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Polo in the United States
Polo in the United StatesPolo in the United States

Polo in the United States

Decisive moment for high goal polo in Wellington

March 29, 2018
March 29, 2018
After several weeks of lobbying and uncertainty, next year’s 26-goal season, supported in great part by Valiente and Grand Champions, will be officially announced this week. In September of 2017, the USPA announced that 22-goals would be the maximum level of polo played as of 2019, but many figures in the polo world object to this decision. However, this development was not too surprising considering that the number of teams competing in the principal tournaments in the US, including the US Open, was diminishing year on year. Only time will tell if the decision is for better or for worse, but this will undoubtedly be a heated talking point over the course of the year.

The new "26-Goal Series" will feature the three tournaments: The Founders Cup (Feb 20-Mar 3), The Palm Beach Open (Mar 6-Mar 24) and The Triple Crown of Polo (Mar 27-Apr 14).

Earlier this week, American journalist Alex Webbe posted the following on his Facebook account:

"The exclusive world of international polo competition in Wellington has been turned upside down with the development of recent events that may change the landscape forever.

It was a shock to the polo community when the John Goodman Family Trust sold the International Polo Club in 2016, and an even bigger shock when it was revealed that it was purchased by a relatively non-polo buyer-Wellington Equestrian Partners (a group led by Mark Bellissimo).

After making few initial changes to the IPC polo formats, Bellissimo threw a wrench into the status quo with his creation and introduction of Gladiator Polo, a compressed arena version of the field game. The clothing line of the United States Polo Association quickly jumped aboard as a major financial sponsor that saw instantly popularity in the night matches that offered the largest cash prize in the history of polo.

With minor changes, IPC made its way through the 2017 season when a dwindling number of 26-goal sponsors threatened the "integrity" of the high-goal game. The USPA brought in an outside consultant who suggested, based on his research, that the handicaps of the US Open, the USPA Gold Cup and the C. V. Whitney Cup should be lowered to 22-goals, a fact that will be employed beginning with the 2019 season.

And it begins. Valiente’s Bob Jornayvaz and Grand Champions Marc and Melissa Ganzi have cobbled together a 26-goal league for the 2019 season that will play without the supervision of the USPA and with their own adaptations of rules. It has been reported that the 26-goal competition will take place in direct competition with the IPC season, including the C.V. Whitney Cup, the USPA Gold Cup and the United States Open Championship.

How, you may ask, can the USPA Florida Circuit Governor, Melissa Ganzi, not only condone such an effort, but promote it without regard for either the USPA’s most revered tournaments or the activities of one of her circuit clubs (IPC)? I can’t answer that.

It has also been rumored, according to Bellissimo, that anyone who plays at IPC will not be welcomed to play at Grand Champions or in the 26-goal league. Just one more aspect to the move, if true, that makes the split even more distasteful, but with three of the biggest names in American polo embroiled in conflict and competition, it doesn’t bode well for the welfare of the high-goal game in Florida.”

Many 10-goalers gave out their opinion on this situation:

Adolfo Cambiaso: "I think it’s fantastic for us, because we like to play 26-goal polo. It will be fun. After Argentina, the 26-goal in America is the highest level of polo in the world. The level shouldn’t go down. Melissa, Bob, Marc [Ganzi] think that’s the way it should be, and next year we are definitely going to play 26-goal polo."

Gonzalito Pieres: "I really like playing 26 goals, I think it’s a great level, but probably you have to adjust. There are not many teams playing at that level and there were not many coming in. I think the decision was made to try to have the US Open back to 12 or 10 teams. I think you have to try. Next year it’s going to be a trial and then there is still going to be 26 goals which I think it’s really good, Grand Champions and Valiente are going to run that one. i think it gives a lot of opportunities to people that want to play both levels or just that one."

Hilario Ulloa: "I’m not sure which level I prefer; I really prefer what it’s the best for polo or where we will have more teams and the best competition. To have a good level we need a lot of competition like it happened in the last 20-goal tournaments. All very competitive, you could see games where anyone could win, so I want to see a level in which lot of teams play and everyone have a chance to win. I want to see players, people, sponsors, teams trying to work together to have one big series of many teams playing that tournament."

Sapo Caset: "Of course everyone always want to play the highest polo and I think the 26 it’s really competitive, really fun, but I think that for the last couple of years there hasn’t been many teams. So I think it’s probably a good choice to drop it down for a year, 2 or 3, it depends. And then if we have more teams to play 26, you are welcome. But to play a 26-goal tournament with 4 teams, I don’t think it’s fun for anyone even for spectators. probably it’s a good time to do it to drop it to 22 and then we’ll see how it goes."

Lastly, Bob Puetz, USPA’s CEO, stated: "Very unfortunate and disappointing! We should all be working together to make polo the best it can be."