After a slow start, Audi looked like its old self-rallying for a 9-7 victory over Coca-Cola in the 26-goal C.V. Whitney Cup, which takes place at the International Polo Club Palm Beach in Wellington, Florida.

Trailing 5-2 at the half, Audi scored six unanswered goals, shut out Coca-Cola in the fourth and fifth chukkas, and outscored them 7-2 in the second half to advance into Thursday’s semi-final game against White Birch at 11 a.m.

In the other semi-final, top-seed Lucchese will play Orchard Hill on Wednesday at 1 p.m. Orchard Hill advanced with an 11-8 victory over Valiente and White Birch defeated Valiente II, 13-11, in Friday’s opening games.

Audi teammates Marc Ganzi, Rodrigo Andrade, Gonzalito Pieres and Freddie Mannix never lost their composure despite trailing by three at the half. “We didn’t really like the way we played the first half,” Ganzi said. “We were way too loose. The space we gave them was unacceptable. They found the seams in our defence and they played very good polo in the first half. We were lucky actually to be down three goals.” Ganzi said the team re-organized during halftime. ”We said let’s start over 0-0,” Ganzi said. “Let’s go find our man, hunt our man and get on top of our man. Then once we have the man, we’ll have the line and we’ll have the ball. We went back to playing the most simplest of fundamental Audi polo that we know how to play.”

Early in the fourth chukka Audi scored two quick goals from the field from Pieres and Ganzi to trail by only one (5-4) and the momentum quickly turned in Audi’s favour. “When the fields are this complicated, defence is at a huge premium,” Ganzi said. “You have to defend flawlessly. If you can do that, it is really hard for the other team to score unless you foul.” Audi committed only two fouls in the second half. “We played error-free polo in the second half,” Ganzi said. “That’s what we have to do to win.”

Audi is the only team in the 26-goal season to return intact from last year. “It’s a huge advantage having the same team this year,” Ganzi said. “There was no panic at halftime today. Everyone just looked at each other and said, ‘hey we can play better polo, we will play better polo.’ We showed our class in the second half. Give credit to Coke, they are a really good team.”

Coca-Cola unveiled a new 26-goal team line-up with the addition of former teammate Miguel Novillo-Astrada who joins Gillian Johnston, Sugar Erskine and Julio Arellano.

“It was important to win this first game,”” Pieres said. “We haven’t been playing the 20-goal. Our rhythm was not there early in the game so to start with a win means a lot. We came back quick in the fourth chukka and the fifth chukka was amazing. It is a big advantage we are all together again. We have fun playing together and hopefully we will win as many as we can.”

Mannix is the only Audi player coming off the 20-goal season playing with Audi-Millarville. “We weren’t worried but were we concerned, definitely,” Mannix said. “We didn’t want to play like we did in the first half the whole season. The truth is this is the first game we have played together in a long time and it’s different from playing practice. It just took a little bit of time to sort ourselves out and take a deep breath. We have a big advantage. We are the only team that has the same team to come back and play again this year.”

Pieres scored a game-high seven goals including four from the penalty line. Ganzi added two. Erskine led Coca-Cola with four goals, all in the first half.

The C.V. Whitney Cup was created in 1979 and first played at the Retama Polo Center in San Antonio, Texas where it was the handicap counterpart to the U.S. Open Championship. It was moved to IPC in 2003 and has been held every year.

Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney was an American businessman, film producer, writer, government official and owner of a leading stable of thoroughbred horses. He followed in his father’s footsteps as an avid polo player and won the U.S. Open three times.

Teams:
Audi (26)
Marc Ganzi (1)
Gonzalo Pieres (9)
Rodrigo Andrade (9)
Freddie Mannix (7)

Coca Cola (26)
Gillian Johnston (2)
Sugar Erskine (7)
Julio Arellano (8)
Miguel Astrada (9)

Lucchese (26)
John Muse (0)
Magoo Laprida (8)
Nico Pieres (8)
Sapo Caset (10)

Orchard Hill (26)
Steve Van Andel (0)
Polito Pieres (10)
Facundo Pieres (10)
Julian De Lussareta (6)

Valiente (26)
Bob Jornayvaz (2)
Santi Torres (7)
Santi Chavanne (7)
Adolfo Cambiaso (10)

Valiente II (24)
Rob Jornayvaz (1)
Facundo Sola (8)
Tomas Garcia del Rio (8)
Diego Cavanagh (8)

White Birch (26)
Ezequiel Ferrario (7)
Hilario Ulloa (9)
Mariano Aguerre (9)
Peter Brant (1)