By Sharon Robb
CARBONDALE, Colo., July 12, 2018---The third tournament of the summer polo season begins Friday at Sopris Mountain Ranch.
The ChukkerTV Challenge opens Friday with two games at 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. In the opening game, Piocho Ranch (Brian Boyd, Juancito Bollini, Nacho Figueras, Tom Barrack), riding a two-tournament win streak after capturing the Independence Cup and Craig Sakin Memorial, plays Los Amigos Red (Alejandra de La Vega, Melissa Ganzi, Nacho Novillo Astrada, Juan Bollini).
In the second game of the doubleheader, Los Amigos Blue (Paul Foster, Grant Ganzi, Pablo Dorignac, Lucas Lalor) plays Sopris Mountain Ranch (Hilario Figueras, Alex Gooding, Marc Ganzi, Carlitos Gracida).
The winner advances into Sunday's final at 1 p.m. after the Just For The Love Of It subsidiary final at 11 a.m.
ChukkerTV, leaders in polo broadcasting since 2014, is live streaming the entire summer schedule to both local and worldwide audiences. Featuring cutting-edge technology, ChukkerTV was the first to introduce state-of-the-art live streaming technology and instant replay in January, 2014 at Grand Champions Polo Club in Wellington, Fla., Aspen Valley Polo Club’s sister club.
On Saturday, the Mountain Cup will feature Los Amigos Green (Alexandra de la Vega, Melissa Ganzi, Juan Bollini, Hilario Figueras) against Los Amigos Blue (Paul Foster, Michael Payne, Gabriel Gracida, Carlitos Gracida) at 11 a.m. at Sopris Mountain Ranch.
In last year's ChukkerTV Challenge, Tiburon won the title with Lauren Sherry, Collen Clark, Pablo Dorignac and MVP Lucas Lalor. Making its Aspen Valley Polo Club debut, the Dallas-based team rallied in the sixth inning for a thrilling 10-9 victory over Casablanca (Marc Ganzi, Grant Ganzi, Juancito Bollini, Mariano Gracida). Tiburon had trailed by as many as four goals but rallied for three goals in the final chukker including the game-winner by Dorignac.
In 2016, Travieso won the tournament with Brian Boyd, Sebastian Merlos, Teo Calle and MVP Alex Gooding with a 13-9 win over Tonkawa.
Last year Casablanca was the club's winningest team with three tournament wins during the summer season. La Karina won two tournaments.
With the breathtaking 12,965-foot summit of Mount Sopris as a backdrop, Aspen Valley Polo Club is one of the busiest and fastest growing USPA-sanctioned clubs in the nation with a membership increase of 75 percent over four seasons.
The ChukkerTV Challenge is the third of 13 tournaments. The schedule features ten grass tournaments including the inaugural Aug. 31-Sept. 2 Triple Crown of Polo Trophy and three arena tournaments highlighted by the July 24-Aug. 7 USPA National Arena Handicap. It will be the first year the club will host a tournament on Labor Day Weekend during the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Experience.
For the second consecutive year, Aspen Valley Polo Club will host the USPA National Arena Handicap Tournament. It is the second time in several years that the tournament will be played as a stand-alone tournament.
This will also be the first season players will compete for the coveted Triple Crown of Polo. The three legs will be held at Denver Polo Club, Aspen Valley Polo Club and finish in Wellington this fall. Designed by Tiffany & Co., the Triple Crown of Polo is comprised of three separate trophies that fit perfectly together to create an entire polo scene that is breathtaking in sterling silver.
Aspen Valley Polo Club, coming off its most successful season in club history, has a star-studded roster of players lined up for the summer to compete with and against patrons and amateur players including brothers Nacho and Alejandro Novillo Astrada, two of the world's top players from Argentina.
Since Marc and Melissa Ganzi founded the club in 2014, polo has increased in popularity in Aspen and surrounding cities with the club’s offerings of various weekly grass and arena tournaments, Gladiator Tuesdays and Asado, Kids Polo and The Polo School. In addition, the club offers practice sessions for teams competing in the weekend tournaments.
"We want to make Aspen Valley Polo Club the place for this Valley," said co-owner Marc Ganzi, who grew up in Aspen. "Most importantly the idea is to de-mystify the game of polo that people have the impression that it's a sport you can't access, that you can't play.
"The gates are open, the food is free, the drinks are free and your first polo lesson is free if you want to come take one and try the game," Ganzi said. "Our approach is come as you are. We prefer the flip flops over the high heels. We just want to get people to appreciate the horses and the Valley."
In the last four years, Aspen Valley Polo Club has had a positive impact in the area hosting kids polo camps, teaching lessons and hosting several charitable events at the club that have benefitted local charities including last season's Champagne, Caviar & Chukkers fundraiser that raised $366,000 for the Aspen Valley Hospital Foundation.
The Ganzis are avid players and patrons and "have created a polo paradise" according to Piocho player-sponsor Tom Barrack. Players, sponsors, community leaders and fans share Barrack's sentiments.
"This is polo paradise," Barrack said. "For anybody who hasn't been here, get on an airplane, get off the airplane and you will come to a place that you can't believe that you could play polo in this kind of environment. The Ganzis have nailed it so hurry up and get out there."
Everyone is welcome to enjoy polo at Aspen Valley Polo Club. Admission, food and refreshments are free for fans in a relaxed, laidback atmosphere. The club's Jumbotron is making its debut this summer for the fans enjoyment.
Aspen, named after trees that quiver in the slightest breeze, offers hiking, mountain biking, rafting, fishing, golf, horseback riding, mountain climbing, great restaurants and taverns in addition to a full summer of polo.
Colorado is of Spanish origin meaning "colored red" which Spanish explorers named the muddy red river Rio Colorado that they discovered. Congress kept the name for the territory in 1861.
By Sharon Robb