By Sharon Robb
CARBONDALE, Colo., July 19, 2018---The fifth tournament of the summer polo season begins Friday at Sopris Mountain Ranch.
The Emma Challenge Cup, featuring five teams, gets under way Friday with one game at 11 a.m. MST. La Karina, (Brian Boyd, Alejandra de la Vega, Nacho Novillo Astrada, Stewart Armstrong) winners of last weekend's Basalt Challenge, plays Los Amigos (Paul Foster, Carlitos Gracida, Pablo Dorignac, Gabriel Gracida).
The second game will feature three teams in a round robin: Piocho Ranch (Grant Ganzi, Juancito Bollini, Nacho Figueras, Tom Barrack); Mountain Chevrolet (Michael Payne, Melissa Ganzi, Lucas Lalor, Juan Bollini); and Sopris Mountain Ranch (Jeff Desich, Rich Desich, Pablo Spinacci, Kiko Belastegui) is Saturday at 11 a.m.
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. Both games are at Aspen Valley Polo Club.
In last year's Emma Challenge Cup, La Karina (Brian Boyd, Grant Ganzi, Juancito Bollini, Mike Azzaro) defeated defending champion Tonkawa (Jeff Hildebrand, Marc Ganzi, Sapo Caset, Alex Gooding) in the final, 12-8.
In 2016, Tonkawa (Jimmy Seward, Jeff Hildebrand, Tincho Merlos, Teo Calle) won with a 7-6 come-from-behind win over Flexjet.
The Emma Challenge is named after the town of Emma, Colo., located on Highway 82 between Carbondale and Aspen.
Emma was once a sizable town in the past. The three buildings on the north side of the road are on the state historical register and scheduled to be preserved. There is a church directly across the highway on the north side. There is a small trail on the north side of the road taking visitors up to the site.
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, Los Amigos Blue won the ChukkerTV Challenge and La Karina won the Basalt Handicap for the second time in three years.
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 this month's 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. 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.