It was all excitement in the heart of Reith bei Kitzbühel as the teams and thousands strong throng of spectators prepared for the final day of world class play in the 17th Bendura Bank Snow Polo World Cup.
Following a star-studded Players’ Night Gala on Saturday night, the sun once again shone true on the pristine polo field as host team Bendura Bank came up against the all-German Maserati team in the first match of the day. From the first ‘get-go’, Bendura Bank came firing out of the starting blocks, with a superb 15 yard penalty from Captain Melissa Ganzi. As the only female player in the tournament, Ganzi has proven herself to be more than a worthy adversary for her male opponents, scoring every one of the 15 yard penalties asked of her on Saturday and Sunday. Maserati couldn’t find their footing in the first chukka, succumbing to a 4-1½ lead to their rivals by the bell. By half-time, Argentine Alejandro Novillo Astrada secured a further three goals, to only two in response from Thomas Winter and Caspar Crasemann, ensuring Bendura Bank led 7-3½ by the break. Despite lengthy team talks during the interlude, Maserati were just no match for Bendura Bank’s 8 goal powerhouse. Coming into the fourth and final chukka, Bendura Bank had a seemingly insurmountable 10-3½ lead, but with Maserati praying to the polo gods for a miracle, Winter and Crasemann found the posts twice in the final minutes of the fourth chukka. But, as the match came to a close, event organiser and snow polo favourite Tito Gaudenzi drew on the dotted line for Bendura Bank with their final goal, to secure fifth place with a lucky 13-6½ final score.
The second match for The Kitzbühel Country Club Cup Subsidiary Final saw Corum take on Bernd Gruber. Patron Eckhardt Juls was replaced due to injury by the 19-year-old Enno Grans (0). The yellow shirts of Corum hit the first chukka hard with Patrick Maleitzke scoring a flamboyant hat trick of goals in as many minutes. The Corum path to victory looked certain under his stewardship – but, Grant Ganzi and his Bernd Gruber clan, of Brazilian Eduardo Greghi and 7 goal machine, Frenchman Pierre-Henri Ngoumou, had other ideas. Strong defence and solid teamwork saw them equalise in the second chukka. From then on it was goal for goal as each team evenly matched the fight. But eventually reverting to the form of the first chukka Corum’s dominance prevailed with the final score resting at 6 goals to 7 at the end of the last chukka.
The third and final match of the day was the reason we were all here – the 17th Bendura Bank Snow Polo World Cup Final. It was set to be an exciting extravaganza of international polo prowess, as six players from four countries took to the arena to a collective roar from the crowd. Sebastian Schneberger was in search of his third title, to equal the record breaking three Snow Polo World Cup wins currently held by Brit Jonny Good, and coincidentally 20th January was also the day of St. Sebastian, so perhaps divine intervention would play a key role. Engel & Völkers, four-time finalists and only one-time winners, were looking to be the crowd’s favourite, but as the first ball was thrown-in, Aki Van Andel came flying out of the mêlée with the ball seemingly glued to his stick. His 7 goal team mate Valentin Novillo Astrada wasn’t far behind him, in his usual form. Despite their initial fervour, Engel & Völkers were the first on the scoreboard with a fantastic field goal from Captain Kutlay Yaprak. Following a brief horse change, Novillo Astrada found his rhythm, scoring the first of his many goals. The game was full of tension and high spirits, as players went into ride-offs with extreme energy. By half-time, 2019’s newest team, Cîroc, were 4-2 ahead, to the dismay of the assembled ‘Red Devils’ fans. Adrian Laplacette Jr, usually the one to watch for the boys in red, was consistently shut out of plays by Van Andel, who was later named Most Valuable Player, using his pony’s strength to ensure Novillo Astrada always had a clean run on the ball. By the end of the third chukka, Cîroc continued to hold the lead 6-3, with Engel & Völkers hoping for a polo miracle to bless them in the final six minutes. As if having found renewed energy, Novillo Astrada scored three goals in as many minutes to open the chukka to only one in response from Laplacette Jr. With 9-4 on the scoreboard, Agustin Kronhaus tried desperately to bring his team back into the game, but the clock was not in his favour. As the bell tolled at the end of the 17th Bendura Bank Snow Polo World Cup 2019, Cîroc rode off the field to elated cries of congratulations from the crowd and the coveted trophy in their hands.
Cîroc Captain Sebastian Schnerberger said after the Final, “This was a great event and I’m so happy we’ve walked away with the title. It was a tough match, but we rallied together and did what we came here to do.”
Event Organiser, Tito Gaudenzi continued, “What an exciting weekend this has been. Our team may have not made it to the Final, but this year’s tournament has been the best yet, with record crowds and fantastic players. I can’t wait for next year’s edition and we hope to welcome everyone back for the 18th Bendura Bank Snow Polo World Cup. But for now, off to St. Moritz!”
Rancing 17th Bendura Bank Snow Polo World Cup Kitzbühel
Cîroc Vodka (12):
Sebastian Schneberger (2/GER),
Aki van Andel (3/NED)
Valentin Novillo Astrada (7/ARG)
Engel & Völkers (12):
Kutlay Yaprak (1/TUR)
Agustin Kronhaus (4/ARG)
Adrian Laplacette Jr. (7/ARG)
Eno Grans (0/GER)
Patrick Maleitzke (4/GER)
Juan Ruiz-Guiñazú (6/ARG)
Bernd Gruber (10):
Eduardo Greghi (0/BRA)
Grant Ganzi (3/USA)
Pierre Henri Ngoumou (7/FR)
Bendura Bank (12):
Melissa Ganzi (1/USA)
Alejandro Novillo Astrada (8/USA – substituted by Isidro Strada 7)
Tito Gaudenzi (3/CH)
Marc Aberle (1/GER)
Caspar Crasemann (4/GER)
Thomas Winter (5/GER)
Photo credit: Bendura Bank Snow Polo World Cup.