Alex Gooding of Casablanca breaks away on a goal run.

Alex Gooding of Casablanca breaks away on a goal run.

By Sharon Robb

CARBONDALE, Colo., August 4, 2018---The stage is set for a showdown between Casablanca and Los Amigos in the final of the High Alpine Cup Sunday at Aspen Valley Polo Club.

Casablanca (Alex Golding, Grant Ganzi, Lucas Lalor, Juancito Bollini) knocked off La Karina (Brian Boyd, Pablo Dorignac, Stewart Armstrong, Carlitos Gracida), 10-8, Saturday at windswept Sopris Mountain Ranch. 

La Karina, winner of its last two tournaments, went flat offensively unable to score in the fourth and fifth chukkers. Casablanca led 9-6 going into the final chukker and maintained control of the game despite La Karina trying to rally with a 2-1 sixth chukker.

Ganzi scored a game-high five goals, including three penalty conversions. Lalor and Gooding each scored two goals and Bollini added one. For La Karina, Armstrong led scoring with three goals, Dorignac and Gracida each had two and Boyd had one.

On Friday in a rain-abbreviated match at Sopris Mountain Ranch, Los Amigos (Paul Foster, Alejandra de la Vega, Kris Kampsen, Nic Roldan) defeated Aspen Valley Polo Club (Melissa Ganzi, Riley Ganzi, Nacho Novillo Astrada, Juan Bollin), 4-1, despite 55-degree temperature and rain to advance into the championship.

In ideal 70-degree weather for the Sopris Saturday Cup, Mountain Chevrolet (Michael Payne, Hilario Figueras, Santos Bollini, Juan Bollini) won with a thrilling 11-10 victory over Sopris Mountain Ranch (Santos Novillo Astrada, Riley Ganzi, Nacho Novillo Astrada, Jonathan Gracida).

Michael Payne and Santos Novillo Astrada shared Most Valuable Player honors. Payne scored a game-high six goals. Figueras had four goals and Bollini added one. Santos Novillo Astrada and Ganzi each had four goals for Sopris Mountain Ranch and Gracida had two.

The lead changed hands seven times before Mountain Chevrolet took control in the sixth chukker. Trailing 9-8, Juan Bollini won the throw-in and scored a quick goal to tie the game 9-9. After a missed scoring opportunity, Mountain Chevrolet took the lead, 10-9, on Payne's 30-yard penalty conversion. After winning the throw-in, Payne raced downfield with Nacho Novillo Astrada defending for another goal and 11-9 advantage. Jonathan Gracida rallied for a goal in the final two minutes to cut the lead to one but Sopris Mountain Ranch was unable to take advantage of one last offensive attack.

On Sunday La Karina will play Aspen Valley Polo Club in the Just For The Love Of It subsidiary game at 11 a.m. MST followed by the final at 1 p.m. Both games are at Aspen Valley Polo Club.

In last year's High Alpine Cup, Aspen Valley Polo Club (Ale Poma, Grant Ganzi, Lucas Lalor, Juancito Bollini) ran away with the title with a stunning 14-9 victory over defending champion Travieso (Teo Calle, Marc Ganzi, Tony Calle, Mike Azzaro). 

The High Alpine Cup is named for living or growing on lofty mountains above the timberline especially above the limit for tree growth.

Also on Sunday, firefighters and first responders 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 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 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 won the Independence Cup and Craig Sakin Memorial; Los Amigos Blue won the ChukkerTV Challenge and La Karina won the Basalt Handicap and Emma Challenge.

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 High Alpine Cup is the sixth 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. 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.