WELLINGTON, FL., March 23, 2023—Dracarys and Rafool Polo will battle for the title in the eighth annual $50,000 National 12-Goal Tournament at Grand Champions Polo Club.
Rafool Polo (Ray Rafool, -1, Jack Whitman, 2, Henry Porter, 4, Felipe Viana, 7) advanced into the championship with an impressive 12-11 victory over Loudmouth (Andrew Siebert, 0, Scott Sorbaro, -1, Lerin Zubiaurre, 7, Kris Kampsen, 6), 12-11.
In the other semifinal, Dracarys (Chetan Krishna, -1, Leon Schwencke, 3, Facundo Obregon, 6, Brandon Phillips, 4) edged Casablanca (Santos Bollini, 2, Grant Ganzi, 3, Juancito Bollini, 4, Wes Finalayson, 3), 12-11.
The date and time for the final is still to be determined.
On Thursday at windswept Grand Champions, Rafool Polo controlled the first four chukkers of the game, leading 4-1, 7-4, 8-6 and 10-7.
Loudmouth roared back with a 4-0 fifth chukker to overtake the lead, 11-10. Rafool Polo regained its momentum and clinched the win with two huge back-to-back goals by Viana, a last-minute lineup replacement for Salva Ulloa.
Viana, who won the tournament in 2021 with the Parrotheads, will finish out the tournament with Rafool Polo.
„We found out Ulloa wasn‘t available last evening so Henry and Jack convinced Felipe that it would be a good idea to play with us,“ Rafool said. „It was a lucky coincidence. I practiced with Felipe at the Arellanos two years ago so I was familiar with him. I was ecstatic to have him on our team.
„He did an amazing job with the guys. They really played quite well together. They had great chemistry. Felipe stepped into a management role and did a great job. The communication on the field was great. He was a wonderful addition and really made a difference.“
Viana scored the tying goal with 4:25 left in the sixth chukker and clinched the win with an incredible shot just past midfield. Viana tapped the ball once and then hammered it through the goal posts with 1:38 left in the game.
„Isn‘t this the best way,“ Rafool said. „You have no idea what‘s going to happen and then you are like wow, this is great.“
Porter and Whitman then went to work defensively with Porter winning the throw-in, Whitman stealing the ball and running down the clock and Porter clearing out a last-ditch goal attempt in the final seconds.
It will be Rafool Polo‘s first 12-goal final in the team‘s 12-goal tournament debut.
„It feels great to be in the final,“ Rafool said. „I didn‘t know what we were going to get and expect. It feels really good. I like our team. Henry did a great job in putting it together.
„I know Dracarys is a very good team team and have some really good skilled players,“ Rafool said. „They are a lot more balanced than the team we played today. I still think we have a good team and I think we can win. If we‘re not going to win I think we will be very competitive. At this point my team feels very confident. They were already strategizing today what they did right and wrong.“
Rafool, 56, started playing polo eight years ago. In his first polo lesson from a groom he was dressed in tennis sneakers and jeans at Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic, where he and his wife Vicki were chaperoning their daughter‘s senior high school trip.
„My wife thought I was nuts,“ Rafool said. „She still thinks I‘m nuts although she knows the game better than I do. She knows all the pros.
„I grew up in Central Florida doing Western-style,“ Rafool said. „I‘ve always loved horses. I saw Casa de Campo had equestrian and I thought why not, nobody knows me here if I look like a fool, no big deal. I saw the horses and they were beautiful. The rest is history. The next day I was so sore I could hardly squat to get into the plane to go home.“
Porter led Rafool Polo with four goals. Whitman and Viana each had three goals and Rafool added one. The team picked up one goal on handicap. Kampsen led Loudmouth with eight goals including five penalty conversions. Zubiaurre had three goals.
Loudmouth outshot Rafool Polo, 19-15. Rafool Polo led in knock-ins, 8-4, throw-ins, 14-10 and fouls, 14-9, with Loudmouth converting six of those penalties, five 30-yarders and one 40-yarder.
In the opening semifinal on Tuesday, Dracarys had control for the first four chukkers, leading 2-1, 4-1, 5-2 and 8-5. In the fifth chukker, Casablanca found its firepower for a 4-1 chukker, scoring four unanswered goals to go ahead, 9-8. Schwencke‘s goal with 21 seconds left tied the game at 9-9.
It was the closest Casablanca would get. Dracarys regained its composure in the final chukker and took advantage of Casablanca penalties with Obregon converting two 30-yard penalty shots. Dracarys had a two-goal cushion until the final 21 seconds when Bollini scored the final goal.
Phillips led Dracarys with five goals, Obregon had five, Krishna had two and Schwencke added one. Santos Bollini and Finlayson each had four goals for Casablanca. Ganzi had two goals and Juancito Bollini added one.
Dracarys outscored Casablanca, 16-14, and fouls, 14-6, with Casablanca converting four of those penalties, two 30-yarders, 1 40-yarder and 1 60-yarder. Casablanca led in throw-ins, 15-6, but couldn‘t capitalize, and also led in knock-ins, 4-3. Dracarys converted three 30-yard penalties.
The last tournament winner was the 2021 champion Parrotheads (Nachi Viana, Roni Duke, Jason Wates, Felipe Viana) who defeated Beverly Equestrian (Bill Ballhaus, Keko Magrini, Tolito Ocampo, Hilario Figueras), 12-8. Nachi Viana was MVP. The tournament was not held in 2022.
Grand Champions, the nation‘s largest polo club celebrating its 16th anniversary, and Santa Rita Polo Farm is the largest and most unique private 102-acre polo facility in Wellington with 212 stalls in nine self-contained barns, two tracks, five climate-controlled tack rooms, vet room, staff quarters, guest house and four polo fields with state-of-the-art underground irrigation and short work arena. The club has 13 well-manicured fields including nine world-class fields at GCPC and four at Santa Rita.
During the winter polo season, Grand Champions, the nation‘s largest and most innovative USPA-sanctioned polo club, nestled in the heart of the world‘s winter equestrian capital, is hosting tournaments: 6, 8, 12, 20, and 26-goal leagues, WCT Finals, Polo School Ladies Weekly League play and 26-goal WPL tournaments at both Grand Champions and Santa Rita.
Remaining season highlights for 2023 are the John T. Oxley Memorial and $100,000 World Cup Tournament, a unique 0-40-goal, winner-take-all single-elimination tournament, WCT Finals and special events including Nic Roldan Sunset Polo and White Party, Great Futures Celebrity Polo, WPL Polo Pride and Sunset Chukkers & Cocktails.
The winter season is being live-streamed locally and worldwide on Wellington-based ChukkerTV (CTV Sports).
Grand Champions Polo Club caters to men, women and youth polo players at all levels. Its‘ expert staff can customize a complete playing experience including horses, pros and certified umpires in addition to lessons and practice sessions as part of its‘ Polo On Demand program.
The Polo School, now located at the former Pony Express facility, operates in Wellington January through May and September through November. The stand-alone USPA-sanctioned polo club, is thriving. It is dedicated to teaching polo to all ages, particularly grass roots youth. Its mission is to provide individuals opportunities in polo at every economic and ability level. November. The Polo School has nurtured several junior, men and women polo players now playing in the pro and amateur ranks since its inception.
For more information on leagues or Polo School contact Director of Operations Juan Bollini at 561-346-1099 or General Manager Cale Newman at 561-876-2930.
2023 $50,000 National 12 Goal Schedule
$50,000 National 12 Goal Final TBD
By Sharon Robb
Photos by Candace Ferreira