By Sharon Robb
CARBONDALE, Colo., August 8, 2018---The world-class indoor and outdoor arenas took center stage with the ChukkerTV Arena Challenge Cup on Tuesday at Aspen Valley Polo Club.
The tripleheader was kicked off with the ChukkerTV Kidz Arena Challenge Cup held in the outdoor arena where three youth players competed with a professional.
Flexjet Grey (Santos Novillo Astrada, Aiden Meeker, Nacho Novillo Astrada, Samantha Payne) defeated Flexjet Red (Courtney Callahan, Caroline Lile, Juan Bollini, Stella Payne), 4-1.
Flexjet Grey broke open a 1-1 game in the second chukker with three goals from Meeker. Meeker finished with a game-high four goals. Lile scored Flexjet Red's lone goal.
In the ChukkerTV Challenge Cup I held in the indoor arena, Sopris Mountain Ranch (Melissa Ganzi, Juan Bollini, Alejandro Novillo Astrada) defeated Audi (Alan Meeker/Aiden Meeker, Kris Kampsen, Nic Roldan), 14-10, with Melissa Ganzi scoring a club record 12 goals.
Audi opened with a 3-2 advantage with two goals from Roldan and one from Meeker. The momentum quickly shifted with Sopris Mountain Ranch shutting out Audi, 3-0, with all three goals from Ganzi. Ganzi continued her scoring barrage with three goals in the third and five more in the fourth and final chukker. Alejandro Novillo Astrada, making his summer debut, added two goals.
For Audi, Roldan led scoring with five goals, Meeker had four and Kampsen added one.
The trio of Ganzi, Bollini and Novillo Astrada are defending United States Arena Handicap champions. In last year's final at Aspen Valley Polo Club, the Flexjet trio defeated Audi (Marc Ganzi, Nacho Novillo Astrada, Stewart Armstrong), 12-9. Bollini was MVP.
In the ChukkerTV Arena Challenge Cup II, held outdoors, ChukkerTV (Lucas Lalor, Carlitos Gracida, Pablo Dorignac) defeated Casablanca (Grant Ganzi, Juancito Bollini, Jason Crowder), 9-4.
After a 1-1 opening chukker, ChukkerTV took control of the game for the next three chukkers. ChukkerTV went on to outscore Casablanca, 8-3, in the final three chukkers.
Gracida led the winners with a game-high five goals. Lalor and Dorignac each had two goals. Crowder led Casablanca with three goals and Ganzi added one goal.
Arena polo is becoming more and more popular at every age level. It can be played year-round and is financially more accessible than outdoor polo. Players need less horses, the game is played in four chukkers and cost of maintaining the all-weather dirt surface is less than the maintenance of a grass field.
Arena polo is a popular tool for instructors at The Polo School at Aspen Valley Polo Club where students feel comfortable playing at lesser speed on a 300 feet by 150 feet field enclosed by walls of four or more feet in height. Plays involve more technical maneuvering due to space limitations. The game also uses an inflated ball, slightly larger than the hard field polo ball.
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.
The 2018 summer season features 13-tournaments including ten grass tournaments including the inaugural Aug. 31-Sept. 2 Triple Crown of Polo Trophy and three arena tournaments.
Six grass tournaments have been held so far. 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 and Los Amigos Red won the High Alpine Cup.
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.
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.