By Sharon Robb
Photos by Candace Ferreira for ChukkerTV
WELLINGTON, Fla., November 1, 2021 — On a perfect day for polo, Zahedi Chogan won its first tournament in its fall season debut at Santa Rita Polo Farm.
In an exciting finish, Zahedi Chogan (Sy Zahedi, Jason Crowder, Brandon Phillips, Tommy Biddle) defeated La Indiana (Matthew Gonzalez, Marc Ganzi, Luis Escobar, Jeff Hall), 11-10, on Sunday to capture the Fall Plates final.
The veteran field leader Biddle, playing well on both ends of the field, was named Most Valuable Player. Biddle is among 2022 inductees to the Polo Hall of Fame. A Hall of Fame Induction ceremony is scheduled for Friday, Feb. 18 if conditions allow for social gatherings at the time.
Tommy Biddle of Zahedi Chogan works the ball off sideboards past defender Jeff Hall.
„I think MVP could have gone to anybody on our team today,“ Biddle said. „I‘m happy to be playing here with a bunch of good players. We‘re not difficult to play with, we all play simple polo. I‘m just happy we won.“
In one of the best finals in club history, the well-matched teams battled back and forth. Zahedi Chogan had a two-goal lead (5-3) going into the third chukker. After that, it was anybody‘s game with 6-6, 7-7 and 9-9 ties at the end of the third, fourth and fifth chukkers.
„I knew it was going to be tough because La Indiana played together last week and won,“ Biddle said. „We were a bit unlucky. When we gave up all those fouls it was because we kind of got sloppy defensively. They weren‘t beating us from the field, it was just the foul line. We were just making mistakes and they were capitalizing.“
Zahedi Chogan teammates Jason Crowder and Brandon Phillips work together.
The game‘s outcome came down to the final 4:52 minutes. Phillips gave Zahedi Chogan a 10-9 lead when he won the throw-in and raced downfield to score. Crowder then came up with a big defensive play stopping Escobar‘s goal run. With 3:51 left, Zahedi Chogan fouled giving Ganzi his seventh opportunity to convert an open-goal penalty, tying the game at 10-10.
With 2:41 on the clock, it was Phillips again fighting for possession on the endline. Biddle read the play well and forced a La Indiana blocking penalty. Phillips converted the 30-yard penalty to give his team an 11-10 lead.
In the final two minutes Crowder came up with two key defensive plays to stop scoring threats and Phillips ran out the clock.
Jeff Hall of La Indiana works the ball downfield with Brandon Phillips defending.
„I am ecstatic,“ Sy Zahedi said. „It‘s such a pleasure to play with this caliber of players on both sides. La Indiana is such a phenomenal team. I kept telling my teammates a couple years ago when I started playing outdoor polo I could never dream of being on the same field with these guys. The chemistry and combination for us just worked.“
It was Zahedi Chogan‘s second tournament appearance this fall. They also competed in the Tackeria Invitational where they lost to La Indiana, 9-8, in the semifinal.
„I couldn‘t be more thrilled,“ said Zahedi, a former motocross racer. „This is a dream come true. I just want to play safe polo and contribute to my team.“
Tommy Biddle of Zahedi Chogan receives his MVP plaque from Georgette Escobar.
Zahedi, raised from minus-one to zero goals, has been playing outdoor polo for two years after trying arena polo. He was mentored by Hall of Famer and former 10-goaler Memo Gracida at La Herradura and was a natural.
„The main thing was to learn the game in a safe, controlled environment,“ Zahedi said. „It was trial by fire from four goals to eight goals and jumping to 12 goals very quickly. I had so much fun.“
Said Biddle, „He‘s doing well for a guy who has just gotten into the sport, he‘s doing great.“
Zahedi first played with Crowder at La Quinta in a four-goal tournament and continue to compete together at a higher level. Last month in Santa Barbara, Rancho Polo/Chogan won the Regional President‘s Cup Final with a 14-12 win over Klentner Ranch. Crowder was MVP with 10 goals. It was Crowder who convinced Zahedi to play at Grand Champions.
Newport‘s Gene Goldstein on his way to scoring one of his six goals as umpire Gaston Dorignac looks on.
„I‘m happiest with how much he‘s improved and how well he is playing, „ Crowder said. „I‘m super happy we won. We all had really good chemistry and everybody worked hard for each other. We got Sy down here and he has improved every game by leaps and bounds. He has accelerated his polo to the next level. He‘s got the right attitude and everything that makes a good polo player.“
Added Zahedi, „Everything Jason told me about Grand Champions was true. The fields are amazing, the people are amazing. The caliber of players I am so impressed with.“
The name of the team is the original Persian name for polo. In Iran the game is still referred to as Chogan.
Kris Kampsen of HL Polo breaks loose with the ball.
One of the most amazing moments of the game was Biddle‘s 150-yarder looking to score but bouncing off the goal post instead. „That wasn‘t the plan,“ Biddle said. „The plan was for it to go through.“
Zahedi Chogan got balanced scoring from its lineup. Phillips scored a team-high five goals, Biddle had three, Crowder had two and Zahedi added one.
Grant Ganzi of NetJets goes for the big hit downfield.
Ganzi led La Indiana with a game-high seven goals, all open-goal penalty conversions. Hall had two goals and Escobar had one.
In the semifinals, Zahedi Chogan advanced into the championship with a 9-8 victory over Newport and La Indiana defeated HL Polo, 13-11, in the four-team, single-elimination tournament.
Newport (Gene Goldstein, Juan Bollini, Sugar Erskine, Leo Mandelbaum) won the Fall Plates subsidiary with a 5-3 victory over NetJets (Larry Austin, Santos Bollini, Grant Ganzi, Nic Roldan/Pablo Spinacci) in the third and deciding round robin game.
In the other games, Newport edged HL Polo (Harry Landy, Kris Kampsen, Juancito Bollini, Santi Toccalino), 5-4, and NetJets and HL Polo tied 4-4 in the second game giving Newport a plus-one advantage going into the third and deciding game.
Nic Roldan of NetJets tries to control the ball.
Behind the one-two punch of Goldstein and Mandelbaum, Newport dominated most of the game, 2-0 and 3-1 for a 5-1 advantage going into the third and final chukker. With Newport leading, 4-0, Roldan left the game with an ailing ankle and was replaced by Spinacci. Goldstein led scoring with six goals. Ganzi had five goals.
Fall Plates was the third of five medium goal tournaments. Seminole Casino Coconut Creek won the season-opening Fall Classic and La Indiana won the Tackeria Invitational last weekend. Four high goal tournaments are also scheduled for the fall including the Nov. 3-11 USPA Continental Cup, Nov. 9-14 USPA North American Cup and Nov. 16-21 USPA National 20 Goal.
The highlight of the fall season is the Nov. 27 doubleheader with the Carlos Gracida Memorial Legends of Polo and 10th annual International Cup. Sponsorship packages are available.
Chukker TV announcer Dale Schwetz getting ghoulish for Halloween as Motley Crue.
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.
During the winter season, Grand Champions and Santa Rita will host 23 tournaments from Jan. 15 to April 15.
The Polo School, a 501c3 organization and stand-alone USPA club, 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. For more information on the Fall Leagues or Polo School contact Director of Operations Juan Bollini at 561-346-1099.
Polo fans Sandy Klein and Larry Coyle enjoy Sunday‘s polo doubleheader.
The entire fall season will be live-streamed on Wellington-based ChukkerTV, leaders in polo broadcasting with cutting-edge technology including 4K TV currently making its‘ debut. ChukkerTV also features team challenges and instant replay which made their debut at Grand Champions in January, 2014.
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.