By Sharon Robb
CARBONDALE, Colo., July 7, 2018---The stage is set for the championship final of the second tournament of the summer polo season at Aspen Valley Polo Club.
Piocho and Los Amigos Red will play in the final of the fifth annual Craig Sakin Memorial Sunday at 1 p.m. following the Just For The Love Of It subsidiary final at 11 a.m.
In the opening qualifying game on Friday, Piocho (Juancito Bollini, Grant Ganzi, Nacho Figueras, Tom Barrack) defeated Flexjet (Melissa Ganzi, Juan Bollini, Marc Ganzi, Alex Gooding), 12-9, to advance.
It will be Piocho's second appearance in a final. Piocho won the season-opening Independence Cup. Figueras, last weekend's MVP, led his team in scoring with five goals. Ganzi and Bollini each had three goals and Barrack added one goal.
For Flexjet, hometown favorite Alex Gooding led scoring with five goals. Marc Ganzi scored two goals and Melissa Ganzi and Bollini each had one goal.
Piocho led the first two chukkers, 3-1 and 4-3 before Flexjet scored four goals, including three by Gooding, to lead 7-5 at the half.
Piocho roared back in the second half behind Figueras, who scored four of his five goals in the final three chukkers. Piocho regained the lead in the fifth chukker, 9-8, and never trailed after that.
In the second game, Los Amigos (Alejandra Foster, Pablo Dorignac, Nacho Novillo Astrada, Paul Foster, Jonathan Gracida) defeated La Karina (Riley Ganzi/Gabriel Gracida), Brian Boyd, Lucas Lalor, Carlitos Gracida), 8-6.
Jonathan Gracida led Los Amigos Red with three goals, Alejandra Foster had two goals and Dorignac, Astrada and Paul Foster each had one goal. For La Karina, Boyd led scoring with three goals, Gabriel Gracida added two and Lalor had one.
Los Amigos Red controlled the tempo of the game jumping out to a 3-1 lead in the opening chukker, 5-2 in the second and 7-4 at the half. La Karina rallied and came within one goal, 7-6, in the fifth chukker but was shut out in the final chukker.
On Saturday, the Aspen Cup Tournament at 11 a.m. at Sopris Mountain Ranch will feature Los Amigos Red (Alejandra Foster, Melissa Ganzi, Juan Bollini, Carlitos Gracida) against Los Amigos Blue (Paul Foster, Michael Payne, Gabriel Gracida, Alex Gooding).
The tournament is named in honor of Sakin, who passed away on Feb. 11, 2014 at age 52. The former president of the Homeowners' Association of Sopris Mountain Ranch, was instrumental in helping Marc and Melissa Ganzi secure their first polo field. In 2015, some of Sakin's ashes were released over the polo field.
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.
In last year's Craig Sakin Memorial, Casablanca (Santos Bollini, Grant Ganzi, Lucas Lalor, Juancito Bollini) knocked off Tonkawa (Ace Boyd, Alex Gooding, Jimmy Seward, Pablo Dorignac), 10-9. Boyd, the lowest-rated player on the field competing in her first major final, was MVP. Casablanca was the youngest team in the five-team field averaging 20 years. Travieso won the tournament in 2015 and 2016.
Last year Casablanca was the club's winningest team with three tournament wins during the summer season. La Karina won two tournaments.
The Craig Sakin Memorial is the second tournament of the 13-tournament schedule that 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. The annual event dates back to 1980 and is a national USPA tournament played at medium goal level. In the past, the tournament has been played as a subsidiary to the U.S. Open Arena Polo Championship at Country Farms Polo Club in Medford, N.Y.
This will also be the first season players will compete for the 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.
Also expected to compete is Nic Roldan, the highest rated American player and winner of the recent Cartier Queens Cup with La Indiana; newly-named Team USPA member Grant Ganzi, Juancito Bollini, Alex Gooding, Stewart Armstrong and Brian Boyd among others.
Since Marc and Melissa Ganzi took over 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 player-sponsor Tom Barrack of Piocho. Players, sponsors, community leaders and fans share Barrack's sentiments.
"This is polo paradise," Barrack said. "For anybody who hasn't been here, get on an airplane, get off the airplane and you will come to a place that you can't believe that you could play polo in this kind of environment. The Ganzis have nailed it so hurry up and get out there."
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. Colorado is of Spanish origin meaning "colored red" which Spanish explorers named the muddy red river Rio Colorado that they discovered. Congress kept the name for the territory in 1861.
By Sharon Robb