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Catamount Wins Emotional Game Against Isla Carroll, White Birch Remains Unbeaten With 11-9 Victory In Stanford Financial Group - 1OOth U.S. Open Polo Championship At International Polo Club Palm Beach

WELLINGTON, Florida – Catamount’s dynamic duo of 10-goaler Mike Azzaro and 9-goaler Carlos Gracida used a four-day break to heal from injuries and the time off worked as Catamount defeated 1997 champion Isla Carroll 10-8 in an emotion-packed first-round game of the Stanford Financial Group – 100th U.S. Open Polo Championship Saturday at International Polo Club Palm Beach.

In other first-round games, 9-goaler Lucas Craido scored nine goals to lead White Birch over Bendabout 11-9 in a battle of unbeaten teams and Everglades, led by four goals each from 8-goalers Tomas Llorente and Lucas Monteverde, beat Orchard Hill 10-7.

Catamount has been hit by injuries all season but has preserved. Gracida is nursing a sore knee and is taking injections. Azzaro has a herniated disk in his back.

“I could barely walk before the last game,” said Gracida, referring to Catamount’s loss to Lechuza. “The difference is the injuries. The rest helped. And the horses are holding up really, really good.”

Azzaro had an MRI last week, which uncovered the back injury.

“I’m not 100 percent,” said Azzaro. “Strength-wise, I’m about 50 percent, but the horses are at 150 percent. I still lack some strength, but there’s no pain.”

There were seven ties in the game, the last one at 8-8 on Azzaro’s short forehand with 17 seconds left in the fifth chukker.

In the sixth chukker, Gracida converted two penalty shots, a 30-yarder with 4:50 left and a 60-yarder with 3:47 remaining, for the margin of victory.

Isla Carroll threatened numerous times in the final chukker, but missed two good opportunities and had Azzaro and Gracida each make key defensive saves.

The teams combined for nine goals in the second chukker but managed just one goal, by Pancho Bensadon of Isla Carroll, over the next two chukkers.

Emotions erupted at the end of the first half, when a yelling Azzaro chased Isla Carroll’s Sugar Erskine off the field. Azzaro was assessed a technical foul at the beginning of the second half, but Isla Carroll could not take advantage.

Gracida, who has won the U.S. Open nine times, led Catamount (2-1) with four goals while Azzaro scored three goals. Defensive standout Pelon Escapite added two goals and patron Scott Devon had one goal.

Bensadon led Isla Carroll with five goals while Erskine scored two goals and 9-goaler Memo Gracida, who has won the U.S. Open a record 15 times, added one goal. Patron John Goodman, in his best game of the season, did not score but set up one goal and played excellent defense.

White Birch trailed 5-2 after the second chukker before rallying for the victory to remain in sole possession of first place in Division II with a 3-0 record, a half-game ahead of Catamount (2-1). Criado’s 40-yard penalty shot with 35 seconds remaining in the fourth chukker gave White Birch a 6-5 lead it never relinquished.

In the fifth chukker, Criado scored consecutive goals in a 42-second span to increase White Birch’s lead to 8-5 with 3:43 left in the fifth chukker. Ten-goalers Adam Snow and Miguel Novillo Astrada responded with goals to cut the margin to 8-7 with 58 seconds left. But Criado knocked in a 50-yard grounder with 10 seconds left in the chukker to push to lead to 9-7.

Bendabout cut the margin to one goal twice in the final chukker but could not tie the game. Criado clinched the victory with a 40-yard penalty shot with 31 seconds left.

Ten-goaler Mariano Aguerre added two goals and 3-goaler Del Walton scored one goal for White Birch. Twenty-five-year-old Carlucho Arellano, a 4-goaler substituting for patron Peter Brant for the second consecutive game, did not score. Brant was out of town on business but is expected to return for White Birch’s game Wednesday against Everglades.

Snow and Miguel Novillo Astrada scored four goals each for Bendabout (2-1), which remains in first place in Division III. Patron Gillian Johnston added one goal and Alejandro Novillo Astrada did not score for Bendabout.

Orchard Hill (0-3) scored the game’s first two goals, but Everglades (1-2) responded with six consecutive goals in the second and third chukkers and never trailed.

Everglades patron Skeeter Johnston and 8-goaler Owen Rinehart scored one goal each. Seven-goaler Nicolas Roldan led Orchard Hill with three goals while 10-goaler Eduardo Heguy and 8-goaler Julio Arellano scored two goals apiece. Patron Steve Van Andel did not score.

High-goal polo action in the Stanford Financial Group – U.S. Open Polo Championship continues Sunday with a tripleheader beginning at 10 a.m. when Pony Express (2-0) plays Texas Polo (0-2), followed by Millarville (1-2) against Old Pueblo (0-2) and concluding with Tommy Lee Jones’ San Saba (1-1) against Victor Vargas’ Lechuza (1-1) at 3 p.m.

Thirteen teams, featuring nine 10-goalers, have entered the Stanford Financial Group – U.S. Open Polo Championship, the most prestigious polo tournament in North America, highlighting the historic inaugural polo season at the International Polo Club Palm Beach. The 26-goal tournament culminates with the championship match on Sunday, April 18 at 3 p.m. Fifteen teams, in 2002, is the record for teams in a U.S. Open.

The Stanford Financial Group – U.S. Open will be played on the International Polo Club Palm Beach’s five world-class Bermuda-grass playing fields and teams will also take advantage of the many private fields in Wellington.

The Houston-based Stanford Financial Group, a privately-held global network of affiliated companies, has signed on as the title sponsor of the 100th U.S. Open Polo Championship in 2004. Stanford’s family of companies provides international private banking, trust and brokerage services and real estate development. Currently, the Stanford organization manages in excess of $17 billion in deposits and assets, serving clients on six continents. The success of the group is the result of entrepreneurial spirit and drive spearheaded by third generation Chairman and CEO R. Allen Stanford.

Like the high-goal teams on the field, the International Polo Club Palm Beach has amassed a lineup of prestigious sponsors for the U.S. Open. The Stanford Financial Group – U.S. Open tournament will feature a different presenting sponsor every Sunday, including Bombardier Aerospace, Cunard Ltd. and HUMMER, Mitchell-Peck Jewelers, Piaget and Roder.

As always, there will be a delicious Sunday brunch, catered by The Breakers, open to the public preceding the featured stadium match, along with the now traditional and very popular champagne divot stomp and an post-match awards presentation.

Individual tickets for the U.S. Open tournament Sunday games range from $15 for general admission to $120 for tailgating spots and are available in advance. For ticket information for the U.S. Open, please call the club at (561) 204-5687 or visit online at Tickets are also available at the gate.

International Polo Club Palm Beach is located at 3667 120th Avenue South, between Pierson Road and Lake Worth Road, in Wellington.


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