WELLINGTON, FL – January 14, 2013 – Audi and Piaget, two of the top teams in the 20- and 26-goal tournaments this season, were knocked off Sunday in their season-openers at International Polo Club Palm Beach.
Audi lost to Orchard Hill, 12-7, for the first time in the team’s history in the first game of Sunday’s tripleheader in the Joe Barry Memorial Cup.
Audi, the 2009 U.S. Open champion, hopes to rebound on Wednesday against defending champion Coca-Cola at 11 a.m. Orchard Hill (1-1) was coming off Thursday’s 14-10 loss to La Herradura.
Piaget, led by 10-goaler Miguel Astrada’s six goals, lost a hardfought 14-10 decision to 2012 U.S. Open champion Zacara, also playing its 20-goal season-opener.
Zacara’s 10-goal Argentine Open champion player Facundo Pieres scored a game-high seven goals.
In the third game, La Herradura, led by former 10-goalers Memo and Carlos Gracida, upset Coca-Cola, 12-11, in overtime. The brothers combined for eight goals including Memo Gracida’s game-winner.
Making his 20-goal debut for Piaget was 18-year-old Argentine sensation Joaquin Panelo, a 4-goaler and cousin of teammate Juan Bollini, a 5-goaler. Panelo scored his first two goals in the first and sixth chukkers.
“We practiced him a lot and saw the potential in Joaquin when he played at Grand Champions,” Bollini said. “There is so much pressure in Argentina, it’s not easy. We thought this was a good opportunity for him.”
Piaget led early in the game and kept it close. Zacara took the lead for good late in the third chukker but Piaget kept it close until Zacara pulled away in the fifth chukker.
“We stayed with Zacara for four chukkers,” Bollini said. “With Facundo and Hilario (9-goaler) it was like playing two 10-goalers but we were with them. We can fix this. We can make a few adjustments.”
Player-sponsor Melissa Ganzi, who scored a goal in the opening chukker, was happy with her team despite the loss and hopes to bounce back against Valiente on Thursday at 3 p.m. Valiente player-sponsor Bob Jornayvaz was at the game scouting.
“I think we’re happy that our horses did well,” Melissa Ganzi said. “It was our first game of the season. The game could have gone either way. We’re still a new team. We have never played together as a team before. It was a good start.”
For the veteran pro Astrada, the game was physical. He was knocked off his horse and hit with a ball by Zacara player-sponsor Lyndon Lea. Astrada was not seriously injured but did have “a few bruises,” he said.
“We had our chances, I just think today we were slow to be more aggressive,” Astrada said. “We have to improve that. This was our first game on the horses. We need a few more games to get going and get the chemistry.”
Said Lea: “Polo is unpredictable, we didn’t know what to expect. They are a good team. Miguel Astrada is one of the best players out there so you never know what’s going to happen.”
Piaget coach Joey Casey praised Astrada’s play. He said the team needs a few more games under its belt to play well together as a unit.
“The key was Miguel who was incredible on his penalty shots,” Casey said. “That’s a huge difference in polo and he is one of the best penalty hitters in the game. For us that’s a huge bonus to have him spot-on with his penalty shots.”
Five of Astrada’s six goals were on penalty shots.
“We had a slow start,” Casey said. “In the first half we only had one shot on goal and the second half we got it together and had five shots on goal. Zacara was not letting us get past the midfield mark. They were shutting us down and bringing the ball back their way. Those guys are tough.”
After a three-year hiatus, Piaget competed in the 20-goal tournaments last year winning the Ylvisaker Cup which they plan to defend Jan. 26-Feb. 24.
“We have a chance, we just have to get it together and get organized,” Casey said. “This is the first real game we have had together. All those other guys have been playing quite a bit together.”
Audi featured player-patron Marc Ganzi, 8-goalers Nico Pieres, an Argentine Open champion and Nic Roldan, a Cardinal Newman alum; and 3-goaler Carlitos Gracida, son of Hall of Famer Carlos Gracida.
The 20-goal Audi foursome lacked the cohesive attack that won them the USPA National 20-Goal and USPA North American Cup tournaments during the fall season. They missed key penalty shots and had too many unforced errors.
“The game was frustrating,” Marc Ganzi said. “It’s a team we never lost to ever in high goal. As a team, we had a lot of good mismatches with them and we didn’t take advantage. We can beat that team.”
While Audi managed to tie the game early (2-2), it was never in the lead. Lucas Criado scored a game-high eight goals for Orchard Hill. Roldan had four goals for Audi.
“They had a good day today and didn’t miss a lot of goals,” Ganzi said. “They had a good game plan for us. It turned into a messy game and it worked out well for them. They executed and did the things they wanted to do. Good for them. Some days you have good days and some days you have bad days.”
Between now and Wednesday, Ganzi and his team will look at the game tape and re-group. “We will look at the tape, learn and get better,” Ganzi said. “We will get better.”
Ganzi, ranked among the top amateur polo players in the world, is playing with a serious knee injury. He has a torn ACL in his right knee and plans to have surgery at the end of the season. His doctor told him he can play on it but without full-strength power.
IPC, polo’s winter capital of the world, is celebrating its tenth anniversary with four 20-goal tournaments and three 26-goal tournaments including the 109th annual Maserati U.S. Open.
Audi and Piaget plan to compete in every tournament.
Among other season highlights are the Feb. 15 Polo Hall of Fame Inductions at the National Museum of Polo in Lake Worth and Outback 40-Goal Challenge on Saturday, Feb. 16 at 3 p.m. to benefit the Polo Players Support Group, Inc.
January 16, Wednesday: Audi vs. Coca-Cola, 11 a.m.; January 17, Thursday: Piaget vs. Valiente, 3 p.m.; January 19, Saturday: Audi vs. La Herradura, 3 p.m.; January 20, Sunday: Piaget vs. Lucchese, 10 a.m.; January 23, Wednesday, 1 and 3 p.m., Joe Barry Cup Semifinals; January 24, Thursday, 1 and 3 p.m., Bobby Barry Cup Subsidiary Semifinals; January 27, Sunday: Bobby Barry Cup Final, noon; Joe Barry Cup Final, 3 p.m.
Jan. 8-27, Joe Barry Memorial Cup
Jan. 29-Feb. 24, Ylvisaker Cup
Feb. 20-March 3, Iglehart Cup
Feb. 20-March 3, CV Whitney Cup
March 5-March 24, USPA Piaget Gold Cup
March 26-April 21, 109th Maserati U.S. Open Polo Championship
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