Casablanca Captures USPA National 20-Goal Tournament

Wellington, Fla. – Nov. 19, 2018 – Casablanca defended its title in the USPA National 20-Goal Tournament Sunday at windswept Grand Champions Polo Club. In a tightly-contested game, Casablanca (Grant Ganzi, 2, Whistle Uys, 4, Julio Gracida, 4, Pablo Spinacci, 6) defeated Flexjet (Melissa Ganzi, 0, Jason Crowder, 6, Jeff Blake, 6, Juan Bollini, 5), 11-9.

USPA National 20-Goal champion Casablanca's Julio Gracida, Pablo Spinacci, Grant Ganzi and Whistle Uys with awards presenter USPA CEO Bob Puetz. Photo: Gabrielle Stoddard
USPA National 20-Goal champion Casablanca’s Julio Gracida, Pablo Spinacci, Grant Ganzi and Whistle Uys with awards presenter USPA CEO Bob Puetz. Photo: Gabrielle Stoddard

In a repeat of last year’s final, Casablanca broke open a close game in the sixth chukker, outscoring Flexjet, 3-1, to clinch the victory. Pablo Spinacci, 41, was named Most Valuable Player. Playing from the back, Spinacci was the defensive leader and also scored three goals including a penalty conversion. He finished with seven goals for the tournament. “I am very happy with the game and that we won,” Spinacci said. “It was good game. I liked our team, they were easy to play with.”

Jeff Blake of Flexjet drives downfield with teammate Jason Crowder. Photo: Gabrielle Stoddard
Jeff Blake of Flexjet drives downfield with teammate Jason Crowder. Photo: Gabrielle Stoddard

Said Grant Ganzi, “I have never played with Pablo before, a lot against him. He is a great player. He hit the ball really well today. He was a good drill sergeant for our team and led us well. I thought he was the best choice for MVP. He was the leader of our team, scored the goals when it mattered and put the ball where it needed to be at the most important part of the game. He was the most solid player on the team, no question.”

Bliss, a 5-year-old mare bred and owned by Santa Rita Polo Farm, played by Spinacci, was named the game’s Best Playing Pony. Tornado, a 7-year-old chestnut gelding played by Uys and owned by Franklin, Tennessee based Graymar Farm, was Best Playing Pony for the two-day tournament. Cupid, a 7-year-old grey gelding owned and played by Julio Gracida, was selected the American Polo Horse Association Best Playing Pony.

Jeff Blake of Flexjet hooks Pablo Spinacci of Casablanca. Photo: Gabrielle Stoddard
Jeff Blake of Flexjet hooks Pablo Spinacci of Casablanca. Photo: Gabrielle Stoddard

The American Polo Horse Association was created in 2006 by Hall of Famer Sunny Hale to recognize polo ponies in America and encourages events that showcase them and hard-working dedication of grooms.

In addition to Spinacci’s three goals, Grant Ganzi scored a team-high four goals and Uys added three goals. For Flexjet, Blake scored a game-high six goals. Melissa Ganzi, Crowder and Bollini each had one goal.

Whistle Uys of Casablanca hits the reverse neck shot. Photo: Gabrielle Stoddard
Whistle Uys of Casablanca hits the reverse neck shot. Photo: Gabrielle Stoddard

As defending champion, the pressure was on Casablanca to repeat. “I’m really happy with the win, we played really well,” Grant Ganzi said. “We came out strong. We had our moments where we lost our men. All in all we played pretty well and were very disciplined. We had a pretty good game plan set and didn’t really alter that. I tried not to think about it. I just tried to think about this game. I didn’t want to think about defending the title.”

Playing together for the first time in the tournament, Casablanca opened with a one-goal lead on handicap and built a 3-1 lead after two chukkers outscoring Flexjet, 2-1 and 1-0. Behind Blake’s three goals, Flexjet outscored Casablanca, 3-1, to even the score at 4-4 at the half. Behind Spinacci’s two goals and another goal from Ganzi, Casablanca regained the lead, 7-6, at the end of the fourth chukker. Spinacci scored with 28 seconds left in the chukker. Flexjet bounced back to outscore Casablanca, 2-1, with goals from Crowder and Blake to take an 8-7 lead before another Grant Ganzi goal scored at the 2:15 mark tied the game, 8-8.

American Polo Horse Association Best Playing Pony Cupid, a 7-year-old grey gelding owned and played by Julio Gracida. Photo: Gabrielle Stoddard
American Polo Horse Association Best Playing Pony Cupid, a 7-year-old grey gelding owned and played by Julio Gracida. Photo: Gabrielle Stoddard

It was all Casablanca in the final chukker. Uys scored early with 7:11 on the clock to retake the lead, 9-8. Two minutes later, Uys scored again for a 10-8 advantage. Melissa Ganzi converted a 30-yard penalty to trail by only one with 3:48 left. After Flexjet missed two scoring opportunities, Julio Gracida scored the insurance goal with 18 seconds left.

Uys, making his final appearance of the fall, finished off an outstanding season. Uys was a member of four winning teams during the medium goal season, three titles with Sebucan and one with Whitehall Ranch. It was also his first USPA National 20-Goal career title.

Tournament Best Playing Pony Tornado, a 7-year-old chestnut gelding played by Uys and owned by Graymar Farm. Photo: Gabrielle Stoddard
Tournament Best Playing Pony Tornado, a 7-year-old chestnut gelding played by Uys and owned by Graymar Farm. Photo: Gabrielle Stoddard

“I am very happy with the win,” Uys said. “I enjoyed it. It was a game that got a little heated and we got to play some good polo. It was fun. We wanted to win the 20-goal. My teammates were great and the guys we played against were great. They all played well. I am super happy with the season. The fields were good. The footing was incredible. The horses got confidence and finished well. I was really happy with that.”

Game Best Playing Pony, Bliss, a 5-year-old mare played by Pablo Spinacci. Photo: Gabrielle Stoddard
Game Best Playing Pony, Bliss, a 5-year-old mare played by Pablo Spinacci. Photo: Gabrielle Stoddard
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