Story by Rebecca Baldridge/Aspen Valley Polo Club.

2019 defending champion Casablanca (Juancito Bollini, Grant Ganzi*, Nic Roldan) conquered McClure River Ranch (Jared Zenni*, Nacho Novillo Astrada, Tom Barrack substituting for Marc Ganzi) 12-10 to claim the United States Arena Handicap Final on Tuesday, July 28, at Aspen Valley Polo Club in Carbondale, Colorado.

Casablanca's Grant Ganzi carries the ball forward.

Casablanca’s Grant Ganzi pops the ball forward on the nearside.

“Grant [Ganzi], Nic [Roldan] and I have been playing together for many years so we know each other very well on the field,” Bollini commented. “I think what always works best with our team in the arena is to let Nic and Grant attack non-stop while I stay in the back recovering missed shots and passing the ball upwards. It’s the system we’ve always used and it has worked well for us so far!” “Our strategy was mainly rotating as a team and playing selflessly,” Ganzi added.

Nic Roldan and Jared Zenni race to gain possession.

Nic Roldan and Jared Zenni race to gain possession.

Establishing an early lead in the first chukker and receiving a goal on handicap, Casablanca led throughout the game to reclaim the prestigious arena trophy with swift plays and excellent ball control. Between a penalty conversion and a goal from Roldan, Casablanca quickly began to extend their initial lead. Capitalizing for McClure River Ranch, Zenni added a Penalty 3, but Bollini was in position and closed the chukker allowing Casablanca to lead 4-1. At the start of the second, Roldan scored with a little help from his horse, who kicked the ball in. Taking the ball out of the air, Novillo Astrada made a slick shot from the near side, bringing the score to 5-2. A two pointer by Roldan and a penalty conversion by Ganzi allowed Casablanca the advantage up 8-2, with Zenni and Novillo Astrada adding another two goals to narrow the gap. Securing his fifth goal of the game, Roldan’s strong offensive strategy ended the half in favor of Casablanca 9-4.

Juancito Bollini reaches for the ball.

Juancito Bollini keeps the ball with him.

Roldan opened the third chukker to increase Casablanca’s momentum with another two-point shot, aided by a great assist from Bollini. Novillo Astrada found the goal twice, capitalizing once on a Penalty 2, while Tom Barrack scored his first goal of the match, landing all McClure River Ranch players on the scoreboard. However, another shot from Ganzi increased his team’s tally to 12, with McClure River Ranch trailing by five goals at the end of the third. The players in the red jerseys put up a hard fight in the final chukker, successfully keeping Casablanca away from their goal posts. Despite two penalty conversions by Novillo Astrada and a goal from Zenni, Casablanca ultimately defended their title, winning the trophy 12-10.

“It felt great to win the title back-to-back!” Ganzi exclaimed. “I am happy to have done it with the same team as last year and having perfect weather here in Aspen to play in!”

Most Valuable Player Nic Roldan.

Most Valuable Player Nic Roldan.

Nic Roldan was named Most Valuable Player, responsible for seven of Casablanca’s total 13 goals. Best Playing Pony honors were awarded to Molly, an 8-year-old grey Thoroughbred mare owned and played by Roldan in the first and the fourth chukkers. “I bought Molly from Kris Kampsen as a 4-year-old,” Roldan shared. “She has a lot of power and handles great on the field.”

Roldan also gave credit to his grooms who keep his horses in peak condition. “Vale, my head trainer, and his wife Terri Gallitelli play an intricate role with the care of my horses,” Roldan said. “Without their dedication, hard work and passion for the horses my organization wouldn’t be where it is today.”

Best Playing Pony, Molly, owned and played by Nic Roldan in the first and fourth chukkers.

Best Playing Pony, Molly, owned and played by Nic Roldan in the first and fourth chukkers. Pictured with Terri Gallitelli.

*Jared Zenni is a graduating Team USPA Member and Grant Ganzi is a Team USPA alumni. Team USPA is a USPA program designed to enhance and grow the sport of polo in the United States by identifying young, talented American players and providing mentored training and playing opportunities leading to a pool of higher rated amateur and pro players and the resultant giveback to the sport of polo.

Photos by ©Aspen Valley Polo Club.

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