By Sharon Robb
CARBONDALE, Colo., August 19, 2018---Tonkawa, making its summer polo debut at Aspen Valley Polo Club, wasted no time winning its first tournament of the season.
The talented foursome of Jeff Hildebrand, Wesley Uys, Sapo Caset and Mason Wroe defeated Mandarina (Alejandra de la Vega, Melissa Ganzi, Alejandro Novillo Astrada, Nacho Novillo Astrada), 13-11, to capture the Mount Sopris Cup sponsored by Mandarina Polo & Equestrian Club.
Argentine 10-goaler Guillermo "Sapo" Caset, 32, the team's playmaker who scored three goals, was named Most Valuable Player in the tenth tournament of the summer polo season.
Argentine 8-goaler Alejandro Novillo Astrada, 36, who led Mandarina with a team-high six goals, earned the Player of the Day award, sponsored by the Mexico Polo Federation.
Houston-based Jeff Hildebrand, who scored a team-high six goals, was awarded the Flexjet Play of the Day for the goal he scored in the sixth chukker.
Paulina, a 14-year-old Chestnut mare, was selected Best Playing Pony. Paulina was played by Alejandro Novillo Astrada. The mare is owned by Wellington, Fla.-based Santa Rita Polo Farm and bred by Julio Novillo Astrada.
Also scoring for Tonkawa was Uys with three goals and Wroe with one goal. For Mandarina, Ganzi scored three goals and De La Vega and Nacho Novillo Astrada each had one goal.
Mandarina took a quick 2-1 lead in the opening chukker with a 60-yard penalty conversion from Alejandro Novillo Astrada and goal from Ganzi.
The momentum quickly changed in the second chukker when Hildebrand scored the first of his six goals and Caset scored while the defense shut down Mandarina, 2-0.
While the game was close, Tonkawa never trailed after that outscoring Mandarina, 3-1 in the third chukker for a 6-3 halftime lead. Mandarina came back for a 2-1 advantage in the fourth chukker to cut the lead to two, but Tonkawa bounced back with an offensive fifth chukker, 4-2, for an 11-7 lead. Mandarina tried to rally in the final chukker with four goals, all from Alejandro Novillo Astrada, for a 4-2 chukker, but fell short.
The weekend tournament sponsor, Mandarina Polo & Equestrian Club is located along the Riviera Nayarit, nearly a 200-mile stretch of coastline in the Western Mexican state of Nayarit. The Mexican club and Aspen Valley Polo Club have partnered to benefit both clubs' growing membership with VIP access.
The tournament awards presenters were siblings Cindy and Ricardo Santa Cruz, president and CEO of RSC and founding partner of Mandarina, the 640-acre ultra-luxury resort and residences.
The Mount Sopris Cup is the eighth outdoor tournament and tenth overall of the summer polo season at AVPC.
A season-record six teams competed in the two-day tournament.
The Mount Sopris Cup is named after after the most impressive part of the Elk Mountains that create an impressive backdrop for the town of Carbondale.
In the Just For The Fun Of It Cup, Mexico (Eloy Vallina/Billy Steta, Lucas Lalor, Carlitos Gracida, Juan Bollini) edged Los Amigos (Nacho Badiola, Kris Kampsen, Stewart Armstrong, Paul Foster) for a thrilling 12-11 victory.
Juan Bollini was named Most Valuable Player. Matsu, a 5-year-old Bay mare, played by Lucas Lalor and owned and bred by Santa Rita Polo Farm, was named Best Playing Pony. Mexico's Billy Steta and Eloy Vallina were presented sponsor awards from Cindy and Ricardo Santa Cruz.
With the game tied 10-10 going into the sixth chukker, Kampsen converted a 60-yard penalty to take the lead, 11-10. Bollini tied the game with a goal from the field and Gracida scored the winning goal on a 40-yard penalty shot.
Lalor scored a team-high five goals. Bollini had three goals and Vallina and Steta each scored two goals. For Los Amigos, Kampsen had a team-high five goals, Armstrong scored three goals, Foster had two goals and Badiola added one goal.
In the Just For The Love Of It Cup, Mandarina White (Marc Ganzi, Grant Ganzi, Juancito Bollini, Nic Roldan) defeated La Karina (Brian Boyd, Alex Gooding, Pablo Dorignac, Toto Collardin), 9-7.
Grant Ganzi was named Most Valuable Player. Brian Boyd earned the Flexjet Play of the Day. Marc Ganzi was presented the Mexico Polo Federation Award by President Billy Steta.
After two tied chukkers (4-4 and 6-6) in the second half, Mandarina White scored three goals, two by Grant Ganzi and one by Marc Ganzi, in the sixth chukker to take a 9-6 lead. Dorignac scored a late goal for La Karina.
Grant Ganzi led scoring with a game-high four goals. Marc Ganzi had three goals and Juancito Bollini and Nic Roldan each added one goal. For La Karina, Pablo Dorignac led with three goals, Brian Boyd had two and Alex Gooding and Toto Collardin each had one.
For the sixth consecutive Sunday doubleheader local firefighters and first responders were 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 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.
Last year Casablanca was the club's winningest team with three tournament wins during the summer season. La Karina has three tournament titles this season.Other grass tournament winners are: Piocho Ranch won the Independence Cup and Craig Sakin Memorial; Los Amigos Blue won the ChukkerTV Challenge; La Karina won the Basalt Handicap, Emma Challenge Cup and Rocky Mountain 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 is the first year the club will host a tournament on Labor Day Weekend during the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Experience.
This is also be the first season players will compete for the coveted Triple Crown of Polo which arrived in Aspen earlier this week. 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.
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, The Polo School and Polo On Demand. 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 the Aspen Valley Hospital Foundation which raised $537,200 at this season's event.
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.