By Sharon Robb

In one of the most exciting finishes in club history, Palm Beach Illustrated won the coveted $100,000 World Cup presented by Audi Saturday at Grand Champions Polo Club. The defending champion and underdog going into the championship final won its’ second consecutive title with a thrilling 10-9 victory over Grand Champions in front of a packed house and ESPN Latin American television worldwide audience.

“What just happened? Peco Polledo asked in a state of disbelief in the winning team’s tent. “It was so close. The other team played so amazing. We did it. I am so happy.“ Palm Beach Illustrated (Carlitos Gracida, 4, Juan Monteverde, 5, Peco Polledo, 6, Tommy Collingwood, 5) won the 12-team, winner-take-all tournament in the final minute of regulation time over Grand Champions (Grant Ganzi, 2, Juancito Bollini, 4, Juan Martin Nero, 10, Alejandro Novillo Astrada, 9). With the game tied 9-9 with 1:10 left, Gracida, son of legendary Hall of Famer and former 10-goaler Carlos Gracida, slipped past a defender and crushed a neck shot through the air dead center through the goal posts. “I was thinking this is a top horse and I knew I had a chance to pass him, that’s one of our best horses and I know she’s really fast so I just had to commit and go for it,” Gracida said. “I have never played with Juan or Peco but they are awesome and Tommy is great,” Gracida said. “They know I get heated up. It’s good though they understand that I need that. The goal was just one piece of this game, it was everybody.” In the closing seconds Monteverde came up with a clutch defensive back shot to stall a last-minute goal attempt by Grand Champions. “I still don’t know what happened, what an amazing game,” Monteverde said. “The only good back shot I hit all day was that one. I am very happy for the team. This is a great team.”

Wellington High School alum Tommy Collingwood, 26, the only returning player off last year’s champion team, was named Most Valuable Player. Collingwood was outstanding at back with his blocked goals, steals, booming passes and back shots to teammates. “It was unbelievable,” said an emotional Collingwood. “This team was so much fun, so much everything. The guys were awesome. This tournament was a lot of heart, sweat and now tears…happy tears. Palm Beach Illustrated is undefeated in three major money tournaments: the 2017 and 2018 $100,000 World Cup and 2016 $50,000 National 12-Goal, all hosted by Grand Champions.

The tournament was resurrected by Grand Champions owners and polo players Melissa and Marc Ganzi thanks to the generosity of Glenn Straub of Palm Beach Polo, where it was last played in the late 1990s. Straub watched the final and participated in the post-game awards presentation. What made this tournament so unique was the fact it was open to teams 0-26 goal on handicap including an all-women’s team for the first time, similar to the Copa Republica in Argentina where teams of any handicap from 0-to-40 can compete. In addition to ESPN’s coverage, the tournament was live-streamed by Wellington-based ChukkerTV. Audi of America was the tournament’s presenting sponsor. Rated No. 1 by Consumer Reports as the best auto brand overall, Audi is a valued sponsor with a rich winning tradition in polo. The German automobile manufacturer designs, engineers, produces, markets and distributes luxury automobiles throughout the world including West Palm Beach.