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WORK TO RIDE PROGRAM BIG WINNER AT SANTA RITA ABIERTO

Apr 26, 2022 5:17 PM

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Grand Champions Team II Alyssa Perren reaches for the hook on Grand Champions Team I Gigi Velasquez.
Grand Champions Team II Alyssa Perren reaches for the hook on Grand Champions Team I Gigi Velasquez.

The Santa Rita Abierto was held on Saturday, April 16 to raise funds for Work To Ride and bring awareness to the underrecognized national-caliber program. Lezlie Hiner, founder and director of Work to Ride, was all smiles watching her student-athletes play alongside Argentine 10-goal brothers Jeta and Barto Castagnola in a competitive four-chukker game aboard top notch polo ponies owned by Santa Rita Polo Farm.

Grand Champions Team I (Gigi Velasquez, Shariah Harris, Marc Harley, Jeta Castagnola) and Grand Champions II (Alyssa Perren, Mosiah “Mo” Gravesande, Marc Harris, Barto Castagnola) both battled fiercely on the field, but ultimately ended up tying 7-all. The tie came as a buzzer beater, as Grand Champions II was leading 7-6 with just nine seconds of play left until Jeta Castagnola scored one last time to seal the stalemate.

Grand Champions Team I Shariah Harris on the nearside with Grand Champions Team II Mosiah Gravesande defending.
Grand Champions Team I Shariah Harris on the nearside with Grand Champions Team II Mosiah Gravesande defending.

For Grand Champions I, Shariah Harris led with three goals; Harley had two; and Velasquez and Jeta Castagnola each had one. For Grand Champions II, Marc Harris led with three goals; Gravesande had two; and Perren and Barto Castagnola each had one.

In a fast-paced game, both teams spent time in the lead. Grand Champions II led by as much as 6-3 in the third chukker, but Grand Champions I was able to generate more of an offensive presence in the final chukker to close the deficit. Velasquez's goal tied the game 6-all with 6:22 left on the clock. Gravesande fired back with the time ticking at 1:29 to put Grand Champions II in the lead, 7-6, but Jeta Castagnola's final second heroics left the two teams in a 7-all deadlock at the final horn.

Grand Champions Team I Marc Harley hitting half shot alongside Grand Champions Team II Marc Harris.
Grand Champions Team I Marc Harley prepares for a shot alongside Grand Champions Team II Marc Harris.

The match marked the first time the newly-minted Castagnola brothers played as 10-goalers on U.S. soil. They did not disappoint, putting on a dazzling display of dexterity and agility by hitting balls out of the air and using their pinpoint accuracy to set up amazing team plays. While they both played in the back and focused on hitting long passes and setting up well-organized plays for their teammates, they couldn't help themselves from having a piece of the action, each scoring a goal.

But it wasn't just about the polo. By the end of the game, fans were talking about Work To Ride, a non-profit that runs an equestrian program geared toward helping low income youth in the Philadelphia area by teaching them how to ride, care for and respect horses. They offer riding lessons, a summer camp and a polo program free to students. In exchange, the students help with barn chores at the program's home base, Chamounix Stables, a safe haven deep within Philadelphia's Fairmount Park.

Grand Champions Team I - Jeta Castagnola, Marc Harley, Shariah Harris, Gigi Velazquez.
Grand Champions Team I - Jeta Castagnola, Marc Harley, Shariah Harris, Gigi Velazquez.

“It’s given me the exposure that I normally wouldn’t have had in my community and where I grew up. Everything that was done for me, I’m incredibly grateful for,” said Kareem Rosser, a Work To Ride Program alumnus and captain of the first all-Black team to win a national interscholastic polo championship. "I am where I am today because of Work To Ride, and the impact the program had on my life was immeasurable," Rosser said. "I hope that my journey can inspire hope and inspiration in the lives of other young children in Philadelphia."

Grand Champions Team II - Alyssa Perren, Mosiah Gravesande, Marc Harris, Bartolome Castagnola.
Grand Champions Team II - Alyssa Perren, Mosiah Gravesande, Marc Harris, Bartolome Castagnola.

Work To Ride is in the midst of raising capital funds to renovate Chamounix Equestrian Center and create a new indoor arena. The multi-million dollar campaign broke ground in November for the new state-of-the art equestrian center. Grand Champions Polo Club president and owner Melissa Ganzi, who grew up in Philadelphia and graduated from University of Pennsylvania, and Dundas patron Sarah Siegel-Magness are co-chairing the committee to raise money for building the new indoor arena. If the non-profit reaches its fundraising goal, the arena could be built by 2023. The campaign has already raised $6.2 of its $8 million capital campaign.

Hiner shared, "The Work To Ride barn has been a home away from home for young people from nearby dense urban communities for nearly 30 years. These young men and women are an inspiration every day. The proposed indoor arena and renovations will allow us to expand our program to reach even more young people and transform more lives."

Bartolome Castagnola, Lezlie Heiner, Kareem Rosser, Shariah Harris, Gigi Velasquez, Marc Harley.
Bartolome Castagnola, Lezlie Heiner, Kareem Rosser, Shariah Harris, Gigi Velasquez, Marc Harley.

Work To Ride will host the inaugural Polo Classic in Philadelphia on September 24. Two polo matches will lead up to the Feature Cup Match, in which professional players will compete for a championship title. Rosser and polo icon Nacho Figueras will compete in the event. "Work to Ride far surpasses the stable walls, it changes lives," Figueras remarked.

All photos courtesy of ©Chukker TV/Candace Ferriera.

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