Nic Roldan of La Karina crosses mallets with Nacho Novillo Astrada of Casablanca.

Nic Roldan of La Karina crosses mallets with Nacho Novillo Astrada of Casablanca.

By Sharon Robb

CARBONDALE, Colo., August 10, 2018---La Karina, last year's runner-up, will return to the final of the Rocky Mountain Open Sunday at Aspen Valley Polo Club.

La Karina (Harrison Azzaro, Marc Ganzi/T.J. Barrack, Nic Roldan, Stewart Armstrong) defeated defending champion Casablanca (Alejandra de la Vega, Grant Ganzi, Juancito Bollini, Nacho Novillo Astrada), 9-7, Friday at Sopris Mountain Ranch to advance into the final.

Standing in their way will be Aspen Valley Polo Club (Melissa Ganzi, Eloy Vallinna, Alejandro Novillo Astrada, Juan Bollini) which knocked off Los Amigos (Paul Foster, Alex Gooding, Pablo Dorignac, Kris Kampsen/Carlitos Gracida), 10-9, in the other qualifying game.

In last year's final, Casablanca (Grant Ganzi, Tony Calle, Juancito Bollini, Stewart Armstrong) won its third tournament of the 2017 summer season with a 12-9 victory over La Karina (Melissa Ganzi, Brian Boyd, Juan Bollini, Alejandro Novillo Astrada).

The much-anticipated showdown Sunday at 1 p.m. MST following the Just For The Love Of It subsidiary game at 11 a.m., will be highlighted by the Chukkers, Champagne & Caviar fundraiser that raised $366,000 for the Aspen Valley Hospital Foundation last year.

Donations to the Aspen Valley Hospital Foundation help support hospital operations and improvement projects. Some of the reasons that make Aspen Valley Hospital such an important resource for the community: 75,000 annual patient encounters; 8,000-plus annual visits to the Emergency Room;  2,374 babies born at AVH since opening the new Aspen Birth Center in 2008;  2,677 mammograms conducted last year; $2 million in Cost of Charity Care offered to the community; and 98 per cent overall ranking in patient satisfaction.

The Rocky Mountain Open is the seventh outdoor tournament and ninth overall of the summer polo season at AVPC.

In Friday's opening game, Aspen Valley Polo Club rallied in the second half after trailing 6-3 at halftime. Novillo Astrada sparked the rally with four goals in the last three chukkers. 

Novillo Astrada tied the game at 8-8 late in the fifth chukker and early in the sixth chukker scored the go-ahead goal, 9-8. Bollini added an insurance goal with three minutes left. Gracida, who replaced Kampsen in the second half, scored with two minutes left. Los Amigos missed two opportunities to score in the final seconds.

Vallinna, making his summer polo season debut, and Astrada Novillo shared leading scoring honors with four goals each. Ganzi and Bollini each added one goal.

In the second game, Harrison Azzaro filled in for Brian Boyd and scored three of his game-high five goals in the first half. Marc Ganzi had three goals and T.J. Barrack, who came in for Ganzi in the final two chukkers, added one goal. De La Vega led Casablanca with three goals. Ganzi and Nacho Novillo Astrada each had two goals.

Despite getting shut out in the second and sixth chukkers, La Karina maintained its composure and momentum to control most of the second half. With the game tied 6-6, Ganzi's goal with a minute left gave La Karina a 7-6 lead and never trailed after that.

The Rocky Mountain Open is named after the major mountain range in western North America that stretches more than 3,000 miles from British Columbia south to the Rio Grande in New Mexico. The eastern edge of the Rockies rise dramatically in the Interior Plains of central North America including Colorado's highest peak Mount Elbert with the highest peak of 14,440 feet above sea level

On Saturday at 11 a.m. at Sopris Mountain Ranch, the Sopris Saturday Match will feature the 4-Chukker Challenge Cup between Mountain Chevrolet (Michael Payne, Aiden Meeker, Lucas Lalor, Riley Ganzi/Santos Bollini) against Sopris Mountain Ranch (Santos Novillo Astrada, Nacho Novillo Astrada, Caroline, Courtney). A Kidz Polo game will follow the Sopris Saturday Match at noon.

For the fifth consecutive Sunday doubleheader local firefighters and first responders will be honored during AVPC's "Polo Cares" initiative. Each Sunday through Labor Day Weekend, firefighters and their families will be acknowledged on AVPC's featured game day. The club has donation boxes for anyone wishing to contribute to local fire and rescue stations. AVPC is matching all funds collected 100 percent. 

AVPC is showing 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.

Last year Casablanca was the club's winningest team with three tournament wins during the summer season. La Karina won two tournaments and on track to better that total this season. 

So far this season, Piocho Ranch won the Independence Cup and Craig Sakin Memorial; Los Amigos Blue won the ChukkerTV Challenge; La Karina won the Basalt Handicap and Emma Challenge Cup; and Los Amigos Red won the High Alpine Cup.

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. It will be the first year the club will host a tournament on Labor Day Weekend during the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Experience.

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 and top American player Nic Roldan, coming off the Westchester Cup and British season.

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.

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.

All ages are 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 which made 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.