CARBONDALE, Colo., August 8, 2019---In what is expected to be one of the most exciting championship finals, undefeated Tonkawa will take on Casablanca Sunday for the 119th USPA Silver Cup.
In front of a lively local crowd that included 10-goaler Adolfo Cambiaso, and USPA Polo Network worldwide audience, Wednesday's semifinals at McClure River Ranch lived up to expectations.
Tonkawa (4-0), the only undefeated team remaining in the six-team tournament, advanced into the final with a 14-11 victory over Flexjet (1-3) in the first semifinal that featured 10-goalers Sapo Caset and Hilario Ulloa.
In a wild finish in the second semifinal, Casablanca (3-1) rallied for an exciting 9-8 victory over Audi (2-2) in sudden death overtime after being behind for most of the game.
Tonkawa (Santos Merlos, 1, Juan Martin Obregon, 5, Sapo Caset, 10, Mason Wroe, 4) broke open a close game with a 4-0 third chukker for a 7-3 lead over Flexjet (Melissa Ganzi, 1, Gussie Busch, 2, Hilario Ulloa, 10, Alejandro Novillo Astrada, 8).
Behind Caset's deft play, Tonkawa pulled away for a 10-5 lead in the fourth chukker. Flexjet outscored Tonkawa, 8-7, in the second half but could not make up the deficit. One of the highlights of the game was Astrada's penalty-five conversion from midfield for a 150-yard goal as time ran out.
Caset scored a team-high seven goals including two penalty-four conversions and one penalty-three conversion. Obregon had five goals and Merlos added back-to-back goals.
Ulloa also had a team-high seven goals. Astrada had two and Ganzi added one goal. Flexjet was also awarded a penalty-one in the sixth chukker.
Fourteen-year old Santos Merlos replaced Jeff Hildebrand, nursing a slight injury sustained in his team's final bracket game against McClure River Ranch when his horse lost its footing. Hildebrand is expected to play on Sunday.
At age 13, Merlos was a member of the youngest team to win the $50,000 National 12-Goal Tournament in March at Grand Champions Polo Club with La Dolfina teammates Secundo Merlos, Poroto Cambiaso and Juan Martin Zubia. The team averaged 16 years in age.
Casablanca (Grant Ganzi, 3, Juancito Bollini, 4, Lucas Lalor, 5, Nacho Novillo Astrada, 8), avenged its first bracket play 11-6 loss to Audi (Marc Ganzi, 2, Hilario Figueras, 3, Nic Roldan, 8, Jared Zenni, 6) with its remarkable comeback.
Audi jumped out to a 5-1 lead in the opening chukker and 6-1 early in the second chukker. After its slow start, Casablanca started to reel Audi in, scoring five unanswered points into the fourth chukker for a 6-6 tie when Bollini converted a 60-yard penalty.
Audi went scoreless in the third, fourth and sixth chukkers.
Audi retook the lead in the fifth chukker on Roldan's goal with 4:51 left and Zenni's goal with 2:21 remaining for an 8-6 lead. Astrada's goal brought Casablanca within one, 8-7 in the final minute of the chukker.
Bollini's penalty-two conversion with 2:55 left in regulation tied the game at 8-8. Both teams had scoring opportunities including Ganzi who looked to score before Roldan smacked it off the line. Another missed scoring opportunity by Casablanca sent the game into overtime.
In overtime, Bollini won the bowl-in, took a shot at goal with Lalor recovering the ball and scoring an amazing open back shot at the 7:10 mark to clinch the win for the comeback kids.
"I think it's not that we don't give up, it's more like we take too long to get organized," Bollini said. "We don't start the way we want to and that makes us lose the beginning chukkers. It's something we are trying to fix.
"We need to come out stronger for the finals," Bollini said. "We can't let them go ahead like we've done in our past games."
For Bollini and his teammates, winning the USPA Silver Cup would be a major accomplishment.
"It's not the biggest tournament for me but this Cup definitely has some sentimental value," Bollini said. "Not only because it's one of the oldest Cups in America but because it's the first year that it's played in Aspen."
Bollini led Casablanca with four goals, all on penalty conversions including a penalty-four. Astrada had three and Lalor the game-winning goal.
For Audi, Figueras and Roldan each had two goals and Ganzi and Zenni each had one. Audi also received one goal on handicap and another on a penalty-one.
"I think the game was great," said Carlucho Arellano, USPA Executive Director of Services. "Audi came out firing on all cyclinders and got a nice lead. They were flying. They looked like they were a couple of gears faster than anybody else. Nacho and his team just kept chipping away. They were not going to go away. They definitely showed everybody they are not a team ready to fold."
The 119th USPA Silver Cup, the club's second USPA 20-goal tournament of the summer season, made its historical debut this season at Aspen Valley Polo Club.
The 119th USPA Silver Cup has a rich tradition in history. It is considered the oldest of all American tournaments. The event has been called several names throughout its hallowed history. Originally established by the USPA as the Junior Championship, it was first played in 1900 close to the New York City birthplace of American polo.
The Cup was later renamed in 1938 to the Twenty-Goal Championship and played until 1951. The Trophy went on hiatus from 1942 to 1947 because of the effects on polo during and immediately after World War II.
It was not until 1974 that the tournament took its present name and was hosted in Texas. The Cup winners have been a Who's Who in polo from J. Watson Webb and Tommy Hitchcock to Robert Skene, George Oliver, Memo Gracida, Carlos Gracida, Tommy Wayman, Red Armour, Harold Barry, Joe Barry, John Armstrong, Charles Smith, Cecil Smith, William Ylvisaker, Adam Snow, Mike Azzaro, Mariano Aguerre, Jeff Hall, Billy Busch and Adolfo Cambiaso, who won in 2012.
Several high-profile polo clubs have hosted the coveted Cup in New York, Illinois, Texas, South Carolina, Connecticut and California. From 2011-2106 it was hosted by Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club and 2017-18 at Greenwich Polo Club.
U.S. Polo Assn., the official brand of USPA, is the prestigious tournament's official apparel sponsor. The tournament is being live streamed by USPA Polo Network on uspolo.org with Dale Schwetz calling the action.
The final will be paired with the annual Chukkers, Champagne & Caviar fundraiser. The club's summer marquis charity event, hosted by club owners Marc and Melissa Ganzi and Aspen Valley Hospital Foundation, has raised more than $1 million dollars in the last two years to benefit Aspen Valley Hospital Foundation.
The event is sold out according to Andrea Olson, marketing coordinator for the Aspen Valley Hospital Foundation. Please call 970-544-1302 to be placed on a waiting list.
Last year's 119th USPA Silver Cup champion was undefeated Huntsman (Segundo Merlos, Tomas Garcia Del Rio, Toro Ruiz, Dillon Bacon), 10-8 winners over Postage Stamp Farm (Annabelle Gundlach, Brandon Phillips, Mariano Gonzalez, Marcos Garcia Del Rio) at Greenwich Polo Club. Marcos Garcia Del Rio of Postage Stamp Farm, brother of Tomas Garcia Del Rio, was named Most Valuable Player.
The 119th USPA Silver Cup is among eleven grass tournaments and three arena tournaments being staged at AVPC in what is expected to be its best season featuring six 20-goal teams and four 16-goal teams.
Coming off its most successful summer season, Aspen Valley Polo Club lined up a star-studded roster of players to compete with and against patrons and amateur players.
The 2019 summer tournament champions are: Los Amigos Red (Alejandra Foster, Gabriel Gracida, Juan Bollini, Paul Foster), High Alpine Cup; 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 club's new field at McClure River Ranch Stadium in front of an expected sellout crowd, will be paired with the annual Chukkers, Champagne & Caviar fundraiser. Other top tournaments are the Aug. 7-14 Arena World Cup and Sept. 1-8 Triple Crown of Polo.
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.