McClure River Ranch Wins Craig Sakin Memorial; Pancho Bensadon Named MVP

In a wild finish, McClure River Ranch won the Craig Sakin Memorial Sunday at McClure River Ranch Stadium.

By Sharon Robb

The foursome of Marc Ganzi, Jason Crowder, Pancho Bensadon and Stewart Armstrong held off Santa Rita (Melissa Ganzi, Vinny Sangaline, Alejandro Novillo Astrada, Juan Bollini) in the final two minutes for a thrilling 9-8 victory.

Bensadon, making his Aspen Valley Polo Club summer debut, was Most Valuable Player.

“Our team was very balanced,” Bensadon said. “We were in natural positions so it was easy to play. We had a great time and that gave us good results. 

“It’s a pleasure to be here in Aspen, the polo is really good,” said Bensadon, coming off a successful 26-goal World Polo League season at sister club Grand Champions in Wellington, Fla. “Everything is spectacular here. The lifestyle and polo is super so we are having a great time. I love playing here.”

Burundanga, a 6-year-old Chestnut mare owned and played by Stewart Armstrong, was Best Playing Pony.

McClure River Ranch, a 15-goal rated team, won the six-team tournament playing well as a four-man team against upset-minded and 10-goal rated Santa Rita. The game was played on the flat.

The lead changed hands seven times before McClure River Ranch broke a 5-5 tie scoring three straight goals for a 9-6 lead in the sixth chukker. 

Santa Rita tried to rally in the final two minutes. Sangaline scored a goal off the throw-in to cut the lead to two. After a horse change, Santa Rita scored again when Bollini was awarded a penalty-one with 1:24 left to trail 9-8. Santa Rita took advantage of gaining possession at center field after the penalty one. Santa Rita missed its final scoring opportunity with 52 seconds remaining and Marc Ganzi ran out the clock.

“We were watching the clock already when we were winning by three,” Bensadon said. “We just told ourselves not to foul and we ended up winning by one. They had a chance with an opportunity there but fortunately we won.

“They played really well and were well-organized with the horses. We were just thinking if we played solid we knew that we could win.”

Marc Ganzi scored a team-high four goals, including two in the sixth chukker, to lead McClure River Ranch. Crowder and Armstrong each had two goals and Bensadon added one.

Sangaline had a team-high four goals for Santa Rita. Astrada had two goals and Melissa Ganzi added one.

In the subsidiary Just For The Fun Of It Cup, Victory (Kevin Schmeits, Alejandro Poma, Gonzalito Pieres, Tomacho Pieres) rallied to defeat Los Amigos (Paul Foster, Martin Munoz, Nacho Figueras, Nacho Novillo Astrada), 7-5. 

Nine-goaler Gonzalito Pieres was selected Most Valuable Player.

Chestnut pony Ensenada Velociraptor owned by Santa Rita Polo Farm and played by Tomacho Pieres in the fifth chukker was Best Playing Pony.

Despite being shut out in the second, third and fourth chukkers, Victory rallied in the final two chukkers to outscore Los Amigos, 4-2. 

With the game tied 3-3, Gonzalito Pieres scored just under four minutes for Victory’s first goal since the first chukker. After an incredible goal by Figueras to tie the game at 5-5, Victory got back-to-back goals from Poma and Schmeits in the final two minutes.

Victory got balanced scoring from its lineup. Poma, Gonzalito Pieres and Tomacho Pieres each had two goals. Schmeits added one. For Los Amigos, Figueras led with three goals and Foster had two goals.

In the first game of the tripleheader, La Karina (Brian Boyd, Grant Ganzi, Nic Roldan, Alex Gooding) won the Just For The Thrill Of It Cup with a 9-6 win over Mountain Chevrolet (Alejandra Foster, Michael Payne, Sugar Erskine, Torito Ruiz). 

La Karina led from start to finish, shutting out Mountain Chevrolet in the second chukker, leading 4-3 at the half and breaking open a close game early in the sixth chukker taking an 8-5 lead and maintaining its three-goal lead.

Boyd and Ganzi shared scoring honors for La Karina with three goals each. Gooding added two and Roldan had one. Foster scored a game-high three goals, including a 60-yarder, for Mountain Chevrolet.

In Friday’s two qualifying round robins, Santa Rita advanced with a 7-4 win over Mountain Chevrolet with Melissa Ganzi scoring a game-high five goals and 4-2 win over Los Amigos. In the second round robin, McClure River Ranch advanced with a 4-1 victory over La Karina and 5-5 tie with Victory after Crowder scored the tying goal with 17 seconds left.

It was the biggest day of polo at the club so far this season with 18 chukkers of polo and a fun chukker of Kids Wheely Polo. Aspen Valley Polo Club was the first to introduce Kids Wheely Polo in the U.S. 

The tournament is named in honor of Craig Sakin, who passed away on Feb. 11, 2014 at age 52. The former president of the Homeowners’ Association of Sopris Mountain Ranch, was instrumental in helping Marc and Melissa Ganzi secure their first polo field. In 2015, some of Sakin’s ashes were released over the polo field. 

Aspen Valley Polo Club kicked off its ninth season two weeks ago. 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). Last weekend 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).

The world’s destination spot for summer polo has attracted some of the world’s top players as well as world-class horses to compete in a record 13 tournaments.

Other summer tournaments are this week’s Basalt Handicap, Emma Challenge Cup, High Alpine Cup, 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, Kids Wheely 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 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. 


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