9-6, going into the sixth chukker when Flexjet started reeling them in with goals from Phillips and LaPlacette before running out of time. Pulido led Sebucan scoring with five goals and Aguero added four goals. All four players on Flexjet each scored two goals.

In the second Aspen Valley Cup subsidiary, Newport (Sergio Silvestre, Gene Goldstein, Pablo Dorignac, Carlitos Gracida) won after the game was called in the third chukker because of heavy rains. Newport was leading Santa Clara (Lucas Escobar, Benjamin Avendano, Kris Kampsen, Luis Escobar), 5-0, with two goals from Dorignac.

The USPA Fall Classic was the third of six medium goal tournaments along with two 20-goal tournaments, the USPA North American (October 27-November 5) Cup and USPA National 20-Goal (November 8-19) and November 25 doubleheader with the Carlos Gracida Memorial Legends of Polo and International Cup pitting defending champion Team USA against Brazil.

Photos ©ChukkerTV.