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Santa Clara Stuns Casablanca In Sterling Cup To Advance Into Sunday Final; SD Farms Plays Valiente In Thursday Semifinal

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Santa Clara Stuns Casablanca In Sterling Cup To Advance Into Sunday Final; SD Farms Plays Valiente In Thursday Semifinal

WELLINGTON, Fl., January 30, 2020---Santa Clara, playing one of its finest games in team history, knocked off Casablanca to advance into the prestigious Sterling Cup final Sunday at Grand Champions Polo Club.


In a battle of unbeaten teams, Santa Clara (Nico Escobar, 4, Robi Bilbao, 5, Nachi du Plessis, 8, Luis Escobar, 4) led from start-to-finish to defeat Casablanca (Grant Ganzi, 3, Juancito Bollini, 4, Rodrigo Andrade, 9, Juan Bollini, 5), 13-6, Wednesday at Jan Pamela Field Two.

Santa Clara teammates Luis Escobar, Nachi du Plessis, Robi Bilbao and Nico Escobar with Francisco Escobar.

"The game was fun, those guys are never easy," said Luis Escobar, who played well above his 4-goal rating. "I think once you play with the bigger players like Nachi, he is easy to adjust to playing with the younger players. Since I have been playing for a long time, I should be able to adjust, also." 

Santa Clara will play the winner of Thursday's semifinal game between SD Farms and Valiente at Valiente Polo Farm at 4 p.m. Valiente, led by 10-goaler Adolfo Cambiaso, is favored.

Luis Escobar of Santa Clara has a step on Rodrigo Andrade of Casablanca.

"If we play Cambiaso, that would be great news," du Plessis said. "Anyone likes to play against the best athletes in the world. It's a pleasure playing against Cambiaso or any 10-goaler or any 9-goaler."

Despite two changes in the lineup and playing for the first time, Santa Clara played with the chemistry of a seasoned team. Playing wide open, hit-and-run polo with precision passing and great positioning, Santa Clara dominated for most of the game.

Nachi du Plessis of Santa Clara drives downfield with Rodrigo Andrade
 of Casablanca defending.

Behind balanced scoring in the opening chukker, Santa Clara opened with a 5-0 lead. Casablanca outscored Santa Clara, 3-1, in the next two chukkers to trail, 6-3, but was unable to mount any serious offensive attacks in the second half to rally.

Santa Clara came back even stronger in the second half controlling the tempo of the game, outscoring Casablanca, 7-3. Santa Clara led 9-3 and 11-4 in the fourth and fifth chukkers.

"We had a fun game, we focused on what we had to do, to try and get our team functioning," du Plessis said. "And once we started functioning, it was good fun and everyone could be themselves and play a bit.

Grant Ganzi of Casablanca hits a near side shot past Nico Escobar of Santa Clara.

"I think we got a bit lucky in the beginning, they were a bit slower," du Plessis said. "And then we got better. When everything is working, everything looks good."

Santa Clara was able to adjust to last minute lineup changes. Because of a scheduling conflict, Santos Merlos was replaced by Nico Escobar and Sebastian Merlos was replaced by Robi Bilbao.

"My dad told me yesterday I was going to play," said 19-year-old Nico Escobar. "This is the first time we all played together. My dad and Nachi are really big players and they know a lot. Robi and I played last Sunday at IPC together so we had a little bit of chemistry from that game. To play with Nachi and my dad is huge because it's super easy."

Santa Clara teammates Nico Escobar and Robi Bilbao double team 
Rodrigo Andrade of Casablanca.

For Escobar, it's always a thrill to play with his sons Nico and Lucas. 

"They are what's keeping me in polo," Escobar said. "I almost quit polo about 12 years ago but then the boys started coming up and I said I cannot quit at this time. Every time I have a chance I get to play with them so for me it's very lucky."

Du Plessis was raised from 8 to 9 goals by the Argentine Association of Polo after his remarkable performance in the Argentine Open. 

Grant Ganzi of Casablanca hooks Nachi du Plessis of Santa Clara.

"I've been playing for quite a while," du Plessis said. "I haven't played much in America but I have played a bit. This is the first time I've played with my teammates. I played with Luis for the first time the other day."

Nico Escobar and Nachi du Plessis shared scoring honors with four goals each. Luis Escobar had three and Bilbao added two goals.

"This was a huge win," Nico Escobar said. "I'm excited. I've never been in the Sterling Cup final before." 

Robi Bilbao of Santa Clara wins the throw-in.

Juancito Bollini led Casablanca with three goals. Andrade was held to two goals and Ganzi added one.

In early tournament games, Casablanca defeated Grand Champions, 12-7; Pilot edged SD Farms, 10-8; Santa Clara defeated Grand Champions, 19-11; and Valiente defeated Pilot, 16-9.

Last year in one the biggest upsets in Sterling Cup history, Colorado won the title, its first major 20-goal tournament. Colorado (Rob Jornayvaz, 2, Santi Torres, 6, Diego Cavanagh, 9, Nick Johnson, 3) rallied for a thrilling 9-8 upset of defending champion Valiente (Kian Hall, 3, Robertito Zedda, 4, Poroto Cambiaso, 3, Adolfo Cambiaso, 10).

Nachi du Plessis of Santa Clara hits the near side shot just before Rodrigo Andrade of Casablanca attempts to hook.

It was Colorado's biggest tournament win in its two-year history as a team and first time all four players won the Sterling Cup including Johnson, who was making his 20-goal tournament debut.

Argentine 9-goaler Diego Cavanagh was named Most Valuable Player after scoring a game-high four goals including the game-winner with two minutes left on an amazing 60-yard safety conversion in windy conditions.

In the 2018 tournament Adolfo, Mia and Poroto Cambiaso made history by winning their first ever high goal tournament together. Along with teammate Magoo Laprida, Valiente knocked off pre-tournament favorite Audi, 10-4, in the final. Mia Cambiaso was MVP.

Robi Bilbao of Santa Clara hooks Rodrigo Andrade of Casablanca.

The Sterling Cup is one of several prestigious tournaments the nation's largest and most innovative polo club resurrected four years ago after a 22-year absence. It was brought back by Grand Champions owner and president Melissa Ganzi in hopes of recapturing polo's glory days. It was the second tournament of the 22-goal season at Palm Beach Polo after the January Challenge Cup and last played in 1995. It was considered the 22-goal championship and attracted as many as eighteen teams.

During the winter season in Wellington, Grand Champions is hosting 19 tournaments, the most of any club in the U.S., including four in January. The highlight of the schedule is the second season of the 26-goal World Polo League, featuring at least 11 teams and most of the best players in the sport.

With 18 safe and well-manicured fields, including 11-tournament grade, the club will host every level of polo for men, women and children including the WPL, the only 26-goal polo held outside of Argentina featuring the best players in the world.

Juancito Bollini of Casablanca attempts to hook Nachi du Plessis of Santa Clara.

The club attracts a large international field of players from all corners of the world including Australia, Chile, India, Mexico, New Zealand, Costa Rica, Argentina, Canada, Ecuador, Brazil, Switzerland, France, Germany, Uruguay, Venezuela, Azerbaijan, South Africa, Nigeria and England.

Grand Champions is coming off its finest fall season in the club's 13-year history. It was the only club in the nation to stage two 20-goal fall tournaments in addition to the International Cup and Legends of Polo Carlos Gracida Memorial. The club also hosted a full schedule of successful and highly-competitive medium goal tournaments.

Grand Champions and Santa Rita Polo Farm is the largest and most unique polo facility, nestled in the heart of the world's winter equestrian capital Wellington. It features 120 stalls in five self-contained barns, exercise track, five climate-controlled tack rooms, vet room, staff quarters, guest house and four polo fields with state-of-the-art underground irrigation including one field for stick-and-ball and new parking lot.

Nico Escobar of Santa Clara works the ball out of the air while it looks like his horse is flying.
Photos by ChukkerTV
 
Grand Champions Polo Club and Santa Rita Polo Farm's 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, created by Melissa Ganzi when the club first opened.

The Polo School, a stand-alone USPA-sanctioned polo club, is thriving at Grand Champions and Santa Rita Polo Farm. 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. Scholarships are available. The Polo School operates in Wellington January through May and September through November. Headed by Director of Operations Juan Bollini, The Polo School has nurtured several men and women polo players now playing in the pro and amateur ranks since its inception.
2020 WINTER SCHEDULE

JANUARY

Aspen Valley Cup
Friday 1/31 3 p.m. Aspen Valley Cup Final 
  Mashomack vs SD Farms

Sterling Cup
Thursday 1/30 4 p.m. SD Farms vs Valiente at Valiente
Sunday 2/2 11 a.m.  Sterling Cup Final at GCPC


FEBRUARY
FEB 1-29            Halo Polo Trophy, 6
FEB 1-29            Top Pony 8 Goal
FEB 1-29            Sieber Memorial Trophy
FEB 6-16            WPL All-Star Challenge
FEB 19-MAR 1    WPL Founders Cup
FEB 25-MAR 8    $50,000 National 12-Goal

FEB-APR           WCT Ladies Wednesday League

MARCH
MAR 1-29             Madelon Bourdieu Memorial
MAR 1-29             Limited Edition 8-Goal Series    
MAR 1-28             Top Pony 12-Goal Series
MAR 4-22             WPL Palm Beach Open
MAR 28-APR 18  WPL Triple Crown of Polo
MAR 31-APR 4    WCT Finals

APRIL
APR 4-19            Las Acacias, 4-8
APR 6-12            U.S. National Mixed Doubles Polo Championship

Polo Hotline 561-644-5050
THE POLO SCHOOL 

The Polo School at Grand Champions and Director of Operations Juan Bollini are dedicated to teaching polo to all ages, particularly grass roots youth. The school's mission is to provide individuals opportunities in polo. The Polo School operates in Wellington January through May and September through November. For lessons contact Juan Bollini at 561-346-1099. 


ChukkerTV, featuring cutting-edge technology, was the first to introduce state-of-the-art live streaming technology and instant replay in January, 2014 at Grand Champions Polo Club. For advertising opportunities on ChukkerTV please contact Mike Ferreira at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


GRAND CHAMPIONS POLO CLUB

WHERE: 13444 Southfields Road, on the corner of South Shore Boulevard and Lake Worth Road, Wellington, 33414.

DIRECTOR OF POLO: Juan Olivera, 561-644-5050, juan.olivera@gcpolo.com; hotline  561-644-5050.

INFORMATION: For spectators, there are great field side views for tournament action and also the Grand Champions Polo Club Boutique. The club is home base for pro teams Audi and Flexjet. Everyone is welcome to watch every level of polo in a relaxed atmosphere with food and refreshments during the featured games of the winter, spring and fall tournament seasons and other special events. Admission is free except for some special events.

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