Basalt Handicap champion La Karina with the coveted trophy.


Basalt Handicap champion La Karina with the coveted trophy.

By Sharon Robb

CARBONDALE, Colo., July 22, 2018---For the second time in three years, La Karina captured the Basalt Handicap Sunday at Aspen Valley Polo Club.

In a hardfought, physical contest La Karina (Brian Boyd, Grant Ganzi, Juancito Bollini, Lucas Lalor) led 4-3 at the half and never relinquished its lead for a stunning 8-5 victory over Piocho Ranch (Marc Ganzi, Carlitos Gracida, Nacho Figueras, Tom Barrack) in La Karina's season debut.

It was the first time Piocho Ranch, winners of the Independence Cup and Craig Sakin Memorial, lost a championship final this season. 

Grant Ganzi, a member of Team USPA, was named the game's Most Valuable Player for the second year in a row. Ganzi had a game-high four goals including two penalty conversions. 

"This was a fun team to play with," Ganzi said. "We played as a team and were very well-organized.

"I felt there were moments I played well," Ganzi said. "A lot of times I got the ball to Brian and did my job. There were other times I thought I could have done better."

Six-year-old grey mare Pilar, ridden by Lalor in the third chukker and owned by Wellington, Fla.-based Santa Rita Polo Farm, was Best Playing  Pony.

Also scoring for La Karina was Lalor with two. Boyd and Bollini each had one goal. Marc Ganzi led Piocho Ranch with three goals. Figueras and Barrack each had one goal.

Ganzi and Bollini are repeat winners of the Basalt Handicap. Last year the pair won with Casablanca and shared MVP honors with Mariano Gracida and Pablo Dorignac. In 2016, La Karina won the Basalt Handicap with Boyd, Tony Calle, Julio Novillo Astrada and Stewart Armstrong.

La Karina, led by Bollini in the back, was relentless on defense. Piocho Ranch had its share of scoring opportunities but could not take advantage against La Karina's stingy defense.

"It gave us confidence to maintain possession of the ball and control the game throughout," Ganzi said. "I felt we had the upper hand and did our roles.

"I think our defense definitey helped," Ganzi said. "We made the little changes and were tight with the man first. Juancito did a great job at back."

Despite a 20-minute delay for a storm at the 5:06 mark of the third chukker, La Karina never lost its momentum.

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.

Los Amigos Red (Alex Gooding, Nacho Novillo Astrada, Stewart Armstrong, Paul Foster) won the Just For The Love Of It subsidiary game with a 12-7 victory over American Polo Horse (Alejandra de la Vega, Riley Ganzi, Pablo Dorignac, Juan Bollini).

Los Amigos Red broke open a close game taking  a 4-3 lead at the end of the second chukker on Astrada's goal. Los Amigos Red never trailed after that and led by as many as five goals, 11-6, late in the fifth chukker and shut out American Polo Horse, 1-0, in the final chukker.

Gooding, Novillo Astrada and Armstrong each had four goals for Los Amigos Red. De La Vega, Ganzi and Bollini each had two goals and Dorignac added one for American Polo Horse.

In a spirited and entertaining Kids Foot Mallet game, Polo School Purple defeated Polo School Green, 4-1, in two chukkers. Solon Tamplin led Purple with two goals and Martina Novillo Astrada and Emmett Tamplin each had one goal. Santos Novillo Astrada scored for Green.

Award-winning New York City tenor Christian Mark Gibbs sang the National Anthem before both the subsidiary and championship games. Gibbs earned a full scholarship to the prestigious Aspen Music Summer Festival and has a Master of Music Degree in Vocal Performance from Colorado State.

For the second consecutive Sunday doubleheader local firefighters and first responders were honored during AVPC's "Polo Cares" initiative. Each Sundaythrough Labor Day Weekend, firefighters and their families will be acknowledged on AVPC's featured game day. The club also has 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.

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 Basalt Handicap was the fourth tournament of the 13-tournament schedule that features ten grass tournaments including the inaugural Aug. 31-Sept. 2Triple 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.

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.

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.