Wellington, Fla. – Nov. 6, 2017 – In a wild game to the finish, Casablanca won the coveted USPA North American Cup with a hard fought 11-9 victory over Audi at Grand Champions Polo Club.
Grant Ganzi, 2
Juancito Bollini 3
Mike Azzaro 6
Julio Arellano 8
Guille Aguero 5
Brandon Phillips 5
Marc Ganzi 2
Carlucho Arellano 5
In front of a packed house and worldwide ChukkerTV and USPA Polo Network audience, Casablanca and Audi turned in one of the most physically-contested and closest finals of the fall season.
Audi started out with a 2-0 lead based on handicap which Casablanca quickly made up in the first four minutes of the game. With the score tied 2-2 with goals from Julio Arellano and Grant Ganzi, Audi took a brief lead, 3-2, on Phillips’ goal with 3:08 left in the first chukker. Arellano tied the game to end the first chukker at 3-3. Back-to-back goals from Bollini gave Casablanca a 5-3 lead but Audi came right back in a rainy second chukker slowing the game and taking Casablanca out of its rhythm and trailed only 5-4 on another Phillips goal.
The lead changed hands nine times as the physicality and intensity increased along with missed scoring opportunities, both from the field and penalty line, by both teams. By the fourth chukker, both teams missed a combined eight penalty shots.
Azzaro quickly recovered from a fifth-chukker tumble when his horse stumbled at the 2:28 mark. He broke a 9-9 tie early in the sixth chukker on a nice run to goal after a steal. Arellano scored an insurance goal on a penalty-three with 3:03 left.
“That was a very physical tough game,” Carlucho Arellano said. “I knew it would be a tougher game than the other day, but not that much. Everybody wanted to win and that’s what happens. Winning one of the 20-goal tournaments here is always awesome. It was a step up. They were a good team so I was very happy.”
It was the third tournament victory for Casablanca, making its fifth championship finals appearance this season. Casablanca also won the US Trust Cup and USPA Fall Classic. It was Casablanca’s second USPA North American Cup title in tournament history.
“This is an enormous win for us,” Mike Azzaro said. “I have won this a few times over the years but it’s nice to win today. Grant, Juancito and I have been winning pretty much every tournament and playing well together. 22-goal polo is different than 12-goal. We really did earn this. You really have to have the team clicking well to dominate. On Friday we had a hard game and it took a lot out of the horses. To come back today it was difficult. We really had to be disciplined and mark them tight.”
Legendary Hall of Famer and former 10-goaler Mike Azzaro was named Most Valuable Player. Antojo, a 12-year-old gelding owned and ridden by Aguero, was selected Best Playing Pony by the tournament committee.
“Those guys are mounted really well,” Azzaro said. “They are three solid experienced players and Marc fights for everything, keep his guys together and contributes on the field. They had a strong team.”
“It was a big win no doubt, we had to fight for everything,” Grant Ganzi said. “We wanted to use everyone, hit the ball and make it simple. But they got us a little rattled and took us out of our game. Audi played really well and had a good game plan. They were countering what we were doing and that’s what good game plans do. They threw us off our plan for a while. Juan and I had to work a lot more than we had been. Today was anyone’s game. I never felt we were out of it. I always felt like we were there but it was tough.”
The USPA North American Cup has a rich tradition in history dating back to 1974. The tournament has been a mainstay in American and Canadian polo for decades at the 16 and 20-goal level. The inaugural winner was Tulsa with Hall of Famers John T. Oxley and Billy Linfoot, Corky Linfoot and Jim MacGinley. During the late 1990s and early 2000s Calgary Polo Club hosted the tournament. The tournament has been held at Grand Champions since 2011.
The USPA North American Cup was the fifth tournament of the season and first of two 20-goal tournaments Grand Champions is hosting during the fall season. Grand Champions is also hosting the upcoming USPA National 20-Goal and Nov. 25 doubleheader with the Carlos Gracida Memorial Legends of Polo and International Cup pitting five-time defending champion Team USA against Brazil. Sponsorship packages are available and tickets are on sale.