• Sunny Hale's Legacy WCT

    Sunny Hale's Legacy WCT Final Begins Wednesday At Grand Champions Polo Club

    Women's polo will take center stage this week at Grand Champions Polo Club.
    By Sharon Robb
    The Sunny Hale's Legacy WCT Final begins Wednesday and will feature Open, 16-goal and 8-goal levels of play.

    WCT enjoyed a successful 2016 WCT Final with teams, sponsors, supporters and legendary Sunny Hale.

    After a year's hiatus, the WCT Final has attracted 28 women including some of the world's top players: 10-goaler Nina Vestey Clarkin, captain of the England Ladies' Polo Team; Sarah Wiseman, another top British player; Clarissa Echezarreta of Argentina; American Tiffany Busch; and 2017 Argentine Open Women's Championship winner Mia Cambiaso.

    The Open division will begin play Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. with a round robin between San Saba, Chateau D'esclans and CrossFit El Cid. The continuous round robin resumes on Friday at 4:30 p.m. The top two finishers advance into Sunday's final at 12:30 p.m.

    WCT Finals champion Palm City Polo players Tiffany Busch, Jaqui Casey, awards presenter and Catena USA, sponsor Bill Kraft,  MVP Hope Arellano and Mili Gallindo

    The Open team rosters are:

    Chateau D'esclans: Riley Ganzi, Mia Cambiaso, Mia Novillo Astrada, Nina Vestey Clarkin.

    CrossFit El Cid: Paige Boone, Cecelia Cochran, Sarah Wiseman, Tiffany Busch.

    San Saba: Dawn Jones, Clarissa Echezarreta, Alyson Poor, Clara Cassino).

    The 16-Goal division play begins Thursday with one game at 11:15 a.m. between Hawaii Polo Life And G-String/Amista Polo. The teams will meet in Sunday's final at 11:15 a.m.

    The 16-goal team rosters are:

    G-String/Amista Polo: Hope Arellano, Gillian Johnston, Malia Bryan, Olivia Merlos.

    Hawaii Polo Life: Olivia Uetztrich, Pamela Flanagan, Mia Cambiaso, Courtney Asdourain.

    The 8-goal level also begins play on Thursday at 10 a.m. Grand Champions and Catena will compete and meet again in Sunday's final at 10 a.m.

    The 8-goal rosters are:

    Catena: Slaney O'Hanlon, Malicia Von Falkenhausen, Catherine Roze, Olivia Uetztrich.

    MVP Hope Arellano of Palm City Polo drives downfield. 

    The tournament is named in honor of legendary Hall of Famer Sunset "Sunny" Hale. The WCT is the only women's polo event of its kind. The largest polo league in the world has grown in popularity since its inception in 2005. The WCT Final, adult and junior qualifiers have U.S. and international players with more than 20 qualifiers in the U.S. alone. 

    Hale, the first woman in U.S. history to win the U.S. Open in 2000 with Outback and part-time Wellington resident, died February 26, 2017 in Norman, Okla. due to complications from cancer. She was 48.

    "The players are so excited to play in the WCT for Sunny's legacy, they loved her and want to support everything she did for them getting to play this level of polo," said WCT Ambassador Joanne Smicklas. Her husband, Dale, a former 8-goaler and recently-named World Polo League Commissioner, is also WCT Commissioner.

    Tiffany Busch. FIle photo

    "This was Sunny's mission, to create a women's polo venue where the girls could bring their polo up," Smicklas said. "She remains an inspiration to other women who are determined to achieve their goals with grace and dignity."

    Melissa Ganzi, USPA Florida Circuit Governor and Grand Champions Polo Club President and Smicklas family have played integral roles in the WCT's success which Hale always praised.

    "The fact the WCT Finals are in Wellington during the U.S. Open sets the whole stage," Hale once said. "Women are inspired to play here. Grand Champions does a fantastic job. What it does for the WCT is it brings legitimacy to the fact they put on a great show, they've got great fields and you are right in the center of everything.

    Mia Cambiaso

    "That's why women's polo is in a new place in this generation because it never used to be a featured event. Grand Champions has taken it to that level and really gotten behind it. When I started playing women's polo it was a big deal if you got on a main field and that was if. It's fantastic how far women have come in polo."

    Despite the USPA's 127-year history, it's only been 45 years that women have been officially "allowed" to play competitively. In 2017, Hale was posthumously honored as USPA Woman of the Year. She was honored for her achievements as a horsewoman, educator, and author in addition to her contributions to polo and her perseverance against all odds and never accepting "no" and "can't" for answers. 

    Women's polo remains the largest growing sector in polo, aided by the WCT Series founded in 2005 to help consolidate women's polo and promote high quality competition throughout the world. 

    Hale also created a women's ranking system in the U.S. and American Polo Horse Association to improve resources regarding polo ponies where players and owners can collect, preserve and record horses' pedigrees. The APHA was created in 2006 by Hale to recognize polo ponies in America and encourages events that showcase them and hard-working dedication of grooms. 

    Courtney Asdourain and Cecelia Cochran. File photos

    Palm City Polo, with two up-and-coming teenagers, won the Season 11 WCT Final. In a thrilling championship final, Palm City Polo (Jaqui Casey, Hope Arellano, Tiffany Busch, Mili Galindo), leading for most of the game, defeated Scribble Horse Polo Team (Kathy Iverson, Catherine Roze, Courtney Asdourain, Kirstie Allen), 5-4. Arellano, then 13 and youngest player in the tournament, was Most Valuable Player.

    In the consolation game, Catena USA (Malia Bryan, Belinda Brody, Cecelia Cochran, Leah Masters) defeated Creative Marketing (Lyndsay Dolan, Dawn Weber, Amanda Roberts, Ashley Mckenzie), 8-2. 

    Catena USA has been the official timepiece of the WCT Final since its inception. Catena USA owner Bill Kraft is one of women's polo biggest supporters and valued sponsor.