Casablanca upset two-time defending champion Flexjet to win the United States Arena Handicap Polo Championship Tuesday at Aspen Valley Polo Club.

By Sharon RobbVisit our Website Casablanca (Grant Ganzi, 3, Juancito Bollini, 4, Nic Roldan, 8) dominated the game from start-to-finish to win the four-team tournament, 16-11, in front of a good local crowd and USPA Polo Network worldwide audience.

Grant Ganzi of Casablanca battles for the ball with Flexjet_s Juan Bollini and Alejandro Novillo Astrada.
Grant Ganzi of Casablanca battles for the ball with Flexjet’s Juan Bollini and Alejandro Novillo Astrada.

Flexjet (Melissa Ganzi, 1, Alejandro Novillo Astrada, 8, Juan Bollini, 6) was looking to three-peat but could never mount a consistent offensive attack and was forced to play catch-up for most of the game against a stingy Casablanca defense.

Grant Ganzi was named Most Valuable Player. Ganzi was Casablanca’s second-leading scorer with six goals including a two-pointer and penalty-four conversion.

Juancito Bollini of Casablanca closely defends Juan Bollini of Flexjet working the near side.
Juancito Bollini of Casablanca closely defends Juan Bollini of Flexjet working the near side.

Kit Kat, a 7-year-old bay mare played by Astrada in the fourth chukker and owned by Wellington-based Santa Rita Polo Farm, was Best Playing Pony.

Nic Roldan, one of the highest ranked arena players, scored a game-high seven goals including a two-pointer and finished with seven goals. Juancito Bollini added three goals.

Juancito Bollini of Casablanca pursues Alejandro Novillo Astrada of Flexjet.
Juancito Bollini of Casablanca pursues Alejandro Novillo Astrada of Flexjet.

Leading 2-1 after the opening chukker, Casablanca jumped on Flexjet 7-1 in the second chukker for a 9-2 halftime lead. Flexjet outscored Casablanca 9-7 in the second half but could never make up the deficit.

“This was a pretty exciting game,” said Bob Puetz, CEO of the United States Polo Association. “Casablanca turned it on in the second chukker. They all did well. It’s a tough game, they were all working hard. I’m impressed.”

Alejandro Novillo Astrada of Flexjet takes off with the ball with Nic Roldan of Casablanca defending.
Alejandro Novillo Astrada of Flexjet takes off with the ball with Nic Roldan of Casablanca defending.

Melissa Ganzi led Flexjet with a team-high six goals, Astrada had four goals and Bollini added one.

In the semifinals, Flexjet advanced with an impressive 18-11 victory over Audi (Kris Kampsen, 9, Lucas Lalor, 6, Marc Ganzi, 3) in the opening game. In the second semifinal, Casablanca rallied in the second half for a 15-12 win over McClure River Ranch (Daren Tamplin, 2, Pablo Spinacci, 6T, Nacho Novillo Astrada, 8).

Grant Ganzi of Casablanca hits the neck shot past defender Juan Bollini of Flexjet.
Grant Ganzi of Casablanca hits the neck shot past defender Juan Bollini of Flexjet.

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. 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. 

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.

Alejandro Novillo Astrada of Flexjet tries to ride off Grant Ganzi of Casablanca.
Alejandro Novillo Astrada of Flexjet tries to ride off Grant Ganzi of Casablanca.

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. The U.S. Open Arena Polo Tournament will not return to Medford and will go out to bids. It may be hosted in Florida.

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.

Juan Bollini of Flexjet works the ball away from Nic Roldan of Casablanca.

The United States 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.

Grant Ganzi of Casablanca reaches to hook Alejandro Novillo Astrada of Flexjet.
Grant Ganzi of Casablanca reaches to hook Alejandro Novillo Astrada of Flexjet.

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 a 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.

MVP Grant Ganzi of Casablanca and USPA CEO Bob Puetz.
MVP Grant Ganzi of Casablanca and USPA CEO Bob Puetz.

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.

United States Arena Handicap Tournament finalists Casablanca and Flexjet.
United States Arena Handicap Tournament finalists Casablanca and Flexjet.

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.

A good crowd lined the arena fence to watch the action.
A good crowd lined the arena fence to watch the action.
Photos by Candace Ferreira for Aspen Valley Polo Club

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.

2019 Aspen Valley Polo Club Summer Polo SeriesAugust USPA Silver Cup 

Wednesday 8/7 USPA Silver Cup Semifinalsat McClure River Ranch10 a.m.

Tonkawa vs Flexjet4:30 p.m. Audi vs CasablancaSunday 8/1111 a.m. at Aspen Valley Polo ClubUSPA

Silver Cup Final and Chukkers, Champagne and Caviar Fundraiser 

Mount Sopris Cup

Friday 8/9 11 a.m. at Sopris Mountain RanchSunday 8/11 1 p.m.

Final at Aspen Valley Polo Club2 p.m. Just For The Love Of It CupRocky Mountain Open 8/9 – 8/17Carbondale Classic 8/23 – 8/25 2019 PoloFest Denver 8/31

SeptemberThe Triple Crown of Polo Trophy 9/1 – 9/8Visit www.aspenvalleypoloclub.com for more details.All game time are MST

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