Wellington, Fla – March 17, 2017 – In one of the most exciting games in Grand Champions history, Travieso staged a remarkable comeback to capture the prestigious Sterling Cup. In front of a packed house and worldwide ChukkerTV audience, Travieso (Tony Calle, 2, Torito Ruiz, 3, Sebastian Merlos, 9, Hugo Barabucci, 6) rallied from a 6-2 halftime deficit for a thrilling 13-8 victory over Casablanca (Harrison Azzaro, 0, Grant Ganzi, 2, Gonzalito Pieres, 9, Rodrigo Andrade, 9) at windswept Grand Champions Polo Club.
It was Travieso’s first 20-goal tournament victory of the 2017 winter season and second in team history since its debut in 2015 at Grand Champions, where it was the winningest team in low and medium goal polo before stepping up to high goal. Travieso (Tony Calle, JJ Celis, Facundo Obregon, Jesse Bray) also won the 2015 USPA North American 20-Goal Cup. Argentine 9-goaler Sebastian Merlos turned in one of his finest career-performances leading his team’s comeback with a game-high six goals and was named Most Valuable Player.
“We needed to wake up after the first half, we were terrible,” Merlos said. “We were still in bed, watching Gonzalito and Ro carry the ball. We needed to do what we talked about in our team meeting. It is good for Travieso from the low and medium goal and now we champion to the high goal. I am really happy for the team and what I mean by the team is everybody behind us who make a huge effort and work a lot.”
Merlos’ 9-year-old grey mare Fletcha was just as spectacular with lightning-quick turns, sheer strength and athleticism in Merlos’ four-goal output in the fourth chukker. “She is amazing,” Merlos said. “I play her, my daughter plays her, my son plays here. She is really nice. The last one to ride her was my daughter Olivia and she did a good job with her.”
After being shut out in the second and third chukkers, Travieso stormed back in the second half, outscoring Casablanca, 10-2, in the fourth and fifth chukkers. “Amazing is true,” Barabucci said. “We started not very well in the beginning. We could not catch the man or the ball. In the second half we did fantastic. The young ones looked a little bit nervous in the beginning and did a fantastic job in the end. We started working with the man and Sebe had a great game. We did very well, it was a completely different game in the second half for us,” Barabucci said. “Honestly, I am so happy. This is a new team and new blood for the high goal which is very good for polo.”
Travieso outscored Casablanca, 6-0, in the key fourth chukker to take an 8-6 lead going into the fifth chukker. Travieso continued its relentless attack in the fifth chukker outscoring Casablanca, 4-2, for a 12-8 lead. Travieso continued attacking in the final chukker to shut out Casablanca once again.
“Every win is a win and 20 goals is high level,” Merlos said. “Every time you play you want to win and every win is real important. For me, you can compare this to the U.S. Open, Argentine Open and British Open. I enjoyed it.”
Calle, 22, a junior at Lynn University, was his team’s second leading scorer with four goals. Ruiz added three goals. “Sebe pointed out very clearly what we were doing in the first half and that being the young players were too hungry for the ball and not the man,” Calle said. “We needed to devote more time to the man and when that happens, the ball is just going to come to you. When we came back it completely changed the momentum of the game. We scored all the goals we had to. Victorino played hands-down amazing. It was a privilege playing with Hugo who doesn’t let a ball go by and Sebe, who did everything he could and had some nice goals. It’s just nice playing with these players, we connect so well. It’s a very strong team.”
Pieres led Casablanca scoring with four goals followed by Andrade with three goals and Ganzi with one. Eighteen-year-old Victorino Ruiz won his second tournament in three days. After winning the $50,000 National 12-Goal Tournament with GSA on Tuesday with a dominating 13-6 victory over Casablanca, Ruiz finished his winter season in the U.S. with a 20-goal tournament title. Ruiz is scheduled to return to Argentina next week.
“That fourth chukker was amazing,” Ruiz said. “I was trying to guard one of the good players on that team and so was Tony. That was the key to the game, if we could get Gonzalito and Rodrigo, then Sebe and Hugo were alone to play with the ball. We tried to do that. In the first half we couldn’t do it and the second half we could.”
Ruiz said Merlos’ spirited halftime talk motivated him. “Sebe shouted a little bit and said some words to us in the tent and in the second half we came out and started playing,” Ruiz said. “I am very happy with how I played and the season I had.”
Travieso’s charmed path to the title included a tournament-opening 9-8 loss to Valiente, 11-10 win over Palm Beach Equine, 12-11 triumph over Audi and 11-6 victory over Dutta Corp. “It feels great playing high goal polo and winning such a historical Cup,” Calle said. “It’s always been my dream and my goal since I got here to Wellington and it’s nice that it’s finally coming true.”
It was a star-studded event from start to finish. Local artist Tom Blake sang a beautiful rendition of the National Anthem. Wellington Mayor Anne Gerwig threw in the first ball and Vice Mayor John McGovern presented the tournament awards after the game. The Sterling Cup is one of two classic and prestigious tournaments that the nation’s busiest and most innovative polo club revived thanks to generosity of Glenn Straub of Palm Beach Polo, where the tournaments were last held in 1995.
Club owners Melissa and Marc Ganzi hope to recapture the legacy and prestige of polo’s glory days. The Sterling Cup was the second tournament of the 22-goal season at Palm Beach Polo after the January Challenge Cup. It was considered the 22-goal championship and attracted as many as 18 teams including White Birch and Palm Beach Polo. It was first played in 1989 at the 18-22 handicap.
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 only polo club in the U.S. to offer the unique program.
The Polo School at Grand Champions, a 501c3 organization, is dedicated to teaching polo to all ages, particularly grass roots youth. Its mission is to provide individuals opportunities in polo. The Polo School operates in Wellington January through June and September through November.