Gabriel Gracida of Los Amigos Red double-teamed by Brian Boyd and Alejandra de la Vega.

Gabriel Gracida of Los Amigos Red double-teamed by Brian Boyd and Alejandra de la Vega.

By Sharon Robb

CARBONDALE, Colo., July 28, 2018---Defending champion La Karina will try and make it two in a row Sunday at Aspen Valley Polo Club.

After winning the Basalt Handicap last weekend, La Karina will try and add another title to its resume when it meets Piocho Ranch in the final of the Emma Challenge Cup at 1 p.m. MST.

It will be a rematch of last Sunday's Basalt Handicap final which La Karina won, 8-5. La Karina is defending champion of the Emma Challenge Cup, 12-8 winners over Tonkawa last season. 

On Friday at Sopris Mountain Ranch, La Karina (Alejandra de la Vega, Brian Boyd, Stewart Armstrong, Nacho Novillo Astrada) defeated Los Amigos Red, 7-5, (Pablo Dorignac, Carlitos Gracida, Paul Foster, Gabriel Gracida) to advance into the championship.

Alejandra de la Vega and Brian Boyd shared leading scoring honors for La Karina with three goals each. Astrada added one in the opening chukker on a 120-yard penalty-five conversion.

Paul Foster scored a game-high four goals for Los Amigos Red. Gabriel Gracida added one goal.

In the second game on Saturday also at Sopris Mountain Ranch, Piocho Ranch was declared the winner after a strong rain storm moved in during the second game of a three-team round robin featuring Mountain Chevrolet and Sopris Mountain Ranch.

In the opening round robin three-chukker game, Mountain Chevrolet (Melissa Ganzi, Michael Payne, Lucas Lalor, Juan Bollini) defeated Sopris Mountain Ranch, 7-4, (Jeff Desich, Rich Desich, Pablo Spinacci, Robertito Zedda). 

Ganzi and Payne each had three goals for Mountain Chevrolet. Lalor added one.

In the second round robin game, Piocho Ranch (Grant Ganzi, Juancito Bollini, Nacho Figueras, Riley Ganzi) was leading Mountain Chevrolet, 3-0, before action was suspended. Riley Ganzi, filling in for Tom Barrack, who is expected to play Sunday, led with two goals and Nacho Figueras added one. 

Ganzi and Figueras were coming off competing in Thursday's 2018 Sentebale Polo Cup at the Royal County of Berkshire Polo Club. The Sentebale St. Regis team with Prince Harry and Figueras won 5-4 against the Royal Salute team, featuring Ganzi and Malcolm Borwick. Figueras scored the winning goal.

Los Amigos Red, Mountain Chevrolet and Sopris Mountain Ranch will play in the Just For The Love Of It subsidiary game at 11 a.m. MST followed by the final at 1 p.m.

A moment of silence for Jesus "Chuy" Baez was observed before each game. The longtime player and groom was killed in an accident earlier this week in Aspen.

The Polo School students got another opportunity to use what they are learning with instructors competing in two mini-games Thursday in the club's indoor arena. Polo School Purple, led by Martina Novillo Astrada's two goals, defeated Polo School Green, 3-1, and Polo School Audi Red edged Polo School Audi White, 1-0.

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.

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 rersponders will be honored during AVPC's "Polo Cares" initiative. Every Sunday through Labor Day Weekend, firefighters, first responders and their families will be acknowledged on  AVPC's featured game day. The club will 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.

During the 2017 summer season, 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.

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 Emma Challenge Cup is the fifth 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 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.

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.