WELLINGTON, Fla. - Gracida Wine rallied in the final chukker to win the $100,000 World Cup Saturday at windswept Jan Pamela.
In front of a good crowd, Gracida Wine (Carlitos Gracida 4, Juan Monteverde 5, Peco Polledo 6, Sterling Giannico 4) defeated Dundas Polo (Santos Merlos 2, Isidro Strada 7, Salvador Lockey 2, Jejo Taranco 8), 12-7.
The lead changed hands six times in the rainy and windy conditions, with the teams battling to a 2-2 tie at the end of the first chukker. Gracida Wine then pulled ahead 3-2 on Gracida’s 60-yard penalty conversion and pulled away 5-2 on another Gracida penalty conversion before settling for a 5-3 halftime lead.
Dundas Polo started reeling them in late in the fourth chukker and scored back-to-back goals in the fifth chukker to tie the game at 6-6 before Gracida Wine’s heroics in the sixth and final chukker, winning the team its first major tournament.
“We have been working so hard, hard work pays off,” said Carlitos Gracida, son of Hall of Famer and former 10-goaler Carlos Gracida. “This is a great way to end the tournament.”
Gracida, Monteverde and Polledo were members of the 2018 Palm Beach Illustrated champion team. Giannico, making his winter season debut at Grand Champions, filled the vacant spot left by Tommy Collingwood playing at IPC.
“This is the second time we win with the same team with Sterling playing for us this year,” Polledo said. “He is a very good teammate and a very good player. It was an amazing game, very fast.”
Team newcomer Sterling Giannico, who turns 27 in March, was named Most Valuable Player. Evancha, played by Giannico, was Grand Champions Best Playing Pony.
“This was a big win for this team,” Giannico said. “To be honest, I don’t know what it means to win this tournament. I am a little in shock. This is big.”
“I had a lot of pressure playing with these guys. They won it two years ago. I had to step up my game, and luckily the boys helped me out and gave me the confidence, and we won the game by a big difference.”
“We’re young, and we grew up together in Argentina,” Giannico said. “I know Juan and Peco, we used to go to school down there, and we have known each other for a long time. I used to work with Memo and Carlos, and I knew Carlitos. Just going out and winning it for Carlitos and everybody, it just means a lot to the family.”
Vicki, played by Gracida and named after Fort Lauderdale-born Vicki Armour, was American Polo Horse Association Best Playing Pony.
For Gracida, the win was emotionally charged. Gracida’s team practiced only once before the tournament, and Gracida has practiced only three times because no high goal team has picked him up, and it has been hard finding practice sessions.
“The emotion is coming from every day working, every day not having a job for two years in the high goal,” Gracida said. “Everyone that helped me play this tournament is huge. It’s exposure for me, and this is what I work for, the chance to do what I love to do.”
“I am very happy to win it again,” Monteverde said. “It’s a great feeling and [a] great team. I still don’t understand what happened. The guys played amazing in the sixth chukker. They connected in every way. I think we just match in the field. Everyone plays their position, and it works. We just changed the back this year, and you saw him scoring five goals. This is amazing.”
Gracida and Giannico both shared scoring honors with a game-high five goals. Monteverde and Polledo each had one goal.
Strada led Dundas Polo with four goals. Merlos, Lockey and Taranco each had one goal.
In the semifinals, Dundas Polo defeated Audi, 9-7, and Gracida Wine eliminated Beverly Equestrian, 13-10.
The single-elimination, winner-take-all tournament, coming off a year’s hiatus in 2019, is the richest prize purse offered in club history. The tournament showcased the sport and its players at every level competing for one of richest prize purses in the nation.
Each player on the winning team received $25,000 in prize money. The six-day tournament featured ten teams from a 12 to 27-goal rating.