In one of the most exciting finals in North American Cup® history, La Karina won their 20-goal tournament debut on Saturday, July 20, at McClure River Ranch, hosted by the Aspen Valley Polo Club in Carbondale, Colorado. Aspen-based polo team La Karina (Brian Boyd, Carlitos Gracida, Sebastian Merlos, Kris Kampsen) led the game from start-to-finish, defeating McClure River Ranch (Hilario Figueras, Pablo Spinacci, Nic Roldan, Stewart Armstrong) in a stunning 15-12 victory in front of a worldwide USPA Polo Network audience.
“The polo gods were with us today,” Boyd commented, after competing in his first 20-goal tournament. “Nobody gave anybody an inch and if you made a mistake on the field you paid for it. McClure River Ranch was a strong team, but we had a lot of heart in that sixth chukker.”
La Karina’s Carlitos Gracida on a run to goal in the third chukker, McClure River Ranch’s Hilario Figueras in pursuit.
The substitution of Nacho Badiola for Pablo Spinacci in the final enabled La Karina to earn two goals on handicap from the onset as an 18-goal team. La Karina led by as many as four goals, 11-7, in the fourth chukker after Brian Boyd scored back-to-back goals in the final two minutes. Sebastian Merlos winning the throw-in and Carlitos Gracida taking out Nic Roldan, Boyd lofted an 80-yard shot to goal with 1:53 remaining on the clock. Boyd then scooped up the ball and scored a second time on a missed attempt by Merlos with eight seconds left in regulation time.
McClure River Ranch began winning throw-ins in the fifth chukker and closed in on La Karina to trail by one, 12-11, Roldan connecting on a nice cut shot right before the horn. However, it was the closest McClure River Ranch would get after Merlos rallied his teammates, enabling La Karina to outscore their opponents, 3-1, in the final chukker to claim the trophy.
Most Valuable Player: Sebastian Merlos, presented by Marc Ganzi.
Contributing four goals total, La Karina’s Sebastian Merlos, was named Most Valuable Player. “Sebastian was a great captain and very tactical,” Boyd said. “He still thinks like a 10-goal player and I learned a lot from him. He captained our teams so well and won a lot of throw-ins in the middle of the field. He was able to fire us up and pull us together.”
Linador, an 11-year-old gelding owned and played by Stewart Armstrong, was awarded Best Playing Pony honors. Rumba, a 7-year-old chestnut mare owned and played by Sebastian Merlos, was selected as the American Polo Horse Association’s Best Playing Pony.
The American Polo Horse Association was created in 2006 by the legendary Polo Hall of Famer Sunny Hale to recognize polo ponies in America and encourages events that showcase them and the hard-working dedication of grooms.
Best Playing Pony: Linador, owned and ridden by Stewart Armstrong, presented by Cece Armstrong.
“We all pulled together and were calm in that sixth chukker,” Boyd said. “Sebi told everyone that if we weren’t on our best two horses to go get on them for the sixth. The game was going to come down to the horses, discipline and a little bit of luck.”
Boyd, a 20-year veteran of the game, started his polo team named after his wife, Karin, 12 years ago. Playing only summer seasons, La Karina competed in 12-goal polo for eight years at Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club (Carpinteria, California) and Aspen Valley Polo Club where co-owners and players Marc and Melissa Ganzi convinced him to compete at the 20-goal level.
McClure River Ranch’s Nic Roldan keeps his eye on the ball at full speed. La Karina’s Brian Boyd hustles to defend.
“Marc and Melissa encouraged me to participate because they said I would love it,” Boyd said. “Melissa is so good at the logistics and putting teams together. For me the biggest difference playing 20-goal polo is it’s way more expensive, but you get to play with all these big guys. I’ve never played this fast before,” Boyd continued. “The horses were amazing, the speed is fun and although it was so competitive I felt safe. I love playing at this level and now I’m hooked. This is the biggest win of my polo career.”
Boyd also plans to compete in the highly-coveted Silver Cup® with brothers Sebastian and Tincho Merlos and Carlitos Gracida.
It was a day of historic firsts for Aspen Valley Polo Club, hosting the North American Cup® for the first time. The tournament had been previously held at Florida-based sister club Grand Champions Polo Club in Wellington, Florida, since 2011.
“This tournament has purpose on a couple of levels,” Marc Ganzi said. “As a USPA Member Club we have always wanted to try the best competitive polo we can play here in the Rocky Mountain Circuit. I think the next month provides a really unique opportunity to see 20-goal polo played in the mountains.”