WELLINGTON, Fla., March 18, 2023—It was only fitting the World Polo League‘s newest teams would go down to the wire in their opening game of the Palm Beach Open.
Globalport (Mikee Romero, 0, Polito Pieres, 10, Sapo Caset, 10, Anthony Garcia, 5) rallied in the final two minutes for a thrilling 14-13 victory over Dead End (Evan White Jr., 1, Facu Llosa, 7, Magoo Laprida, 8, Pedro Falabella, 7) Friday at Grand Champions Polo Club.
The Palm Beach Open continues Sunday with a doubleheader. Audi plays Brookshire at 11 a.m. and Globalport meets Kaia Polo in the feature game at 4 p.m.
The lead changed hands eleven times before Caset scored the game-winner with 1:41 left on a 30-yard penalty conversion. Pieres picked up a loose ball and was fouled by Llosa setting up Caset‘s heroics. In the final minute, Caset and Pieres had two more scoring opportunities but couldn‘t finish.
Globalport needed the first chukker to find its rotation rhythm with Romero playing well at the front, Garcia playing defense and the two 10-goalers working the middle.
Trailing 3-1 after the opening chukker, Globalport tied the game at 4-4 on Caset‘s great run to goal with 3:41 left and went ahead, 5-4, on Pieres‘ rebound off Caset‘s missed attempt. Globalport outscored Dead End, 4-1, in the second chukker and found its rhythm, leading 7-6 at the half, tied 9-9 after four and regained the lead, 11-10, after five.
„We had some fun,“ Garcia said. „I thought the game went well. We let them come back. Those guys are super talented. It‘s to be expected. These guys are super rated players and everyone comes prepared. At this level, it‘s kind of like a coin toss, it can go any way. He who has the momentum at that specific moment when they ride it gets the advantage. It‘s nice to win the first one. I hope we win more but we‘ll take this one for sure. We‘ll take one step at a time.“
Romero and his longtime teammate and manager since 2010 are missing the Asian polo season (December-March) to compete in the 26-goal World Polo League and Grand Champions Polo Club for the first time.
Garcia is returning to Florida since 2001. He played for the 1998 FIP USA team in Santa Barbara with Carlucho Arellano, Andy Busch and Jeff Hall. Garcia, from Santa Barbara where he started playing at age 13, played throughout California and moved to Chicago in 2002. Garcia had played 26-goal in the late 1990s.
„I never thought I would come back to Florida because I play polo in the Philippines,“ Garcia said.
„We were talking and I said we should try it out,“ Garcia said. „We played around the world in England, Argentina and all over southeast Asia. In 2012 we played in St. Louis, Mo. and Chicago. The stars aligned and we went to Argentina to play the 22-goal. Mikee said maybe we can experience something better in the states and I said sure.“
Garcia and Romero built the team around Caset. Garcia has known Caset since he was 10-years-old and played with Pieres when he was rated 6 goals in 2004. Pieres is Caset‘s Argentine Open teammate and Garcia said the opportunity for them to play together on Globalport in the WPL came up.
„That‘s how we put the whole thing together to get over to Florida,“ Garcia said. „Grand Champions was quite interesting and Sapo said we might want to try it and see how it goes. Melissa and Marc have been such great hosts and everyone has been super phenomenal and friendly and very accepting of us and now we are here.
„What the WPL has that we quite enjoy is the camaraderie among the players. Everyone is so friendly. The group of pros that are here are the people you want to be around. The fields have been fantastic. Everyone involved with the WPL is treating us with open arms which we love.
„I think we are here to stay,“ Garcia said. „It will be mainstay for the next couple years that we are going to come. I think my sponsor Mr. Romero really enjoys it and it‘s been a long time coming. We have played polo together for 13 years and I am just glad I was able to convince him to take that step and come to North America and give it a shot.“
Romero got off a 32-hour flight 48 hours before his first game that was rescheduled Friday to make sure he was fully-rested for his opening game.
„Those are priceless gestures that a big organization makes for you that are greatly appreciated,“ Garcia said.
Dead End outshot Globalport, 20-17, but was unable to take advantage of key scoring opportunities. Globalport led in knock-ins, 8-3. Each team won 14 throw-ins. Dead End led in fouls, 8-6, with Globalport converting five of them with four 30-yards and one 60-yarder.
The game‘s 27-goal total tied the WPL record for most goals scored in a single game.
Caset led Globalport with a game-high seven goals. Pieres had five goals and Romero and Garcia each had one goal.
Llosa led Dead End with five goals, Laprida had four and White Jr. and Falabella each had one.
In the other two Friday games:
All-Star Challenge tournament champion Casablanca (Grant Ganzi, 3, Tomacho Pieres, 6, Barto Castagnola, 10, Jesse Bray, 7) defeated Founders Cup champion Audi (Marc Ganzi, 1, Jeta Castagnola, 10, Nic Roldan, 8, Freddie Mannix, 7/Sugar Erskine, 6), 13-10.
In the opening game of the tripleheader, Santa Rita Trenque Lauquen (Melissa Ganzi, 0, Lucas James, 7, Juan Martin Zubia, 9, Juan Martin Nero, 10) edged Brookshire (Scott Wood, 0, Pipe Vercellino, 7, Gonzalito Pieres, 9, Miguel Novillo AStrada, 8), 10-9.
The third World Polo League tournament features eight teams. This year, the Palm Beach Open is being played on the handicap since some teams are lower than 26 goals. Like the Founders Cup, the two-point shot from midfield is being instituted.
The World Polo League, the only 26-goal polo played outside of Argentina, is in its fifth season with a star-studded lineup that features six 10-goalers including Pablo MacDonough, Barto Castagnola, Juan Martin Nero, Jeta Castagnola, Polito Pieres and Sapo Caset.
Two World Polo League champions have already been crowned. Casablanca won the season-opening All-Star Challenge. Casablanca (Grant Ganzi, 3, Tomacho Pieres, 6, Barto Castagnola, 10, Jesse Bray, 7) defeated 2021 champion Richard Mille (Gilberto Sayao, 0, Gonzalito Pieres, 9, Pablo MacDonough, 10, Alejandro Novillo Astrada, 7), 14-9. Barto Castagnola was MVP.
Audi (Marc Ganzi, 1, Jeta Castagnola, 10, Nic Roldan, 8, Freddie Mannix, 7) defended its title and finished undefeated (5-0) in the Founders Cup with a thrilling 14-13 overtime victory over Richard Mille (Patricio Mayor, 0, Gonzalito Pieres, 9, Lucas James, 7, Pablo MacDonough, 10). Jeta Castagnola was MVP.
In last year‘s Palm Beach Open, one of the top 26-goal teams two decades ago, Catamount (Scott Devon, 1, Toro Ruiz, 7, Polito Pieres, 10, Nacho Novillo Astrada, 8) knocked off Richard Mille (Santos Bollini, 2, Grant Ganzi, 3, Pablo MacDonough, 10, Juan Martin Nero, 10), 9-7 to win its first-ever WPL tournament title in a battle of unbeaten teams. Polito Pieres was MVP.
The world-class league will run through April 16. The World Polo League is preserving the highest level of polo and its rich tradition in the U.S.
The remaining WPL events in addition to the Palm Beach Open are the Tommy Hitchcock Legacy Memorial, Triple Crown of Polo and Beach Polo World Cup Miami Beach.
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, women‘s weekly league play and 26-goal WPL tournaments at both Grand Champions and Santa Rita.
Season highlights for 2023 are the $50,000 National 12-Goal Tournament, John T. Oxley Memorial and $100,000 World Cup Tournament, a unique 0-40-goal, winner-take-all single-elimination tournament 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 World Polo League Palm Beach Open Schedule
11am – Audi vs Brookshire
4pm – Globalport vs Kaia Polo
11am -Santa Rita/Trenque Lauquen vs Casablanca
4pm – Richard Mille vs Dead End
4pm – Richard Mille vs Globalport
11am – Audi vs Santa Rita/Trenque Lauquen
4pm – Casablanca vs Brookshire
11am -Kaia Polo vs Dead End
4pm – Final
GCPC Field 2
By Sharon Robb
Photos by Candace Ferreira