WELLINGTON, Fla., February 27, 2022—Audi and White Birch renewed their 30-year rivalry in the championship final of the World Polo League All-Star Challenge Tournament Saturday at Grand Champions Polo Club.
In an explosive final, Audi (Marc Ganzi, 2, Jeta Castagnola, 9, Barto Castagnola, 9, Paco de Narvaez, 6) defeated White Birch (Chris Brant, 0, Lerin Zubiaurre, 7, Mariano Aguerre, 7, Santi Toccalino, 8), 17-12, to capture the 26-goal season-opening tournament.
Jeta Castagnola scored a game-high nine goals and was named Most Valuable Player. The reigning Argentine Open champion finished the tournament with 19 goals.
Lerin Zubiaurre, Jeta Castagnola, and Barto Castagnola.
Machitos Luis Maria, played by Aguerre, was selected Cria Polo Argentino Best Playing Pony.
Amiga, played by Jeta Castagnola, was chosen the World Polo League Best Playing Pony.
With its‘ relentless defense, throw-in dominance and offensive attack, Audi was able to do what Alegria and Catamount couldn‘t and that was diffuse the 22-goal underdog‘s four-goal handicap cushion in the opening chukker.
„All-Star champions sounds good, I just told Barto we have four more to go,“ Ganzi said.
Jeta Castagnola, Marc Ganzi, Chris Brant, and Mariano Aguerre.
White Birch opened the game with a goal from Zubiaurre at the 7:28 mark for a 5-0 lead to try and put added pressure on Audi. But for the next seven minutes it was all Audi scoring five consecutive goals to tie the game at 5-5. Toccalino came up with a great stop on de Navaez‘ goal attempt with 25 seconds left to end the chukker.
With Audi keeping White Birch contained, the teams exchanged missed goals, before Barto Castagnola‘s effort in the goal mouth was awarded a penalty-one to give Audi a 6-5 lead with 3:06 left in the second chukker. A great goal run by Zubiaurre tied the game again, 6-6, to end the chukker.
Chris Brant and Jeta Castagnola.
„We were really strong in the first two periods,“ Ganzi said. „We set a tone, we set an attitude. I don‘t think they scored a goal until the third chukker. We knew if we came with a little attitude we could take a little fight out of them. They are a really scrappy team. They‘ve been really hard defensively on some really good teams.“
The game was just as defensive as it was offensive in the third chukker with Audi outscoring White Birch, 3-2, to take a 9-8 halftime lead.
Audi broke the game wide open in the fourth chukker outscoring White Birch, 5-1 including three Jeta Castagnola goals, for a 14-9 advantage. From then on, it was Audi controlling the game and White Birch trying to dig itself out of a hole. Audi outscored White Birch 8-2 in the fourth and fifth chukkers for a 17-10 advantage. Never-say-die White Birch shut out Audi in the final chukker, 2-0.
Santi Toccalino and Paco de Narvaez.
„We watched some video last night,“ Ganzi said. „We just knew if we could get on them quick we could break their will. I think the fourth chukker we broke their will.“
Audi came out with a different game plan in the second half.
„We changed, we moved me to back and moved Paco inside the game,“ Ganzi said. „We did that the last game. We like to change a lot. I don‘t think they really anticipated Paco coming through. Paco was like lightning coming through and I was creating holes for him. They were sort of confused because they were used to Jeta and Barto coming through scoring goals and all of a sudden here comes Paco.
„We have the ability to rotate really fast,“ said Ganzi, crediting coach Lolo Castagnola for keeping the team‘s head straight. „We‘re not afraid to change. We‘re capable of all four guys playing all four positions and that confuses our opponents.“
Barto Castagnola and Jeta Castagnola.
The game was reminiscent of the battles between Audi and White Birch in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. Wally Ganzi and Peter Brant, the fathers and mentors of Marc Ganzi and Chris Brant, used to battle in Saratoga.
In addition to Jeta Castagnola‘s nine goals, Audi got balanced scoring from its lineup. De Narvaez scored three goals and Ganzi and Barto Castagnola each had two goals. Audi was also awarded a penalty-one.
Toccalino led White Birch with four goals. Zubiaurre had two goals and Brant and Aguerre each had one goal.
Richard Mille, eliminated early by Audi in overtime, was defending champion of the All-Star Challenge with three of the four winning Audi players. The foursome of Marc Ganzi, Jeta Castagnola, Pablo MacDonough and Paco de Narvaez defeated Hawaii Polo in last year‘s final.
Mariano Aguerre and Paco de Narvaez.
The World Polo League, now in its fourth year, is the only 26-goal polo played outside of Argentina. It has attracted a large international field from around the world.
The world-class league will run through April 16. The World Polo League is preserving the highest level of polo and its rich tradition in the U.S.
In addition to the All-Star Challenge, the remaining WPL events are Sunday‘s inaugural Tommy Hitchcock Legacy Memorial at 4 p.m.; Founders Cup, which starts this week; Palm Beach Open, March 9-27; Triple Crown of Polo, March 23-April 16 and Beach Polo World Cup Miami Beach, April 29-May 1.
Fans packed the sidelines for the exciting WPL final.
Grand Champions has added Sunset Chukkers and Cocktails, presented by Seminole Casino Coconut Creek held Tuesday late afternoon on Field One for players and guests.
Grand Champions, the nation‘s largest polo club, celebrating its 15th anniversary, is coming off its most successful fall season. Club officials hope to build off that success when it hosts 23 tournaments from January through April.
The high goal club tournaments feature the Sterling Cup, $100,000 World Cup and Santa Rita Abierto.
MVP Jeta Castagnola.
The 16-goal league play includes the Grand Champions Cup, Mar. 8-26 Power Horse Invitational and Mar. 29-Apr. 16 Pedro Morrison Memorial.
The 12-goal league is currently underway with the Sieber Memorial Trophy; $50,000 National 12-Goal and Mar. 8-26 Top Pony 12-Goal.
After January‘s successful Aspen Valley Cup, the 8-goal tournament schedule continues with the Top Pony 8-Goal and Mar. 8-26 Limited Edition 8-Goal.
Cria Polo Argentino Best Playing Pony Machitos Luis Maria played by Mariano Aguerre.
The 6-goal schedule, after a successful Metropolitan Cup, continues with the Halo Polo Trophy and Mar. 8-26 Madelon Bourdieu Memorial.
There is also the Polo School Grand Champions Women‘s League, co-founded by Melissa Ganzi and Alina Carta, for all ages and playing ability held Wednesdays at 10 a.m. at Santa Rita Polo Farm.
Grand Champions Polo Club and Santa Rita Polo Farm is the largest and most unique private 100-acre polo facility in Wellington with 120 stalls in several self-contained barns, exercise track, five climate-controlled tack rooms, vet room, staff quarters, guest house and polo fields with state-of-the-art underground irrigation and stick-and-ball fields.
World Polo League Best Playing Pony Amiga, played by Jeta Castagnola.
During fall, winter and spring seasons, Grand Champions Polo Club, the nation‘s largest club with 13 well-manicured, world-class fields at GCPC and Santa Rita Polo Farm, hosts polo tournaments ranging from six to 26-goal including the 26-goal World Polo League in addition to special events.
The Polo School, now located at the former Pony Express facility, operates in Wellington January through May and September through November. For more information on the Fall Leagues or Polo School contact Director of Operations Juan Bollini at 561-346-1099 or General Manager Cale Newman at 561-876-2930.
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.
By Sharon Robb
Photos by Candace Ferreira