In front of a record crowd at Grand Champions Polo Club, Palm Beach Illustrated won the coveted $100,000 World Cup presented by Audi.
The talented foursome of Jared Zenni, Santi Torres, Agustin Obregon and Tommy Collingwood won the eight-day, winner-take-all tournament with an impressive 13- 7 victory over Valiente I.
In front of the largest star-studded crowd ever to witness a polo game in Grand Champions’ history on a windy Saturday afternoon, the 21-goal underdog team finished the 16-team single-elimination tournament undefeated with a perfect 4-0 record.
“This is awesome,” said the 21-year-old Zenni. “We all came in with the same mindset. All four of us wanted to win. We understood that none of us are really awesome players so we all have to work for each other. We had to play as a team to beat other teams. All young kids working for each other. It’s not easy to beat two Valiente teams in the same tournament.”
Obregon, who scored a game-high eight goals, and was a catalyst for the team, was named Most Valuable Player. He said he plans on spending some of his prize money on toys for his infant daughter Pia.
“We all played really well, we all could have been MVP,” Obregon said. “We tried to play as a team and it worked. That was the difference.
“To beat two Valiente teams is awesome,” Obregon said. “Valiente is one of the best organizations in the world. It is great to play against them and when you win, it’s even better. It’s great to beat the best teams in this tournament.”
Palm Beach Illustrated’s road to its biggest prize check in polo included wins over 16-goal International Polo Club (Grant Ganzi, Jason Crowder, Jesse Bray, Juancito Bollini), 14-8; 17-goal GSA (Henry Porter, Torito Ruiz, Joaquin Panelo, Matias Magrini), 9-8 OT; and 23-goal Valiente II (Rob Jornayvaz, Matias Torres Zavaleta, Diego Cavanagh, Tomas Garcia del Rio), 17-12.
In three of its four games, Palm Beach Illustrated had to dig itself out of a hole because of opponents’ handicap ratings.
“They were a very solid team,” Valiente’s Roberto Zedda said. “They were a true four-man team. They had a good system. They listened to each other and followed their system. They are well-deserved winners of the tournament.”
Valiente I, an 18-goal rated team, (Bob Jornayvaz, Roberto Zedda, Pablo Spinacci, Gringo Colombres) saw its three-goal handicap lead quickly disappear at the end of the opening chukker.
“We had a very bad first chukker, we let them come back quick there,” Zedda said. “We lost our advantage. We had a bad chukker in the fifth chukker and that was it. You cannot have two bad chukkers against this kind of team.”
Valiente I could never gets its offensive attack going. In the first half, Valiente I scored one goal in the second and one goal in the third to add to its three-goal handicap cushion and trailed 7-5 at the half. Valiente I added another goal in the fourth chukker and another goal in the final two minutes of the game.
Palm Beach Illustrated put the game away in the fifth chukker, outscoring Valiente I, 3-0.
“I am very happy, so happy,” Torre said. “It was a really tough game. It’s hard when you are going against a team with good horses, if you don’t get jacked up what are you suppose to do?”
Collingwood was outstanding at the back with his physicality, blocked goals, steals and big booming passes to teammates, setting up five of his teammates’ goals.
“This win is awesome, it really is,” Collingwood said. “When we made the team we said let’s just to go for it. We played game-by-game. It’s crazy. To beat another Valiente team is huge, just huge. This is a great team, I hope we can keep it together.”
All four players rated the victory as one of the best in their young careers.
“This win is up there for sure,” Collingwood said. “You do it with friends, you do it with well-organized people, everybody committed 100 percent. Everybody was focused. Never was there any negativity going around on the team. Yeah, you got hot-headed on a couple of plays but there was always somebody bringing you back up.
“There were a lot of people in the organization behind the scenes that were the biggest part especially the grooms, every day with the horses, listening to us and getting them prepared the best way possible.”
In addition to Obregon’s eight goals, Zenni added three goals and Torres had two. Colombres could manage only two goals, both on penalty conversions to lead Valiente I.
It was the second prize money tournament Palm Beach Illustrated has won at Grand Champions. Two years ago, Palm Beach Illustrated won the $50,000 National 12-Goal title with a different lineup (Todd Thurston, Jared Zenni, Geronimo Obregon, MVP Jesse Bray).
All four current Palm Beach lllustrated players grew up through the Polo Training Foundation.
“It was awesome playing with these guys,” Torres said. “We all played hard every game, every chukker. We were there for each other on every play.”
The American Polo Horse Association Best Playing Pony for the championship final was Mini Watt, ridden by Torres with trainer Fabian Lezano earning $2500. Delfina Chita, owned by Bob Jornayvaz, was also selected APHA BPP for the final and his groom Victor was awarded $2,500.
The APHA BPP for the overall tournament was Creciente, ridden twice by Adolfo Cambiaso and Pablo Spinacci with trainer Gloria D’Angelo awarded $2,500.
Created in 2006 by legendary polo pioneer Sunny Hale, the APHA recognizes polo ponies in America and encourages events that showcase them.
The $100,000 World Cup was the second of two classic and prestigious tournaments that Grand Champions owners and high goal polo players Melissa and Marc Ganzi revived thanks to the generosity of Glenn Straub of Palm Beach Polo, where they were last played in the late 1990s. The first tournament they revived was the Sterling Cup.
“I think we showed everyone a great tournament,” Marc Ganzi told the crowd. “Those of you who were here two weeks ago it was an exciting draw, you never knew who you were going to get.
“I think we demonstrated what’s great about polo today,” Ganzi said. “Two great teams that battled it out and worked their way through a big bracket of 16 teams. Today you saw great sportsmanship, great horsemanship. I really want to thank both teams for putting out the effort today. It was a lot of fun to watch.”
Jornayvaz, who entered two Valiente teams, also praised the effort of the Ganzis.
“Marc and Melissa did an incredible job,” Jornayvaz said. “They have shown that we can put together a differentkind of tournament and have a lot of fun doing it. A big thanks to Marc and Melissa.”
There was something for everyone during the championship day. The club hosted an Easter egg hunt with the Easter bunny; there was face painting for the kids; Miami Dolphin mascot T.D. and cheerleaders; filled-to-capacity VIP tent with food and drinks with live music and celebrities Vanilla Ice, Sterling Jones, Gayle Bass and DJ Adam Lipson; food and dessert trucks and Audi’s newest line of cars on display. Wellington Mayor Anne Gerwig threw out the ceremonial first ball.
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.
The tournament was live-streamed on Wellington-based ChukkerTV, worldwide leaders in polo broadcasting.