Wellington, Florida – April 4, 2015 – In another exciting overtime match in the 111th U.S. Open Polo Championship at the International Polo Club Palm Beach (IPC), FlexJet defeated defending U.S. Open champion Alegria 11-10 in bracket play Saturday. It was the fourth game that was tied at the end of regulation play since the tournament began just a week ago.
In a game with more moving parts than a pinball machine, FlexJet and Alegria swarmed up and down the field, mesmerizing spectators with some of the slickest moves ever in U.S. Open Polo Championship play.
Victorious FlexJet got off to a deceptively slow start, however, making a single goal in the first chukker and none in the second. Its first point came from the mighty Miguel Astrada, the high scorer of the game with seven goals. At the start of the third chukker Alegria was leading by five points (one of them an automatic goal from a penalty one), with each of its players having contributed at least one goal.
Then something awakened the sleeping giant. FlexJet suddenly scored three points and stopped Alegria in its tracks, keeping its opponent scoreless in the chukker. Once FlexJet kicked into gear, it shot ahead with the bone-rattling force of the Formula Rossa roller coaster in Abu Dhabi. More often than not the acceleration came from the double-duty machine known as Nic Roldan, who can (and did) play defense in one stride and offense in the next – all without missing a beat.
Roldan, who made three goals, all from the field (including the winning one in OT), demonstrated a repertoire of stunningly effective moves. He made a habit of snatching the ball just as it was about to be swallowed up by the looming jaws of Alegria’s goalmouth. Then he’d swivel and streak down the field with it in the opposite direction, three or four black jerseys scrambling after him. More often than not, the numbers on the scoreboard changed, either the result of a direct delivery from Roldan’s mallet or a handoff from him to one of his teammates. Roldan’s three-way passing game with Astrada and Laprida was the hallmark of the game.
FlexJet remained hungry in the second half, systematically tightening Alegria’s lead. Astrada, a master tactician, was a major factor in his team’s progress. In addition to being a scoring machine, he subtly controlled the game from the back – hence his moniker, “The Hypnotist.” Astrada earned that calling card from his propensity to lull his opponents into a false sense of security in the first half and blindside them in the second. He played a game of sneaky stick in the fifth chukker, faking everyone out with what looked like a sure-fire backshot in the making. Getting his opponents to look down the field in anticipation, he sent the ball in the other direction to Laprida before they could do anything about it.
A smooth-as-silk play among all four FlexJet players brought the score to 8-all at the end of the fifth chukker. Astrada and Hilario Ulloa, who also played a strong game, each made two goals in the sixth. Roldan had the last word in overtime, giving FlexJet an 11-10 win.
“We had a system; we stuck to it, and we just kept fighting,” said Roldan, who, when he was 15, became the youngest player to win the U.S. Open Polo Championship Final and still holds that distinction today. “We knew it was going to be super tough today. They won the Open before, and they’re one of the top teams out there.”
With a nod toward his teammates, he said, “It’s been amazing to play with these guys – Magoo and Miguel are amazing, and Melissa played great – she got a lot of important fouls. Everyone did their job, and that’s the way to win, along with a little bit of luck and pushing through. Today was our day. We’re happy to have won, and now we’ve got a big one coming up on Wednesday.”
That’s the thing about gladiators like the FlexJet squad – they’re already “playing” the next game when lesser athletes would still be relishing the win. Astrada hadn’t even taken off his boots when Mark Ganzi handed him a piece of paper with handwritten numbers and notations scrawled on it. While he was intensely studying the stats, a little boy walked up to Astrada, gingerly carrying a polo ball and a marker pen. Astrada looked up and smiled. He signed the ball and passed it on to the other FlexJet players, who did likewise. A lighter vibe wafted through the tent, and then it was time to refocus and analyze what had gone down on the field. What worked? How did they win?
“I don’t know, really!” said Laprida with a good-natured laugh. “It was a really tough game. We were down by five, and it looked like it was going to be tough for us, and it was tough, but we just kept fighting. When we get fighting that’s how we give ourselves a chance.”
Melissa Ganzi, who said she credited Astrada’s leadership for the win, added that she “couldn’t have been happier with my horses and the whole team effort.”
In Astrada’s view, “We had a pretty slow start, but then we were able to turn it around (thanks to) Juan Bollini and Marc Ganzi. From the outside they helped us come out and change the plan. We went chukker by chukker, doing our plan, and it really worked,” he said.
Before the shift in strategy, he said the team had been “rushing a little bit with the ball, and then at one point we were trying to tap it too much. So we had to get a balance between that and also had to get one player more in the back. We figured out we had to start it from the back, and we got a little bit more defense and had more patience with the ball. That was the key.”
Audi Rockets Past Lechuza Caracas, 10-7
Audi defeated Lechuza Caracas 10-7 in bracket play for the 111th U.S. Open Polo Championship at the International Polo Club Palm Beach.
In a match that was as much a game of wits as a game of skill, it was Audi’s keen sense of strategy that put the team on top. The match leapt into full throttle from the start. Agustin Garcia Grossi made the first goal for Lechuza Caracas with a shot along the ground under pressure from Audi defenders. Audi immediately rallied back with a penalty conversion to tie the score 1-1 for the remainder of the first chukker.
The second chukker started out with the name Pieres frequently being called out by long-time IPC announcer Tony Coppola. A penalty conversion by the steady-handed Gonzalito Pieres put Audi in the lead momentarily, but brother Nico Pieres had other ideas, tapping in a goal at the last second from a run. Grossi picked the pocket of Rodrigo Andrade and took off into a breakaway to tie the score once again at 3-3.
Andrade came back with a vengeance, making an assist to Gonzalito Pieres for a goal and then racking up a goal of his own, creating the first two-goal lead of the game. However, neither team could get comfortable in a match where players circled like sharks, waiting for an opportunity. Juan Martin Nero proved just that, driving in two unanswered goals. Nico Pieres took the ball from coast to coast, driving it from one end of the field to the other to score and take back the lead for Lechuza Caracas at the half.
Andrade earned the nickname “Brazilian ace” from Coppola at the start of the second half, outmaneuvering Nico Pieres for a goal and then launching a spectacular 80-plus yard shot to score. The match continued at a wide-open pace, with Victor Vargas making a strong run to goal and then sinking a sharp cut-shot to tie the score 7-7 at the end of the fourth chukker.
The fifth chukker was stop-and-start for the first minute, with several whistles on plays. Gonzalito Pieres, always steady under pressure and Audi’s clutch hitter from the penalty line, sank a penalty conversion to pull ahead. Audi continued to dig in with another goal from Gonzalito Pieres, making the score 9-7. Fred Mannix made a huge lofted shot from a center hit to drop the ball down for Marc Ganzi to tap in and cement Audi’s lead going into the sixth chukker.
The game was on the line in the sixth chukker, and Audi stepped up to the plate. In a scoreless chukker, they were on top of the ball. Lechuza Caracas worked hard to overcome its three-point deficit, but to no avail. The match ended in regulation time 10-7.
Mannix felt like all the pieces came together for this win.
“I think everyone’s getting in the perfect rhythm at the right time, and the horses are performing,” said Mannix. “This is what happens when you design a team with everyone in the right positions.”
Gonzalito Pieres credited a change in strategy for Audi’s win, saying, “In the beginning, we were too committed to offense and suddenly we were giving breakaways to them. We decided to be more man-on-man and turning fast for our backshots. We started hitting good backshots and making runs.”
Ganzi said hard work and strategy culminated in today’s important win. “This week we went back to work,” he said. “We worked on a few things, looked at a lot of tape, and really felt like we had to get back to the way we were playing at the end of the Gold Cup. We went back to basic polo, which was sort of ‘Own the man first, and the ball will be there for you.'”
Play in the U.S. Open Polo Championship continues Sunday at IPC, with Orchard Hill playing Las Monjitas at 10 a.m. The featured match pits Valiente against Coca-Cola at 3 p.m. on Engel & Völkers field.
International Polo Club Palm Beach Fast Facts
What: Created by players for players, the International Polo Club Palm Beach was born out of the dream to build a facility to showcase the incredible skills of the ponies and players that dominate the sport.
Members and guests enjoy panoramic views of the action from field side box seats or lawn and terrace seating. Sponsors and fans convene at The Winners Circle to congratulate the players during the awards presentation following the games.
Gourmet brunches, après polo celebrations and the prerequisite charitable events will take place in The Pavilion, designed to accommodate large parties, corporate clients, as well as family and friends.
Herbie Pennell Cup – 20 Goal
Jan. 1-4, 2015
Joe Barry Memorial Cup – 20 Goal
Jan. 4-25, 2015
Ylvisaker Cup – 20 Goal
Jan. 28 – February 22, 2015
Iglehart Cup – 20 Goal
Feb. 28 – March 8, 2015
USPA C. V. Whitney Cup – 26 Goal
Feb. 15 – March 1, 2015
Piaget USPA Gold Cup® – 26 Goal
March 4-22, 2015
111th Maserati U.S. Open Polo Championship® – 26 Goal
March 25 – April 19, 2015
From the Turnpike:
Take the Lake Worth Exit
Head west on FL-802 W/Lake Worth Rd toward Hooks Rd
Continue to follow Lake Worth Rd (3.9 miles)
Turn right onto 120th Ave S
Destination will be ahead on the left (0.4 miles)
Exit Forest Hill Blvd, head West
Make Left turn onto 441/St Rd 7
Make Right turn onto Lake Worth Rd
Make Right turn onto 120th Ave S
Destination on Left
3667 120th Ave S, Wellington, FL 33414
International Polo Club Palm Beach: 561-204-5687
Mallet Grille: 561-282-5340
Spa & Fitness Center: 561-282-5288
Tennis Pro Shop: 561-795-7228
Polo Operations Office: 561-282-5283
Polo Hotline: 561-282-5290
Hampton Inn & Suites – (561) 472-9696 – Approximately 2 miles
Hampton Inn – (561) 472-5980 – Approximately 4 miles
Four Seasons Resort – (561) 582-2800 – Approximately 9 miles
The Breakers – (561) 655-6611 – Approximately 9 miles
Kimpton Tideline Ocean Resort & Spa – (561) 540-6440 – Approximately 9 miles
John Wash – President of Club Operations