By Sharon Robb

Tonkawa (3-0), the only undefeated team remaining in the six-team tournament, will play Flexjet (1-2) and Audi (2-1) and Casablanca (2-1) will play the other semifinal at McClure River Ranch. The winner advances into Sunday’s championship.

In front of good local crowds and USPA Polo Network worldwide audience on Saturday, Tonkawa (Jeff Hildebrand, 0, Juan Martin Obregon, 5, Sapo Caset, 10, Mason Wroe, 4) advanced with an 11-6 victory over McClure River Ranch (Salvador Lockey, 2, Stewart Armstrong, 3, Alfredo Bigatti, 8, Kris Kampsen, 6) at High Mesa.

Flexjet (Melissa Ganzi, A, Gussie Busch, 2, Hilario Ulloa, 10, Alejandro Novillo Astrada, 8) came from behind to knock off reigning USPA North American Cup champion La Karina (Brian Boyd, .5, Tincho Merlos, 8, Sebastian Merlos, 8, Carlitos Gracida, 4), with a hardfought 15-14 win and claimed the Mandarina Cup at McClure River Ranch.

On Sunday, Audi (Marc Ganzi, 2, Hilario Figueras, 3, Nic Roldan, 8, Jared Zenni, 6) upset previously unbeaten Casablanca (Grant Ganzi, 3, Juancito Bollini, 4, Lucas Lalor, 5, Nacho Novillo Astrada, 8/Salvador Ulloa, 7), 11-6, at McClure River Ranch. At 2-0, Casablanca already had a spot clinched and now will have a rematch against Audi.

After a close first half, Tonkawa had no problem putting away McClure River Ranch in the second half with a balanced offensive attack.

Tonkawa shut out McClure River Ranch in the opening chukker and pulled away for a 4-1 lead after two chukkers. McClure River Ranch bounced back to shut out Tonkawa, 3-0, in the third chukker for a 4-4 halftime lead. Tonkawa came out strong in the second half to outscore McClure River Ranch 7-2 including a 3-0 fourth chukker.

Obregon and Caset each scored five goals to lead Tonkawa. Wroe added one. Kampsen led McClure River Ranch with three goals, Lockey had two and Armstrong added one.

«It’s super fun playing with this team,» Obregon said. «It’s been competitive and tough. The good thing is we are doing well. I am really happy to be in the semis and looking forward to our next game.»

Added Wroe, «We really don’t have any dynamic, we just play polo and play as the game develops and it allows us to play. The game dictates how we play.»

The La Karina-Flexjet matchup was probably the most exciting game in the tournament in front of a record crowd at McClure River Ranch Stadium.

La Karina dominated the first half with leads of 3-1, 5-3 and 8-5 at the half. But the momentum shifted in the second half. The physical game took an interesting twist late in the fourth chukker when officials decided to move up penalties because there were so many being committed and slowing the game down.

Flexjet, in a must-win situation with an 0-2 record, rallied in the second half, outscoring La Karina 10-6 in the final three chukkers. Flexjet came out in the fourth chukker with a 4-1 advantage to tie at 9-9.

The lead changed hands four times before Flexjet scored three unanswered goals. Astrada converted a 40-yard penalty, Ulloa made 40-yard and 60-yard penalty conversions for a 15-13 lead.

Tincho Merlos’ 40-yard goal with 1:18 left cut the lead to one. Merlos then got the throw-in but Astrada picked up the loose ball and along with Ulloa ran out the clock.

Astrada led Flexjet with a team-high nine goals including eight on penalty conversions. Ulloa had five goals and another goal was a penalty-one. Tincho Merlos scored a game-high 10 goals including six penalty conversions. Gracida had three goals and Sebastian Merlos added one goal.

«It was a tough game, back and forth,» Busch said. «Our first two games before that were also super tough. All the teams in the Silver Cup are amazing but we had to pull off a win to stay in the hunt and we made it happen. Our team played great. Our guys made all the penalty shots we needed to make and we pulled off the win.»

Busch, one of the youngest players in the tournament, is trying to follow in his father’s footsteps. Billy Busch won six Silver Cups during his career.

«My dad got me into polo,» Busch said. «He won the Silver Cup all over the country. I don’t know how we won it six times. It’s hard for us to win a damn game. If I can win this thing one time I’ll be happy.»

In the third and final game, Audi came out on the attack in the first half and never relented. Audi shut out Casablanca, 3-0, in the second chukker for a 5-1 advantage and extended its lead 7-3 at halftime.

Casablanca lost 8-goaler Nacho Novillo Astrada to injury in the second half. Salvador Ulloa subbed for Astrada and played well.
Casablanca could never get its offense going, missing several scoring opportunities throughout the game. Audi had four knock-ins alone in the fifth chukker and finished with 10 knock-ins.
Roldan scored a 150-yard goal in the final minute of the fifth chukker to give Audi a 10-5 lead.

Audi got balanced scoring. Marc Ganzi led with four goals. Roldan had three, Figueras had two and Zenni added one. Audi also receive one goal on handicap. Grant Ganzi and Bollini each had two goals for Casablanca. Lalor and Ulloa each had one goal.

The Mandarina Cup, presented tp Flexjet for winning Saturday’s USPA Silver Cup game, was sponsored by the Mandarina Polo & Equestrian Club, located along the Riviera Nayarit, nearly a 200-mile stretch of coastline in the Western Mexican state of Nayarit. The Mexican club and Aspen Valley Polo Club partnered to benefit both clubs’ growing membership with VIP access.
The 119th USPA Silver Cup, the club’s second USPA 20-goal tournament of the summer season, features several of the world’s top polo players making its historical debut at Aspen Valley Polo Club.
Salvador Ulloa of Casablanca scores in the fourth chukker.
Salvador Ulloa of Casablanca scores in the fourth chukker.

The 119th USPA Silver Cup has a rich tradition in history. It is considered the oldest of all American tournaments. The event has been called several names throughout its hallowed history. Originally established by the USPA as the Junior Championship, it was first played in 1900 close to the New York City birthplace of American polo.

The Cup was later renamed in 1938 to the Twenty-Goal Championship and played until 1951. The Trophy went on hiatus from 1942 to 1947 because of the effects on polo during and immediately after World War II.