SCOTTSDALE, Ariz., November 10, 2016---Two-time defending champion Aspen Valley Polo Club heads the four-team field for the seventh annual Bentley Scottsdale Polo Championships: Horses & Horsepower Saturday and Sunday at WestWorld of Scottsdale.
In the nation's largest polo event last year, Melissa Ganzi, Nic Roldan and Juancito Bollini defended its title with a 7-5 victory over Palm Beach Polo. Two years ago, Roldan, Ganzi and Juan Bollini knocked off two-time reigning champion Clogau Wales, 9-5.
Aspen Valley Polo Club returns with Ganzi, Hall of Famer and former 10-goaler Mike Azzaro and Ashley Busch, brand ambassador for U.S. Polo Assn. and wife of NASCAR driver Kurt Busch, who will throw in the ball for Saturday's match.
The popular event has been expanded to two days since there is no Arizona Cardinals game scheduled on Sunday.
On Saturday at 2:15 p.m., Aspen Valley Polo Club will play the Monte Carlo polo team of Rommy Gianni, Tito Gaudenzi and Juancito Bollini, also a brand ambassador for U.S. Polo Assn. On Sunday at 1:30 p.m., the Wales team of Marc Ganzi, Ricky Cooper and Pete Webb plays St. Moritz with Melissa Ganzi, Gaudenzi and Juan Bollini. Four other polo matches featuring club and women's teams will also be held.
Last year's event attracted more than 12,000 attendees, making it the most attended polo event in North America. It also broke records in food and beverage sales and sponsorships.
"I am honored to have the opportunity to come back to Scottsdale again to play in the most attended polo event in the country," said Melissa Ganzi, Florida Circuit Governor and President of Wellington, Fla.-based Grand Champions Polo Club, sister club of Aspen Valley. "The whole event with everything going on is a sensory overload. I've never seen anything quite like it."
Cooper, the Wales polo captain and ambassador, calls it "the best polo event in the world."
The popular event brings polo to the masses while providing a social backdrop for equestrian enthusiasts. While polo is the centerpiece of the event, there are several events at The Polo Party.
Among this year's attractions will be Sunday's Battle of the Sexes: The Sunny Hale Memorial that will honor the all-time greatest woman's polo player, pioneer, author and first woman to win the U.S. Open in a male-dominated sport. Hale died at age 48 in February and will be inducted into the Polo Hall of Fame on Feb. 16, 2018 in Lake Worth, Fla. In the 11:30 a.m. Sunday game, an all-male team will take on an all-female team.
Among other highlights will be the world's longest fashion show produced by Phoenix Fashion Week; Arabian Horse Show; Canine Couture, a dog fashion show; performances by the the Phoenix Opera and Southwest Shakespeare Company; fieldside Day Clubs by Stella Artois, Bottled Blond and Sandbar; Fried & Fizzy pop-up fieldside restaurant featuring champagne and fried chicken by acclaimed chef Michael DeMaria; Travis Bagent, the world's greatest arm wrestler and Red Bull Skydiving team.
Event founder and Scottsdale public relations executive Jason Rose continues to raise the event’s bar every year since he started it in 2011.
“The feedback we have gotten from people over the years, it’s just been outstanding,” Rose said. “It’s unique in the world of polo. It’s unique in Arizona and it’s the best possible time to come outdoors.
“We tried to be mad scientists with this event from Day One. We have always aspired to try to be different, to try and not be a typical polo event.
"Since Year One we experimented and had a single match with a local polo club and a couple thousand people showed up," Rose said. "Now, it's a combination of a spring training day meets the Phoenix Open meets Cirque du Soleil."
The biggest polo event in the United States is one of the most extravagant outdoor sports spectacles in not only Arizona but the United States and has helped increase polo's exposure and popularity.
Natalie Grancharov Camacho, who runs the women's polo program for the Arizona Polo Club, has been involved with the event since its inception.
"It incorporates so many elements and side shows, which is attractive for a lot of demographics," Camacho said. "It's also evolved in a lot of different ways. We've had a great mix of men and women players and top players in the country. There's not really anything else like this that goes on."
One of the main goals of the polo championships is to bring more awareness to the sport. Fans who come to the event for the first time don't realize polo exists in Arizona, Camacho said.
"They are surprised at how big the field is, how grandiose this particular event is and how close you get to the players and horses," Camacho said. "Players meet with the fans and they can take pictures of the horses. It's neat from that aspect because you're not just watching a show, you get to feel like you're part of everything."
Barrett-Jackson Auction Company and Barrett-Jackson Collection Showroom are among the Bentley Scottsdale Polo Championships signature sponsors.
Aspen Valley Polo Club is one of the nation’s fastest growing polo clubs and annually hosts the Dec.14-17 World Snow Polo Championship in addition to a full summer polo schedule featuring some of the world’s top players. The club is coming off its most competitive 10-week summer polo season.
Aspen Valley Polo Club is one of the busiest and nation’s fastest growing USPA-sanctioned clubs with a membership increase of 75 percent since the 2015 season.
With the Ganzi family spearheading the resurrection of polo, the sport has increased in popularity in Aspen and surrounding cities with the club’s offerings of various weekly tournaments, Gladiator Arena Polo, Kids Polo and The Polo School at the club owned by Marc and Melissa Ganzi since 2014, in addition to practice sessions for teams competing in weekend tournaments.