By Sharon Robb
CARBONDALE, Colo., July 14, 2018---The ChukkerTV Challenge Cup will feature an all-Los Amigos final Sunday at Aspen Valley Polo Club.
Los Amigos Red (Riley Ganzi, Melissa Ganzi, Nacho Novillo Astrada, Juan Bollini) knocked off previously undefeated Piocho (Brian Boyd, Juancito Bollini, Nacho Figueras, Tom Barrack), 9-8, Friday in the opening round of the four-team tournament.
The opening game was a battle to the finish. The lead changed hands six times before Los Amigos Red took a 7-5 lead in the fifth chukker on Melissa Ganzi's fourth goal of the game.
Piocho rallied in the final chukker with goals from Boyd and Figueras but Novillo Astrada scored back-to-back goals in the sixth chukker including a 60-yard penalty shot to preserve the win.
Melissa Ganzi and Astrada, with two 100-yard goal shots, shared scoring honors with four goals apiece. Riley Ganzi added one.
For Piocho, winners of the season-opening Independence Cup and Craig Sakin Memorial, Boyd led scoring with four goals followed by Figueras with three and Juancito Bollini with one.
In the second qualifying game, Los Amigos Blue (Grant Ganzi, Lucas Lalor, Pablo Dorignac, Paul Foster) dominated Sopris Mountain Ranch (Marc Ganzi, Hilario Figueras, Carlitos Gracida, Alex Gooding) for a 9-5 victory to advance into the final.
After a fast-paced but scoreless opening chukker, Los Amigos Blue jumped out to a 3-1 lead behind Lalor's two goals and Gant Ganzi's 30-yard penalty conversion.
Marc Ganzi's two goals in the third chukker, including a coast-to-coast goal run and 40-yard penalty conversion, enabled Sopris Mountain Ranch to tie Los Amigos Blue, 3-3, at the half.
The momentum quickly changed in the second half with Los Amigos Blue dominating offensively. Behind balanced scoring, Los Amigos Blue outscored Sopris Mountain Ranch, 4-0 in the fourth chukker and 1-0 in the fifth for an 8-3 advantage. Sopris Mountain Ranch had its share of scoring opportunities but was unable to finish.
Grant Ganzi took a pass from Lalor for another goal and 9-3 lead before Sopris Mountain Ranch found its offensive attack late in the game with goals from Figueras and Gooding but ran out of time.
Team USPA's Grant Ganzi and Pablo Dorignac each had three goals for Los Amigos Blue. Lalor added two goals and Foster had one.
Marc Ganzi led Sopris Mountain Ranch with three goals. Figueras and Gooding each had one goal.
It will be Los Amigos Red's second consecutive appearance in a final. Dorignac and Lalor were members of last year's Chukker TV Challenge Cup winner Tiburon.
Piocho will meet Sopris Mountain Ranch in the Just For The Love Of It subsidiary game at 11 a.m. MST followed by the championship final at 1 p.m.
Also on Sunday, firefighters will be honored during AVPC's "Polo Cares" initiative. Each Sunday through Labor Day Weekend, firefighters and their families will be acknowledged on AVPC's featured game day. The club will also have donation boxes for anyone wishing to contribute to local fire and rescue stations. AVPC will match all funds collected 100 percent.
AVPC wanted to show its appreciation and support of the hundreds of brave men and women who have been battling the third largest fire in Colorado history for nearly three weeks.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
Everyone is welcome at Aspen Valley Polo Club. Admission, food and refreshments are free for fans in a relaxed, laidback atmosphere.
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.
By Sharon Robb