WELLINGTON, Fl., March 10, 2015---In an emotionally-charged game, Aspen Valley Polo Club took control early to dominate Newport for an 8-7 victory in the $50,000 National 12-Goal Tournament Monday at Grand Champions Polo Club.
In front of a packed crowd and worldwide ChukkerTV audience, Audi (Grant Ganzi, 1, Juancito Bollini, 2, Mark Tomlinson, 6, Wes Finlayson, 3) turned in one of its best games of the season to win the much-anticipated winner-take-all final.
Newport (Gene Goldstein, 1, Joaquin Panelo, 4, Michel Dorignac, 6, Agustin Arellano, 1) mounted a late rally but Audi, which led from start to finish, never lost its composure.
Tomlinson, 32, one of England's top polo players and rated seven goals in his homeland, was named Most Valuable Player.
With his wife, British Olympic dressage champion Laura Bechtolsheimer proudly watching from the sidelines, Tomlinson had one of his finest games during his debut season at Grand Champions Polo Club.
Tomlinson was the most dominant player on the field. The field general was a steadying influence on his three teenaged teammates. He led his team with four goals including three on penalty shots and played well defensively.
Tomlinson's 12-year-old Chestnut mare, Chaja, was named Best Playing Pony. Tomlinson played her in his explosive fifth chukker.
Chaja, one of six ponies he brought over from England, was homebred from one of his mother, legendary player Claire Tomlinson's favorite mares, which she played during the height of her illustrious career.
"It's great to win a prize with a homebred," Tomlinson said.
It was Tomlinson's final appearance at Grand Champions for the season. He plans to return home to play in England.
"It's the end of the season here for me," Tomlinson said. "It's a really good way to finish. It was a team victory today and that was the key. We are four players and we play. There isn't really a passenger on our team which you do have on some other teams.
"I've never played in a money tournament like this. It's a great concept and hopefully they can carry it on and make it bigger and bigger and get more support."
The victory was sweet redemption for Ganzi and Bollini, members of Casablanca that lost last year's inaugural tournament to Palm Beach Equine, 11-9, after giving up three unanswered goals in the final four minutes of the game.
"It's a really, really big win," Ganzi said. "This is the last 12-goal we hadn't won that we wanted to win. This is so much better than last year.
"Last year was a heartbreaker and this year is a triumph. That feeling we had last year was that extra push to get revenge. We were motivated."
With Ganzi ball-hawking and riding defenders wide of the plays for most of the game, Finlayson and Bollini each scored two goals.
"I thought we were in control of the whole game," Bollini said. "Wes and I were working 100 percent for Mark. We were a team out there."
Michel Dorignac led Newport with four goals. Panelo had two goals and Arellano added one.
The game featured four talented teenagers: Finlayson, 19, Bollini, 18, Arellano, 17, and Ganzi, 16. Playing alongside Tomlinson was a thrill for the trio.
"It's kind of sad this is our last game together," Finlayson said. "I enjoy playing with Grant and Juan especially. Mark is an amazing player and it's awesome to play with him, too. He is very smart and dedicates himself 100 percent to the game and never gives up. He's a fighter and that's why he is perfect for this team because we are all fighters. Hopefully, we get to play again in the future."
Said Ganzi: "Mark is really a smart player. He helped us a lot and showed us a lot of new tactics we hadn't done in the past that gave us more discipline. It made a difference."
Tomlinson also enjoyed playing with his three young teammates.
"The more I get out of them, the less I have to do," Tomlinson said. "That's the idea of a team game. Obviously, I am the main player on the team but I am trying to get the others to play off me and each do their bit. They all played well to their handicap if not above."
Aspen Valley Polo Club jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first chukker catching Newport off-guard. The team showed no signs of letting up in the second chukker keeping its lead to a two-goal margin, 5-3, one goal advantage (5-4) at the half and after the fourth (6-5).
Aspen Valley Polo Club regained its scoring momentum to lead 8-5 at the end of the fifth chukker. One of the plays of the game was Bollini taking out two defenders to clear the way for Tomlinson, forcing Newport into a right of way penalty. Tomlinson converted the 40-yard undefended goal for an 8-5 lead to end the chukker.
Newport had its opportunities in the last chukker but Aspen Valley Polo Club's swarming man defense was relentless. Aspen Valley Polo Club had an 8-6 lead for most of the chukker. It wasn't until the final 46 seconds when Dorignac scored on a neck shot to end the game.
"We played well, we played our best game," Finlayson said. "We can always play better but I think we played pretty well today. I'm happy."
When Dorignac started to get his team back within contention, there was no sign of panic from Aspen Valley Polo Club.
"We just needed to play our game and keep playing smart polo," Finlayson said. "The fouls are the worse thing that you can do at that point. Keep fouling and let them gain momentum is the worse thing you can do. We tried not to foul, have patience and make the right plays."
Added Ganzi, "We played our game and had it under control. Even in the end we knew if they scored one in the last three minutes we would be okay. We all played really calm. At the end we were saying no foul, no foul."
To make it to the final of the eight-team tournament, Newport defeated 5 Star Builders (Nico Escobar, Pedro Falabella, Tommy Biddle, Cody Offen), 11-9, and Aspen Valley Polo Club held on for a thrilling 14-13 victory over Pony Express (Bob Daniels, Justin Daniels, Tomas Goti, Julian de Lusarreta) in the semifinals.
One of the nation's most important and competitive tournaments to offer prize money, the National 12-Goal was live streamed by ChukkerTV.com and also utilized instant replay and team challenges in the final. Chukker TV.com offers re-broadcasts, Video On Demand and player interviews.