Richard Mille Captures St. Regis World Snow Polo Championship; Pablo MacDonough Game MVP; Marc Ganzi Intermix Tournament MVP; Inaugural Snow Polo Gala Debuts Saturday
In an exciting finish, first-year team Richard Mille won the coveted St. Regis World Snow Polo Championship Thursday at Rio Grande Park.
By Sharon Robb
In front of a record crowd including a sold out VIP tent and worldwide ChukkerTV audience, Richard Mille (Marc Ganzi, Martin Pepa, Pablo MacDonough), making its debut in the prestigious six-team tournament, defeated Flexjet (Melissa Ganzi, Alejandro Novillo Astrada, Juan Bollini), 6-5.
Argentine 10-goaler Pablo MacDonough was named Most Valuable Player for the tournament final. It was his second major tournament win in two weeks after capturing the 125th Argentine Open with La Dolfina Sancor Seguros for the sixth consecutive year with Juan Martin Nero, Pelon Stirling and Adolfo Cambiaso.
“I am glad Pablo won, I am happy for him, he just doesn’t win enough in polo, this is good for his career,” joked Flexjet’s Juan Bollini.
Sponsor Richard Mille and MacDonough were making their snow polo debuts. MacDonough scored a game-high three goals and Pepa added two. The team was also awarded a game-clinching penalty-one in the fourth and final chukker.
“Snow polo was amazing, just amazing,” MacDonough said. “I think our team played great, and the other team, too, but we were the lucky ones to win.”
Richard Mille was the official timekeeper for the St. Regis World Snow Polo Championship. Mille created the RM 53-01 Tourbillon Pablo MacDonough for its Brand Ambassador.
Marc Ganzi, after outstanding defensive round robin and final games, was named the Intermix Tournament Most Valuable Player. It was the first time Ganzi made it to the final and won the tournament. Intermix is a national women’s clothing store, with one based in Aspen off Hyman Avenue.
“It was a great game, wide open with lots of flow, and everyone played well, but the horses were the real stars,” Marc Ganzi said.
Kit Kat, a 7-year-old bay mare by Lion’s Quest out of Macuca, owned and bred by Wellington, Fla.-based Santa Rita Polo Farm, and played by Alejandro Novillo Astrada, was selected Best Playing Pony.
Flexjet making its second finals appearance in three years, was led by Alejandro Novillo Astrada with two goals. He finished as the tournament’s high scorer with 14 goals. Melissa Ganzi and Bollini each added one goal. The team also had a penalty-one in the final chukker.
The final pitted husband and wife against each other.
“In those situations for me, it’s kind of lose-lose,” Marc Ganzi said. “So if I lose, I lose, and if I win, I still lose. But actually, we play a lot of polo against each other. We’ve played a lot of finals against each other. She’s won, I’ve won. We take a very pragmatic approach to it, which is we are just going to go play and let the better team win and today thankfully, we were the better team.”
The game was close from the opening throw-in with the teams tied 2-2 after the first chukker. Richard Mille took a 3-2 lead in the second on MacDonough’s goal. Richard Mille held a slim 5-4 lead after a 2-2 third chukker with two goals by Alejandro Novillo Astrada and goals from Pepa and MacDonough. In the fourth and final chukker, penalty-one goals were awarded each team.
“It was really, really close. We would go back up one and we kept trying to surge and go up two but couldn’t find it,” Marc Ganzi said. “Flexjet won this tournament two years ago, they know how to win it.”
Playing conditions were ideal at Rio Grande Park on both Wednesday and Thursday.
“The venue performed really well,” Marc Ganzi said. “The city and the Aspen Skiing Co. did just an incredible job preparing it. Look at the surface, it’s perfect.”
In Tuesday’s action-packed qualifying round robins at Aspen Valley Polo Club’s indoor arena in Carbondale, Flexjet advanced into the final with a 10-6 win over Aspen Valley Polo Club and 6-5 victory Blade and Bow. Richard Mille defeated St. Regis, 8-4, and knocked out defending champion U.S. Polo Assn., 7-7 and one-goal differential.
In Thursday’s Aspen Peak Cup, Aspen Valley Polo Club (Sarah Siegel Magness, Jason Crowder, Jesse Bray) led from start-to-finish to defeat U.S. Polo Assn. (Grant Ganzi, Nic Roldan, Henry Porter), 6-3, in the subsidiary final.
Bray led scoring with a game-high five goals. Crowder added one. Bray and Crowder were members of the 2016 Flexjet team that won the snow polo title. Roldan scored all three of his team’s goals and finished with 12 for the tournament.
On Wednesday, St. Regis (Nacho Figueras, Hilario Figueras, Julio Gracida) won the Blade and Bow Cup with a 10-7 victory over Blade and Bow (Brian Boyd, Gonzalito Pieres, Carlitos Gracida). Gracida was playing in only his second snow polo tournament. Nacho Figueras led scoring with a game-high six goals. His oldest son, Hilario, added four goals. Pieres led Blade and Bow with three goals. Boyd and Gracida each scored two goals.
In the always fun and entertaining Celebrity Chukker matchup, Richard Mille: Official Time Keeper (Alexa Dell, Sterling Jones, Pablo MacDonough) won with a 2-0 victory over St. Regis (Saye Yabandeh, Erica Posalini, Nacho Figueras). Dell and Jones each scored one goal. It was the second consecutive year Jones was a member of the winning team. Last year he won with U.S. Polo Assn. teammates Sarah Siegel Magness and Nacho Novillo Astrada.
For the first time in event history the tournament will feature the inaugural Snow Ball to benefit the Aspen Valley Hospital Foundation at St. Regis Hotel.
“The most important thing to Melissa and I is to use this platform as a way to give back to the community,” said Ganzi, a former Aspen Country Day School student. “If we can raise some money and help out, that makes us feel good.”
For the sixth consecutive year, Aspen Valley Polo Club owners Melissa and Marc Ganzi, hosted the star-studded event along with polo ambassador and St. Regis Connoisseur Nacho Figueras and his wife Delfina.
Richard Mille joins past winners of the event include: 2017, U.S. Polo Assn. (Grant Ganzi, Juancito Bollini, Nic Roldan); 2016 Flexjet (Melissa Ganzi, Jesse Bray, Jason Crowder); 2013, St. Regis (Nacho Figueras, Nic Roldan, Brandon Phillips); 2014, Piaget (Marc Ganzi, Jeff Hall, Nic Roldan); and 2015, U.S. Polo Assn. (Grant Ganzi, Nic Roldan, Juancito Bollini).
The event has joined St. Moritz as one of the world’s top snow polo tournaments and one of Aspen’s major international sporting events. It is the only snow polo event in North America, final stop on the World Polo Tour and kickoff to the social season in Aspen.
The snow polo tournament is a major attraction for the local community, attracts fans from all over the world, and is a major allure for the Aspen community and surrounding areas.
Guests in the soldout heated VIP tent that featured Alpine Luxe furnishing, were treated to signature St. Regis Aspen Resort rituals including afternoon tea, a fine array of light fare and iconic St. Regis Bloody Mary cocktail. Mixologists were also serving the popular Blade and Bow Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, one of this year’s new sponsors. DJ Dylan provided music between chukker grooves.
The Basalt High School Choir sang the National Anthem to open both Wednesday and Thursday action. The American flag was ridden in by Kajsa Sutro on Wednesday and Hannah Hayden on Thursday.
Players and sponsors were treated each night to special dinners including Thursday’s exquisite Midnight Supper at St. Regis’ seasonal EMP Winter House featuring vintage winter decor and classic Swiss menu, details that honor traditions that date back over a century.
“Polo is one of our brand pillars,” said Lisa Holladay, global brand leader for St. Regis. “John Jacob Astor founded the St. Regis in New York in 1904, and his family used to host polo matches on Governors Island in New York Harbor, so we like to honor the spirit of our founder.”
For the first time in event history, the Snow Polo Gala Ball will be held Saturday, also at St. Regis, as a benefit for the Aspen Valley Hospital Foundation, now in its sixth year as a non-profit solely focused on encouraging philanthropic support for the current and future needs of Aspen Valley Hospital.
“We’re building the new hospital, and we’re about three-quarters finished,” said John Sarpa, the foundation’s board chairman. “So the snow polo and the summer polo event (at the Ganzis’ Aspen Valley Polo Club) are a big shot in the arm.”
The sport was first played on a frozen lake in St. Moritz, Switzerland, created by Swiss hotelier and polo visionary Reto Gaudenzi in 1985 and has been growing in popularity ever since, attracting thousands of spectators and top players from around the world. In addition to St. Moritz, it’s played in winter sports communities Aspen, Cortina, Italy, Kitzbuhel, Austria, Courchevel, France and Tianjin, China. In the U.S., snow polo is held exclusively in Aspen.
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 five 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, Gladiator Tuesdays and Asado, Kids Polo, The Polo School and Polo On Demand.
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. The 2019 summer season opens in July.