By Sharon Robb

CARBONDALE, Colo., July 19, 2018---The fourth tournament of the summer polo season begins Friday at Sopris Mountain Ranch.

The Basalt Handicap, featuring four teams, gets under way Friday with two games at 11 a.m. and noon.

In the opening game, Piocho (Hilario Figueras/Marc Ganzi, Carlitos Gracida, Nacho Figueras, Tom Barrack) plays Los Amigos (Paul Foster, Alex Gooding, Nacho Novillo Astrada, Stewart Armstrong). Both teams are rated at 13 goals.

In the second game of the doubleheader, La Karina, making its season debut, (Brian Boyd, Grant Ganzi, Lucas Lalor, Juancito Bollini) plays American Polo Horse (Alejandra de la Vega, Riley Ganzi/Melissa Ganzi, Pablo Dorignac, Juan Bollini). La Karina is rated at 11 goals and American Polo Horse, making its debut as a new summer team sponsor, is 10 goals.

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.

Armstrong, a hometown favorite and U.S. Polo Association (USPA) secretary, will make his summer debut at Aspen Valley Polo Club. Armstrong has been a USPA member since 1973 and frequent player in Aspen and Wellington, Fla.

On Saturday, also at Sopris Mountain Ranch at 11 a.m., the Sopris Saturday tournament game will feature Los Amigos (Alejandra de la Vega, Paul Foster, Gabriel Gracida, Nacho Novillo Astrada) against Mountain Chevrolet, another new team sponsor (Michael Payne, Riley Ganzi, Carlitos Gracida, Juan Bollini). Los Amigos is rated 11 goals and Mountain Chevrolet is 9 goals.

In last year's Basalt Handicap, Casablanca (Mariano Gracida, Grant Ganzi, Pablo Dorignac, Juancito Bollini) defeated Tonkawa (Jeff Hildebrand, Carlitos Gracida, Lucas Lalor, Jimmy Seward), 8-6, in the championship final. In a unique twist, the Casablanca foursome shared Most Valuable Player honors.

In 2016, La Karina (Brian Boyd, Tony Calle, Julio Novillo Astrada, Stewart Armstrong) defeated Flexjet (Ale Poma, Marc Ganzi, Sebastian Merlos, Alex Gooding), 9-8.

Last year Casablanca was the club's winningest team with three tournament wins during the summer season. La Karina won two tournaments. So far this season, Piocho Ranch has won the Independence Cup and Craig Sakin Memorial and last weekend Los Amigos Blue won the ChukkerTV Challenge.

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.

This summer's 13-tournament 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. "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."

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. "The Ganzis have nailed it so hurry up and get out here." Players, sponsors,  community leaders and fans share Barrack's sentiments.

Everyone is welcome to enjoy polo at Aspen Valley Polo Club. Admission, food and refreshments are free for fans in a relaxed, laidback atmosphere. An added feature is the club's Jumbotron 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.