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Kaia Polo Wins Opener In World Polo League Palm Beach Open

Lerin Zubiaurre of Kaia Polo attempts to drive downfield with Pablo MacDonough defending. ©Candace Ferreira

WELLINGTON, Fla., March 17, 2023—Kaia Polo, competing in its second World Polo League tournament, got off to a good start Thursday in its opening game of the Palm Beach Open.

Kaia Polo (Larry Austin, 0, Jero del Carril, 8, Lerin Zubiaurre, 7, Santi Toccalino, 8) led from start to finish to stun Richard Mille (Teo Calle, 1, Tincho Merlos, 7, Pablo MacDonough, 10, Nacho Novillo Astrada, 8), 15-12, in Bracket II play at Grand Champions Polo Club.

Kaia Polo, playing its best polo, started off with a 3-0 lead based on its 23-goal rating. For most of the game Kaia Polo had at least a two-point cushion.

„Having a head start always feels good especially if you can use that time to relax and gain some rhythm as a team,“ Austin said. „They are such a talented team that we needed to focus every chukker.“

And focused they were. Whatever Richard Mille threw at them, including halftime adjustments with MacDonough going forward more in the second half, Kaia Polo had an answer for.

Behind a balanced attack and quickness off the throw-ins, Kaia Polo led 4-2 after the first, 6-3 after the chukker and 8-5 at the half.

Richard Mille outshot Kaia Polo, 10-9, and scored off four of Kaia Polo‘s five penalties (two 30s, one 40 and one 60). Kaia Polo led in knock-ins, 5-4, and throw-ins, 7-4.

The offensive barrage continued in the second half with leads of 10-6 and 14-9 after the fourth and fifth chukkers. Richard Mille tried clawing its way back in the final chukker, 3-1, but ran out of time.

Kaia Polo got balanced scoring from its lineup. Zubiaurre had five goals, Toccalino had four and Del Carril added three. The team picked up three goals on handicap.

Kaia Polo held MacDonough to two goals in the second half. Merlos led Richard Mille with seven goals, including six penalty conversions highlighted by an 80-yarder from 5A. Calle added three goals.

Kaia Polo dominated the throw-ins, 16-8, for the game. Shots on goal were even at 19-19 but Kaia Polo made the most of its scoring opportunities. Kaia Polo led in fouls, 11-5, which Richard Mille converted six of those penalties–four 30-yarders, one 40-yarder and one 60-yarder.

The third World Polo League tournament features eight teams including two making their WPL debut, Globalport and Dead End.

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

Sunday 3/19
11am – Audi vs Brookshire
4pm – Globalport vs Kaia Polo

Monday 3/20
11am -Santa Rita/Trenque Lauquen vs Casablanca
4pm – Richard Mille vs Dead End

Wednesday 3/22
4pm – Richard Mille vs Globalport

Thursday 3/23
11am – Audi vs Santa Rita/Trenque Lauquen
4pm – Casablanca vs Brookshire

Friday 3/24
11am -Kaia Polo vs Dead End

Sunday 3/26
4pm – Final
GCPC Field 2

By Sharon Robb
Photos by Candace Ferreira

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