CARBONDALE, Colo., August 8, 2022—-Los Amigos won its second tournament of the summer polo season Sunday at McClure River Ranch Stadium.’
By Sharon Robb
On a perfect day for polo, Los Amigos (Paul Foster, Marc Ganzi, Gonzalito Pieres, Nacho Figueras) led from start to finish to win a hardfought 6-4 decision over Tonkawa (Jeff Hildebrand, Brian Boyd, Nacho Novillo Astrada/Alejandro Novillo Astrada, Jason Crowder).
Argentine great Gonzalito Pieres was named Most Valuable Player.
Open Conga, a 9-year-old bay mare, owned and played by Pieres in the second chukker and second half of the fifth chukker, was selected Best Playing Pony. She played in England the last two years.
Rated at 10 goals in Great Britain and 9 in the U.S. and Argentina, Pieres, 39, made his debut in the 1999 Argentine Open. Since then the son of former 10-goaler Gonzalo Pieres Sr. has followed in his historic polo family’s footsteps competing and winning every major tournament in the sport. He is currently ranked 12th in the world.
Pieres, coming off the 26-goal World Polo League season at Grand Champions Polo Club in Wellington, Fla., has won ten Tortugas Opens, seven Hurlingham Opens, four British Opens, three Argentine Opens and two U.S. Opens including 2009 with Audi’s Marc Ganzi and bothers Facundo and Nico Pieres, and two Sotogrande Gold Cups.
“I like winning,” Pieres said. “I always try to win as much as I can. I don’t think about my age at this time. I know I have a lot to give and keep improving. Every time I enter a tournament I always try to win. If it happens it’s really good and if it doesn’t at least I tried.”
In a defensive battle, Los Amigos opened with a 3-0 lead in the opening chukker and extended it to 4-0 at halftime. All four goals were scored by Ganzi.
Tonkawa lost starter Nacho Novillo Astrada to a leg injury with 5:06 left in the second chukker and was replaced by younger brother Alejandro Novillo Astrada, who had just played six chukkers in a winning effort for White Claw in the subsidiary game.
Tonkawa tried to turn it around in the second half with Crowder scoring his team’s first goal with one second left in the fourth chukker and second goal with 5:41 left in the fifth chukker, to trail by two goals, 4-2. Pieres came up with two clutch back-to-back goals within a minute to extend Los Amigos’ lead, 6-2. Tonkawa could get no closer than two goals for the rest of the game.
“The game was not that nice at the beginning when Nacho had to leave the game,” Pieres said. “We started strong at 4-0. Marc was doing really good and Nacho, too. I always love to play with Marc a lot, I played with him since 2006. Paul played really good the last three chukkers.They did start getting stronger and we were winning by only two but then I scored two goals. One was a bit lucky and the other one was a really good play.”
In the defensive battle, there were six shutout chukkers. Los Amigos was shut out in the second, fourth and sixth chukkers.Tonkawa was shut out in the first half. “For sure it was a defensive battle, both defenses were strong,” Pieres said.
Ganzi scored a game-high four goals, including three in the opening chukker. Pieres added two back-to-back goals in a key fifth chukker. Jason Crowder and substitute player Alejandro Novillo Astrada each had two goals for Tonkawa.
Pieres is competing in Aspen for the second consecutive summer. After the WPL season he skipped the British season to return to Argentina where he worked his horses for the Argentine Open.
“I love it here, it’s really friendly and the weather is great,” Pieres said. “My family and the kids have a great time. What they have been doing here is great. It is one of the best places to play in America at this time.”
For the fourth consecutive Sunday, 18 chukkers were played in addition to Kidz Wheely Polo.
In the subsidiary Just For The Fun Of It Cup on Field 1, White Claw (Melissa Ganzi, Vinny Sangaline, Alejandro Novillo Astrada, Juan Bollini) held off Brookshire (Scott Wood, Stewart Armstrong, Tomacho Pieres, Sugar Erskine), 7-6.
Despite being shut out in the third and fifth chukkers, White Claw led for most of the game. In the final chukker with the game tied 6-6, Astrada scored the winning goal in the final minute and then stole the ball with 10 seconds left to eat up the clock.
Alejandro Novillo Astrada scored a team-high four goals and Melissa Ganzi added three goals. For Brookshire, Tomacho Pieres scored a team-high four goals. Erskine and Armstrong each added one goal.
In the Just For The Thrill Of It Cup on Field 2, Victory (Kevin Schmeits, Grant Ganzi, Nic Roldan, Alex Gooding) led from start to finish for a 10-6 victory over El Tiburon (Collen Clark, Michael Payne, Pancho Bensadon, Torito Ruiz).
Victory jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the opening chukker as Roldan opened scoring with a 70-yarder at the 5:22 mark. Victory continued its momentum for a 6-2 halftime lead.
The teams played to a 4-4 second half. El Tiburon rallied late in the game with Bensadon scoring on a 100-yarder with 39 seconds left in the fifth chukker. Bensadon and Ruiz scored back-to-back goals to open the sixth chukker and trail, 9-6, but could get no closer.
Ganzi scored a game-high six goals including a 60-yard penalty conversion. Roldan added two. Schmeits and Gooding each had one. Payne, Bensadon and Ruiz each had two goals for El Tiburon.
In a spirited Kidz Wheely Polo match, Polo School Green and Polo School Blue played to a 6-6 tie. Artemio Figueras scored back-to-back goals for Polo School Green to tie and go ahead but Blas Bensadon scored the tying goal in the closing minute.
In Friday’s opening day qualifying round robin action, Los Amigos advanced after a 2-2 tie with El Tiburon and 3-2 win over White Claw. Tonkawa moved into the final with a 4-3 win over Brookshire and 5-4 triumph over Victory.
Six teams competed over two days in the sixth 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).
Last weekend 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.
Other summer tournaments are this week’s Mount Sopris Cup, 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 will live stream 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. The first lesson is free and polo scholarships are offered. 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.