By Sharon Robb
CARBONDALE, Colo., July 15, 2018---Los Amigos Blue rallied in the sixth chukker to capture the ChukkerTV Challenge Sunday at Aspen Valley Polo Club.
With the score tied 8-8 going into the final chukker, Los Amigos Blue (Paul Foster, Grant Ganzi, Lucas Lalor, Pablo Dorignac) outscored Los Amigos Red (Alejandra de la Vega, Riley Ganzi, Nacho Novillo Astrada, Juan Bollini), 3-1, for an 11-9 victory in front of a good crowd for its first tournament victory of the summer polo season.
Paul Foster was named the game's Most Valuable Player. Foster, who has been playing polo for nine years, scored a team-high four goals including an insurance penalty-two goal in the final minute of play.
"We didn't really have a gameplan but we knew we had a great team," Foster said. "Those guys play well together and I tried to contribute when I could. I'm not as talented as the rest of them, but I love coming up here and playing with these guys. It's a lot of fun."
Flaca, a chestnut mare owned and played by Alejandra de la Vega in the sixth chukker, was selected Best Playing Pony.
Los Amigos Blue, based at Rancho Los Amigos in El Paso, Texas, got balanced scoring. In addition to Foster's four goals, Grant Ganzi and Dorignac each had three goals and Lalor added one.
Los Amigos Red was led by Alejandra de la Vega with a team-high four goals. Riley Ganzi, subbing for her mother Melissa, added three goals and Astrada and Bollini each had one goal.
It was De La Vega, Foster's wife of ten years, who got him involved with the game.
"She played before I met her and she dragged me into it," Foster said with a smile. "We both love playing. It does get competitive between us some times but it's never a problem. She is super competitive and I am, too. We both love to win. It's fun when we play against each other.
"You never know what's going to happen from week to week," Foster said. "Any team can win. Sometimes you miss an easy shot and sometimes you make an impossible shot. You never know how it will shake out."
The lead changed hands thirteen times before Los Amigos Blue took the lead early in the sixth chukker. Los Amigos Blue took a 9-8 lead with the first of two penalty conversions by Foster. De la Vega scored off a breakaway to tie the game at 9-9.
With 3:35 left, Dorignac broke quickly for a goal and 10-9 lead. With 1:10 left in the game, Los Amigos Red was called for a right-of-way infraction setting up Foster's insurance penalty shot.
Dorignac and Lalor are repeat winners of the ChukkerTV Challenge. Last year they won with Tiburon. Sunday's game pitted siblings Riley and Grant Ganzi against each other.
Piocho Ranch (Brian Boyd, Juancito Bollini, Nacho Figueras, Tom Barrack), winners of the first two tournaments of the season, won the Just For The Love Of It subsidiary final with an impressive 7-5 victory over Sopris Mountain Ranch (Hilario Figueras, Marc Ganzi, Carlitos Gracida, Alex Gooding).
Barrack, who played well defensively, was named Most Valuable Player. Kit Kat, a 7-year-old Bay mare owned by Santa Rita Polo Farm and ridden by Bollini in the opening chukker, was selected Best Playing Pony.
Nacho Figueras led Piocho Ranch in scoring with a game-high four goals. Juancito Bollini added two goals and Boyd had one.
Figueras' oldest son, Hilario, led Sopris Mountain Ranch with two goals. Marc Ganzi, Gracida and Gooding each had one goal.
The fast-paced game was more of a defensive battle. Piocho Ranch led 4-3 at the half and extended its lead to as much as 7-3 at the end of the fifth chukker as Sopris Mountain Ranch went cold offensively, unable to score in the fourth and fifth chukkers. Gracida's goal with a minute left cut the margin to two goals but Sopris Mountain Ranch ran out of time to rally.
During Sunday's doubleheader several local firefighters were honored during AVPC's "Polo Cares" initiative. The firefighters got an opportunity to throw the first ball in, visit with fans and present awards after the championship final.
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 wants 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.
Also on Sunday, Evie Johnson celebrated her eighth birthday at the game. Evie, the daughter of NASCAR racer and seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series winner Jimmie Johnson and family celebrated her special day and presented trophies for the Just For The Love Of It subsidiary. Evie also threw out the first ball for the subsidiary game.
With the majestic 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.
"We want to make Aspen Valley Polo Club the place for this Valley," said co-owner Marc Ganzi, who grew up in Aspen. "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. 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."
The ChukkerTV Challenge was the third tournament of the 13-tournament schedule that 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.
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.
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 player-sponsor Tom Barrack of Piocho. "Ganzi Polo is Fantasy Island," Barrack said. Players, sponsors, community leaders and fans share Barrack's sentiments.
Aspen, named after trees that quiver in the slightest breeze, offers hiking, mountain biking, rafting, fishing, golf, horseback riding, great restaurants and taverns in addition to a full summer of polo.