2K8A0086.JPG

CARBONDALE, Colo., July 31, 2019---Defending champion Flexjet will go for its third consecutive title Tuesday when it plays Casablanca in the final of the USPA National Arena Handicap Polo Championship at Aspen Valley Polo Club.

Flexjet (Melissa Ganzi, 1, Alejandro Novillo Astrada, 8, Juan Bollini, 6) advanced with an impressive 18-11 victory over Audi (Kris Kampsen, 9, Lucas Lalor, 6, Marc Ganzi, 3) in the opening semifinal game of the four-team tournament.

In the second semifinal, Casablanca (Grant Ganzi, 3/Hilario Figueras, 3T, Juancito Bollini, 4, Nic Roldan, 8) rallied in the second half for a 15-12 win over McClure River Ranch (Daren Tamplin, 2, Pablo Spinacci, 6T, Nacho Novillo Astrada, 8).

The final is 5 p.m. and will be live streamed by USPA Polo Network.

In the opening game, Astrada took up where he left off in last year's arena tournament as leading scorer, scoring eight goals including a two-pointer in the fourth chukker.

Flexjet opened with a 3-0 lead on handicap and pulled away for a 6-2 lead after the first chukker and 9-5 at halftime. Flexjet outscored Audi, 6-1, in the third chukker for a 15-6 lead. Audi outscored Flexjet, 5-3, in the final chukker but ran out of time.

"It was brutal," said Kampsen, at 9 goals the highest rated arena player. "We came out really flat in the first chukker and they came out firing. Once you get up by that many it's really tough to get back in the game. They knew how to use the boards today and that really crippled us."

In addition to Astrada's eight goals, Ganzi and Bollini each had three goals. Kampsen led Audi with six goals, including two two-pointers. Lalor and Marc Ganzi each had two and one goal was a penalty-one.

"I'm excited to play the kids in the final," said Bollini referring to Ganzi and his son Juancito. "I think Nic is going to be tough for me but I like the challenge. Melissa, Alejandro and I are going to have to come up with a plan to play them. I would say we have a 50-50 chance."

The second semifinal was closer. Casablanca, starting with a one-goal lead on handicap, jumped out to a 4-2 lead after the first quarter. Behind back-to-back two-pointers by Astrada, McClure River Ranch outscored Casablanca, 5-3, to tie at halftime, 7-7.

The lead changed hands four times in the second half before Casablanca took the lead on back-to-back goals by Ganzi and two-pointer by Roldan.

Casablanca got balanced scoring. Roldan had five goals, Ganzi had four and Bollini added three goals. Astrada scored a game-high nine goals. Spinacci, playing his first major arena tournament, had two goals and Tamplin had one.

In 2018, Flexjet (Melissa Ganzi, 1, Alejandro Novillo Astrada, 8, Juan Bollini, 6) rallied in the second half to defeat The Polo School (Aiden Meeker, A, Carlitos Gracida, 5, Nic Roldan, 8), 14-10, in front of a good crowd and worldwide USPA Polo Network audience. Fourteen-year-old Aiden Meeker of Fort Worth, Tex., playing well above his "A" handicap in his arena championship debut, was named Most Valuable Player.

For the second year in a row, Flexjet was the most dominant team in the four-team field scoring 32 goals in two games. In 2017, Flexjet scored 43 goals in three games.

In 2017, the Flexjet trio of Ganzi, Bollini and Astrada defeated Audi's Marc Ganzi, Nacho Novillo Astrada and Stewart Armstrong, 12-9, in an action-packed thriller. Bollini, a veteran pro for more than 30 years and cancer survivor, was named Most Valuable Player.

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.

Part of the challenge of arena polo is the arena itself, a confined area of 150 feet by 300 feet. The fast-paced, spectator-friendly four-chukker game features teams of three playing on a dirt/sand surface with a larger polo ball, more like a mini-soccer ball.

USPA Polo Network will live stream the two-day tournament with Dale Schwetz calling the action.

The USPA National Arena Handicap is the eighth of eleven grass tournaments and three arena tournaments being staged at AVPC in what is expected to be its best season.

Coming off its most successful summer season, Aspen Valley Polo Club lined up a star-studded field of players including Hilario Ulloa, Sapo Caset, Alejandro and Nacho Novillo Astrada, Tincho and Sebastian Merlos and Nic Roldan for the summer to compete with and against patrons and amateur players.

The 2019 summer tournament champions are: Los Amigos Blue (Alejandra Foster, Alejandro Poma, Salvador Ulloa, Juan Bollini), Emma Challenge; Piocho Ranch (Gussie Busch, Nacho Figueras, Alejandro Novillo Astrada, Tom Barrack), Basalt Handicap; La Karina (Brian Boyd, Carlitos Gracida, Sebastian Merlos, Kris Kampsen), USPA North American Cup; Mountain Chevrolet (Michael Payne, Grant Ganzi, Juancito Bollini, Nacho Novillo Astrada), ChukkerTV Challenge; Los Amigos Red (Hilario Figueras, Paul Foster, Lucas Lalor, Nacho Novillo Astrada), Craig Sakin Memorial; and Piocho Ranch (Tom Barrack, Gabriel Gracida, Nacho Figueras, Salvador Ulloa), the season-opening Independence Cup winners.

Among 2019 summer highlights is the 119th USPA Silver Cup with some of the world's top players. The Aug. 11 final, set for one of the club's two new fields at McClure River Ranch in front of a sellout crowd, will be paired with the annual Chukkers, Champagne & Caviar fundraiser. Other top tournaments are this week's USPA National Arena Handicap, Aug. 7-14 Arena World Cup and Sept. 1-8 Triple Crown of Polo.

The club's summer marquis charity event, hosted by club owners Marc and Melissa Ganzi and Aspen Valley Hospital Foundation, has raised $1 million dollars in the last two years to benefit Aspen Valley Hospital.

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.

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, Tuesday Arena & Asado Nights, Kidz Polo, The Polo School headed by former 8-goaler Juan Bollini, and Polo On Demand. In addition, the club offers practice sessions for teams competing in the weekend tournaments.

Aspen Valley Polo Club has had a positive impact in the area hosting kids polo camps, teaching lessons and 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 Ranch padron Tom Barrack. "You can go all over the world but you can't have these kind of people, players and horses in this setting. It's really a gift." 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 last summer for the fans' enjoyment, Aspen Valley Polo Club Boutique and new electronic scoreboard.

Comment