Fantastic ‘First Day Friday’ as frenetic polo action fires up
So, we are off and away for the ultimate, most glamourous and spectacular snow polo event in the world. After a year of challenges globally who could imagine a better way start the year than with this superb tournament which is a high point of both the St. Moritz calendar, as well as an important marker in the global polo scene. This year has seen a complete sell out with VIP and Chukka Club tickets all over-subscribed and the hotels of the resort reporting record bookings. But don’t forget that the event is open to all with entry free onto the public areas of the iconic venue. Months of preparation go into the event, and this is apparent as everything runs with Swiss accuracy and efficiency which sees 120 horses arriving from all over Europe, comfortably stabled in fully heated luxury, 250 tonnes of infrastructure installed on the frozen lake of St. Moritz and players, patrons and sponsors flying in from every corner of the globe. Things may be very organised, but don’t let efficiency be mistaken for run of the mill – this event is incredibly exciting – echoing the flamboyant nature of the man that makes it all happen ‘The Godfather of Snow Polo’ Reto Gaudenzi, Vice President and CEO of the event.
This year sees a change to the timetable of the event, with a record six teams entered and three matches each day.To start off proceedings Azerbaijan Land of Fire took on Perrier-Jouët (runners up and third placed at the last event respectively). Despite the forecasts of -10 and snowstorms, it once again seemed that Reto had a direct line to the weather gods and the first match was bathed in sunshine with just the occasional flake of snow falling upon the crowds. On paper it was hard to call who would have the upper hand, but it was Team Azerbaijan Land of Fire who dominated the play, staying deep in their opposition’s half, with Tito Gaudenzi looking strong and solid at back and Raul Laplacette giving everybody a snow polo masterclass despite this being his St. Moritz debut. Azerbaijan Land of Fire showcased a display of strong, four-man polo, with chess like combinations and efficiency. The scores reflected this with Azerbaijan not just the Land of Fire but truly on fire with a conclusive 7 goals to a rather lukewarm 2½ in reply from Perrier-Jouët.
The second match of the day was preceded by a minute of silence in memory of Marcos Uranga and Tim Keye, whose loss to the St. Moritz polo family is keenly felt. With the sun blazing down, it was then on to action between the all American World Polo League and Clinique La Prairie. The Americans headed up by Marc Ganzi aka ‘The Cobra’, ably abetted by 8 goal Nic Roldan and rounded off by Benji Daniels and Tommy Biddle, on paper presented a real threat to their opponents.Nic Roldan is always exciting to watch, quicksilver fast, flamboyant bur hard to predict ¬– the question was – could he bring form today? First to face them were the strong Clinique La Prairie, under the guidance of Max Charlton who has notched up wins here in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2020 and this year teams up once again with 2020 winning teammate Robert Strom. 2022 is Dillon Bacon’s St. Moritz debut, but the American is certainly once to watch, with top titles such as The Queen’s Cup and French Open under his belt. Clinique La Prairie’s fourth player is Aristide Faggionato who won the 2020 French Open with teammate Dillon Bacon and is also making his St. Moritz debut. As both teams sized each other up, Clinique La Prairie raced ahead with Max Charlton dominating the scoreboard, expertly assisted by his teammates as Dillon Bacon scored in the opening minutes of the second chukka, with the foursome demonstrated strong connections between each other.
The second half saw World Polo League trying to get back into the action, but eventually Roldan proved third time’s lucky with a penalty conversion. Despite this, World Polo League struggled to get back into the game and despite a last-minute goal from Roldan, it was not enough meaning Clinique La Prairie secured a decisive victory, 8½-3, enforcing their dominance and making them ones to watch for the rest of the tournament. To conclude polo proceedings for today, Badrutt’s Palace Hotel took on Casablanca. Uniquely featuring mother and son duo of Melissa (former winner of the tournament and acknowledged ‘Queen of Snow Polo’, and Grant Ganzi, alongside 8 goal powerhouse and snow polo expert Alejandro Novillo Astrada and newcomer to St. Moritz Jason Crowder they looked a strong team.
Their opposition was in the form of Casablanca, bristling with an impressive armoury of players, including the only 10 goal player in the tournament, Sapo Caset, Misha Rodzianko – Russia’s highest handicapped player, British Open winner Jimbo Fewser, Captained from the front by Ivan Romanovsky. Although play was relatively evenly matched between the two teams, four missed penalty goal shots from Casablanca meant that Badrutt’s remained in the lead for the duration of the match. As Jan-Erik Franck ‘The Voice of Polo’ succinctly put it, “The polo gods are residing in Badrutt’s Palace today.” So it was that it was not Casablanca’s day and the final score of 4-1 secured Badrutt’s a place in tomorrow’s Semi Finals. Play continues tomorrow with World Polo League playing Perrier-Jouët at 11.00am local time, followed by Azerbaijan Land of Fire taking on Badrutt’s Palace at 12.15pm for the first Semi Final and last but certainly not least at 14.30pm, Clinique La Prairie playing Casablanca to decide the second Semi Final for play tomorrow.
Photograph: Casablanca in action, although an initial loss, they will face Clinique La Prairie in tomorrow’s Semi Final. By Polo Times