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Catamount Beats Bendabout To Lead Quartet Into Semifinals In Stanford Financial Group - 100th U.S. Open Polo Championship At International Polo Club Palm Beach

WELLINGTON, Florida – Nine-goaler Carlos Gracida raised his game to a higher level, scoring seven goals to lead Catamount over arch-rival Bendabout 10-4 in the quarterfinals of the historic Stanford Financial Group – 100th U.S. Open Polo Championship at the International Polo Club Palm Beach.

In other quarterfinals on Sunday, sentimental favorite Isla Carroll upset Division I winner Las Monjitas 12-11 in overtime, 2003 finalist Lechuza defeated Pony Express 13-11 as 10-goaler Pite Merlos scored seven goals and three-time finalist White Birch topped Old Pueblo 10-8 as 10-goaler Mariano Aguerre scored four goals.

The semifinals are Wednesday with a doubleheader as Isla Carroll (3-2) plays Lechuza (4-1) at noon followed by Catamount (3-2) against White Birch (4-1) at 3 p.m. The winners of the semifinals advance to Sunday’s championship game at 3 p.m.

This was the third time Scott Devon’s Catamount has beaten Gillian Johnston’s Bendabout in crucial games, including the final of the 22-goal Joe Barry Memorial in late January and the 26-goal C.V. Whitney Cup championship match on March 21.

Bendabout won their previous encounter, 7-5, during the first round of the U.S. Open. Catamount’s Mike Azzaro, one of only two American 10-goalers, played that game despite a herniated disk and could not recover in time for Sunday’s quarterfinal. He was replaced by 10-goaler Adolfo Cambiaso of Argentina, generally regarded as the best player in the world.

Cambiaso, who will team with Azzaro during the prestigious high-goal Argentine season, scored one goal and had three assists. He left immediately after the game for Europe to fulfill a previous commitment, skipping the post-match awards ceremony to catch a plane.

Bendabout scored the game’s first goal, a near-side by Adam Snow with 4:56 left in the first chukker, but the team was never effective in the second half.

“I’ve been there (to the U.S. Open semifinals) many times and it doesn’t mean anything,” said Gracida, who has won the U.S. Open nine times. “If you lose, you’re out.”

After the game Azzaro said he will be at least “80 percent” for the semifinals.

“He’s a warrior,” said Devon, referring to Azzaro. “And Carlos is at the top of his game.”

Gracida leads the team with 20 goals and Azzaro has scored 11 goals. Devon and 21-year-old Pelon Escapite, a 4-goaler, added one goal each against Bendabout.

Snow, one of only two American 10-goalers, led Bendabout with three goals while 10-goaler Miguel Novillo Astrada added one goal. Alejandro Novillo Astrada and patron Gillian Johnston did not score. Snow finished with a team-high 20 goals and Miguel Novillo Astrada finished with 15 goals.

Isla Carroll jumped out to a 7-1 lead 61 seconds into the fourth chukker and never trailed, although Las Monjitas rallied to tie the game at 11-11 on Nacho Novillo Astrada’s goal with 1:04 left in the game. Las Monjitas almost won the game but the game-ending horn sounded before a close shot was taken with the ball landing about five yards from the Isla Carroll goal.

In overtime, Isla Carroll withstood a flurry of shots in front of its goal before coming out of their end. Patron John Goodman tipped the ball to Memo Gracida who launched a 50-yard forehand through the uprights 3:54 into overtime.

“It was a very narrow window (to shoot),” said Gracida, a 15-time U.S. Open champion who spent several minutes after the game receiving oxygen, referring to his game-winning shot. “I’m very proud of these guys. This was our best game, but we can be better. We showed something we need, heart. This team won it with guts. You need luck and heart to win a championship.”

Pancho Bensadon led Isla Carroll with eight goals while Gracida finished with two goals and Sugar Erskine and patron John Goodman added one goal each. Bensadon has a team-high 28 goals.

Javier Novillo Astrada led Las Monjitas (4-1) with four goals while Eduardo Novillo Astrada and Nacho Novillo Astrada scored three goals each. Patron Camilo Bautista added one goal. Javier Novillo Astrada finished with a team-high 31 goals.

Pony Express (3-2) led most of the game, which featured just two ties. Lechuza, which reached the semifinals in 2002, rallied to tie the game at 9-9 before 10-goaler Sebastian Merlos gave them their first lead at 10-9 at the end of the fifth chukker. Pony Express responded to tie the game at 11-11 before Pite Merlos took over.

Pite Merlos, playing in his first full game in more than two weeks, proved the groin injury did not hurt his scoring touch as he scored the final two goals to lift Lechuza into the semifinals.

Ten-goaler Sebastian Merlos finished with four goals while Gaston Urturi added two goals and Lechuza patron Victor Vargas did not score. Sebastian Merlos has scored a team-high 27 goals.

Ten-goaler Bautista Heguy and Sapo Caset scored five goals each to lead 1999 finalist Pony Express. Pablo MacDonough, substituting for an injured Alex Agote, added one goal while patron Bob Daniels did not score. Heguy finished with a team-high 24 goals.

Perennial powerhouse White Birch, which reached the finals in 1997, 1995 and 1994, got off to a slow start, trailing 3-0 before scoring five consecutive in the second chukker, three by Aguerre.

Old Pueblo, trying to win the 100th U.S. Open after winning the 100th Silver Cup, responded with four unanswered goals, two each by 8-goalers Jeff Hall and Facundo Pieres, to re-take the lead.

The second half, however, belonged to White Birch, as it outscored Old Pueblo 4-1 en route to victory.

Lucas Criado and Del Walton scored three goals each for White Birch while patron Peter Brant did not score. Aguerre now has 25 goals to lead White Birch.

Pieres led Old Pueblo (2-3) with four goals while Hall added three and patron John Hall scored once. Matias Magrini did not score. Pieres finished with a team-high 24 goals.

Thirteen teams, featuring 10 10-goalers, 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 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 is being played on the International Polo Club Palm Beach’s five world-class Bermuda-grass playing fields.

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 a post-match awards presentation.

Individual tickets for the U.S. Open tournament Wednesday’s semifinals and Sunday’s title game range from $15 for general admission to $40 for terrace lawn seating 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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