In front of a good crowd, La Karina won its first tournament of the summer polo season Sunday at McClure River Ranch Stadium.
The foursome of Lauren Sherry, Brian Boyd, Torito Ruiz and Tomacho Pieres led from start to finish for a thrilling 9-8 victory over NetJets (Melissa Ganzi, Vinny Sangaline, Alejandro Novillo Astrada, Juan Bollini). Sherry and Pieres were tournament runners-up last year with Sopris Mountain Ranch.
Ruiz, 24, playing his third season in Aspen, was named Most Valuable Player. Ruiz scored a game-high six goals and was relentless on defense. He scored a total of 13 goals in the tournament.
„Torito just played so well,“ said sponsor-player Brian Boyd. „He is such a strong, young player and great teammate. He is a phenomenal young star. We are going to see a lot more of him in the high goal and Argentina.“
Fiesta, owned by Juan Martin Nero and played by Alejandro Novillo Astrada, was selected Best Playing Pony.
„To be MVP is nice but what is important is to win with the team,“ Ruiz said. „The whole team played well and made me play better. It‘s always the team that makes you play better.“
La Karina took control early jumping out to a 2-1 lead with goals from Ruiz and Pieres. After a scoreless second chukker, La Karina had another 2-1 chukker to lead 4-2 at the half.
„I am happy we won, it was a fun game,“ Ruiz said. „The game plan was to play as a team and be organized on the field.“
La Karina shut out NetJets in the fourth chukker and out scored them 3-2 in the fifth. With 5:05 left in the last chukker, La Karina led 9-6. Astrada and Ganzi scored back-to-back goals but ran out of time to rally.
„I am so happy to win such a great tournament with such tough teams,“ Boyd said. „That was a tough team, they play well together and reach each other well.
„We just went out there and had fun. Both Torito and Tomacho are so positive and encouraging. Any time we would have a broken play or make a mistake they were like ‚don‘t worry about it, get back in there, keep fighting.‘ It was a fun final.“
In addition to Ruiz‘ six goals, Pieres added three goals. For NetJets, Ganzi and Astrada each had a team-high three goals and Sangaline had two
For the fifth consecutive Sunday, fans were treated to 18 chukkers in addition to Kidz Wheely Polo.
Boyd, who played all winter in Costa Careyes, Mexico, has been impressed with the level of play in Aspen since the July 3 season-opener.
„The pros are playing clean, open polo,“ Boyd said. „They are moving the ball instead of possession polo. The fields are playing so nicely and everyone is hitting the ball so well. Even the amateurs and patron players are hitting the ball well and running. Our Friday round robin games have been incredible and hardfought, so many teams advancing by just one or two goals. It‘s been competitive and fast with a lot of good horses.“
Boyd, also president of the Aspen Valley Polo Club, has watched the club progress over nine years into a summer polo destination.
„It took a small village of us to build the club up,“ Boyd said. „Each year the club just gets better and better and that makes for good polo. It is the most fun place to play good polo in the summer in the U.S. There‘s great camaraderie within the club. One week you are playing with a pro and the next you are playing against him.“
In the subsidiary Just For The Fun Of It Cup, Los Amigos defeated El Tiburon, 8-6. Los Amigos broke a 3-3 tie after two chukkers with a 3-1 third chukker to lead 6-4 at the half and never trailed after that. The teams played to a 2-2 tie in the fourth quarter and then were scoreless in the final two chukkers.
Los Amigos got balanced scoring from its lineup. Bensadon led with three, Figueras and Gooding each had two and Foster added one. Roldan led El Tiburon with four goals and Marc Ganzi added two.
In the Just For The Thrill Of It Cup, Brookshire/Victory (Scott Wood, Kevin Schmeits, Gonzalito Pieres, Jason Crowder) held on for a 10-9 win over Mountain Chevrolet (Michael Payne, Sugar Erskine, Pablo Spinacci, Stewart Armstrong).
Brookshire/Victory led by as many as four goals in the fourth (8-4) and fifth chukkers (9-5) before Mountain Chevrolet started to reel them in but ran out of time.
For Brookshire/Victory, Schmeits had a team-high four goals, Crowder had three, Pieres, two and Wood added one. Erskine led Mountain Chevrolet with four goals. Armstrong had three and Payne and Spinacci each had one goal.
In Friday‘s opening day qualifying round robin action, NetJets advanced into the final with a 4-3 win over Mountain Chevrolet and 5-3 victory over Los Amigos. La Karina qualified with a 4-4 tie with Brookshire/Victory and 5-4 win over El Tiburon.
Six teams competed over two days in the seventh tournament of the season.
Aspen Valley Polo Club kicked off its ninth season on July 3. In the season-opener Los Amigos (Paul Foster, Marc Ganzi, Gonzalito Pieres, Tomacho Pieres) won the Independence Cup with a round robin victory over Casablanca (Alejandra Foster, Grant Ganzi, Torito Ruiz, Nic Roldan) and NetJets (Melissa Ganzi, Nacho Figueras, Alejandro Novillo Astrada, Juan Bollini).
Brookshire (Scott Wood, Jason Crowder, Nic Roldan, Juan Bollini) won its club debut in the ChukkerTV Cup with an 11-7 win over Los Amigos (Paul Foster, Vinny Sangaline, Gonzalito Pieres, Nacho Figueras).
McClure River Ranch (Marc Ganzi, Jason Crowder, Pancho Bensadon, Stewart Armstrong) won the Craig Sakin Memorial with a 9-8 victory over Santa Rita (Melissa Ganzi, Vinny Sangaline, Alejandro Novillo Astrada, Juan Bollini).
Brookshire (Scott Wood, Ale Poma, Nacho Figueras, Torito Ruiz) won its second tournament of the season in the Basalt Handicap with a 12-7 win over Mountain Chevrolet (Michael Payne, Stewart Armstrong, Nic Roldan, Alex Gooding).
Tonkawa (Jeff Hildebrand, Nic Roldan, Grant Ganzi, Blas Bensadon) won the Emma Challenge with an 11-8 victory over defending champion Los Amigos (Paul Foster, Vinny Sangaline, Nacho Figueras, Tomacho Pieres). Roldan earned his second MVP award of the season.
Last weekend Los Amigos (Paul Foster, Marc Ganzi, Gonzalito Pieres, Nacho Figueras)won the High Alpine Cup with a 6-4 win over Tonkawa (Jeff Hildebrand, Brian Boyd, Nacho Novillo Astrada/Alejandro Novillo Astrada, Jason Crowder). Pieres was MVP.
Other summer tournaments are this week‘s Rocky Mountain Open, Carbondale Classic, Triple Crown of Polo-Aspen, Silver Queen Invitational, Maroon Bells Cup and Ute Challenge.
The highlight of the season is the Aug. 28th Summer Polo Benefit for the Aspen Valley Hospital Foundation. Last year‘s event raised more than $500,000 after a year‘s hiatus because of the pandemic. It is the club‘s summer marquis event and one of the city‘s most anticipated social summer events.
Wellington, Fla.-based ChukkerTV is live streaming the entire 2022 polo season Mountain Standard Time with announcer Dale Schwetz calling the action.
Since Marc and Melissa Ganzi resurrected the club and polo in 2014, polo has increased in popularity in Aspen and surrounding cities with the club‘s offerings of various weekly grass and arena tournaments, Arena & Asado Nights, Kidz Polo, Kidz Wheely Polo, Gymkhana, 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 club tournaments on more than six world-class fields. There are also indoor and outdoor polo arenas.
The Polo School for all ages and ability levels operates in Carbondale July through September. For more information on tournaments or Polo School contact Director of Operations Juan Bollini at 561-346-1099 or club manager Cale Newman at 561-876-2930.
Aspen Valley Polo Club caters to men, women and youth polo players at all levels. Its‘ expert staff can customize a complete playing experience including horses, pros and certified umpires in addition to lessons and practice sessions as part of its‘ Polo On Demand program.
The family-friendly club welcomes spectators. All matches, food and refreshments are free and open to the public.
By Sharon Robb
2022 Aspen Valley Polo Club Schedule
Rocky Mountain Open 8/12 – 8/21
The Carbondale Classic 8/19-8/21
Triple Crown of Polo – Aspen 8/24-8/28
Silver Queen Invitational 8/31 – 9/4
Maroon Bells Cup TBD
Ute Challenge TBD
Arena Tournaments & Asado – Tuesday Evenings
Kids Wheely Polo games during select tournament halftimes
Summer Polo Benefit
for the Aspen Valley Hospital Foundation
Sunday August 28, 2022