By Sharon Robb
CARBONDALE, Colo., July 21, 2018---After a week's absence, Piocho Ranch returns to the championship final of the Basalt Handicap Sunday at Aspen Valley Polo Club.
Standing in its way will be La Karina, 2016 winners of the Basalt Handicap eager to return to the winners' circle.
On Friday, Piocho Ranch (Hilario Figueras, Carlitos Gracida, Nacho Figueras, Tom Barrack), winners of the season's first two tournaments and last weekend's Just For The Love Of It subsidiary game, defeated Los Amigos Blue (Alex Gooding, Stewart Armstrong, Nacho Novillo Astrada, Paul Foster), 8-6, to advance into Sunday's final.
Hilario Figueras scored a team-high four goals for Piocho Ranch. His father, Nacho Figueras, added three goals and Barrack scored one goal.
Novillo Astrada led Los Amigos Blue with a team-high four goals and Armstrong, making his summer debut, added two goals.
After Piocho Ranch took a 4-2 halftime lead, Los Amigos Blue tied the game at 4-4 early in the fifth chukker after Armstrong stole the ball in a crowd and scored. With 1:05, Barrack scored after a nice run to enable Piocho Ranch to regain the lead, 5-4. Piocho Ranch never trailed after that.
In the second game, La Karina (Brian Boyd, Jonathan Gracida, Juancito Bollini, Lucas Lalor), making its summer debut, held off new team American Polo Horse (Alejandra de la Vega, Pablo Dorignac, Juan Bollini, Melissa Ganzi), 7-6, to advance into the final.
Lalor and Bollini shared scoring honors for La Karina, each with three goals. Boyd added one goal. Dorignac and Ganzi each had three goals for American Polo Horse.
After a low-scoring first half (2-1), the lead changed hands six times. After Ganzi scored to tie the game at 6-6 late in the sixth chukker, Boyd found Lalor open on a pass with 2:04 left for the winning goal. Lalor also stopped a late goal run by Dorignac.
In 2016, La Karina (Brian Boyd, Tony Calle, Julio Novillo Astrada, Stewart Armstrong) won the Basalt Handicap with a 9-8 victory over Flexjet (Ale Poma, Marc Ganzi, Sebastian Merlos, Alex Gooding), 9-8. Dorignac, Juancito Bollini and Grant Ganzi were members of last year's Basalt Handicap winner with Casablanca.
American Polo Horse and Los Amigos Blue will play in the Just For The Love Of It subsidiary game at 11 a.m. MST followed by the championship final at 1 p.m.
The Barrack family owns Piocho Ranch, acquired in 1992, and features rolling acres of vineyards nestled in the Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara, Calif. Piocho Ranch combines the family's passion for polo and the art of wine making. The vineyards have produced six wines: Ten Goal, Brand, Blanc, Piocho, Chukker and Piocho Sauvignon Blanc. Piocho means "where the two rivers meet and go to heaven."
La Karina, known for its colorful lime green jerseys unveiled during the 2016 season, is named after Boyd’s wife, Karin, who is called Karina by family and close friends.
Also on Sunday, firefighters and first responders will be honored during AVPC's "Polo Cares" initiative. Each Sunday through Labor Day Weekend, firefighters, first responders 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 weeks.
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. The Casablanca foursome shared Most Valuable Player honors.
The Basalt Handicap is named after the town that began as a railroad town and was named for the basaltic rock formation on Basalt Mountain. Basalt is a town in Eagle and Pitkin Counties.
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.
The Basalt Handicap is the fourth 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 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. Anyone wishing to take polo lessons, the first one is free.
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.