Tonkawa won its Aspen Valley Polo Club summer debut Sunday at McClure River Ranch Stadium.
By Sharon Robb
In front of a good crowd, Tonkawa (Jeff Hildebrand, Nic Roldan, Grant Ganzi, Blas Bensadon) rallied in the second half for an 11-8 victory over defending champion Los Amigos (Paul Foster, Vinny Sangaline, Nacho Figueras, Tomacho Pieres).
For the second time this season, Nic Roldan was named Most Valuable Player. He was also the ChukkerTV Cup MVP for Brookshire. Alejandra Foster of Brookshire earned the Sportsmanship Award.
“Nic is playing outstanding,” Ganzi praised. “I would always rather be playing with him than against him. He is taking that extra second to pause and think about the next play. Taking a little bit of time and not rushing it gives him such an advantage over the rest.”
Aspen, owned by Halo Polo and played by Tomacho Pieres in the sixth chukker, was selected Best Playing Pony. Aspen is a 7-year-old Argentine dark bay mare bred by Pablo Spinacci.
Tonkawa broke open a close game outscoring Los Amigos, 6-3, in the second half. The teams were tied 3-3 at the half.
Roldan fueled the momentum in the second half opening the fourth chukker scoring back-to-back goals. Early in the fifth chukker, Los Amigos tied the game one final time, 7-7, on Pieres’ 30-yard penalty conversion before Tonkawa scored three unanswered goals, including two by Hildebrand. Tonkawa maintained its three-goal lead.
“I think the biggest thing was going into the last two chukkers we were saying that we had to stop fouling,” Ganzi said. “We were more disciplined with the man on defense especially on my end. We worked a little harder on our offensive plays and obviously on defense. That was the big change we made.”
Roldan scored a team-high five goals. Hildebrand had three goals, Ganzi two and Bensadon one. For Los Amigos, Pieres scored a game-high six goals including three penalty conversions. Figueras added two goals.
“I thought our team worked well together,” Ganzi said. “Having played with Nic and Jeff before made things a lot easier and having confidence in Nic about the plays and talking back and forth and seeing if we needed to change anything and what worked and what didn’t.”
It was Ganzi’s first tournament win and finals appearance of the first month of the season.
“I have been on some really fun teams,” Ganzi said. “It was fun to make the final and obviously a lot more fun today to come out today with a win.
“It’s been tough and competitive since the beginning of the season,” Ganzi said. “It’s a lot of new faces coming in and playing really well and a lot of guys who have been here before and having the horses they already know. Everyone is playing really well and it’s really showing.”
For the third consecutive Sunday, 18 chukkers were played.
In the subsidiary Just For The Fun Of It Cup, McClure River Ranch (Marc Ganzi, Ale Poma, Gonzalito Pieres, Stewart Armstrong) defeated La Karina (Brian Boyd, Melissa Ganzi, Alejandro Novillo Astrada, Juan Bollini), 10-7.
McClure River Ranch led from start to finish including 6-3 at halftime, 8-4 late in the fourth chukker and 10-6 in the sixth.
McClure River Ranch got balanced scoring from its lineup. Marc Ganzi, Pieres and Armstrong each scored three goals. Pieres scored a 120-yarder in the third chukker. Poma added one. Astrada had three goals and Melissa Ganzi two goals for La Karina.
In the Just For The Thrill Of It Cup, Victory (Michael Payne, Kevin Schmeits, Sugar Erskine, Torito Ruiz) won on goal differential against runner-up Brookshire (Alejandra Foster, Scott Wood, Pancho Bensadon, Jason Crowder) and third-place finisher El Tiburon (Collen Clark, Santos Bollini, Nacho Novillo Astrada, Alex Gooding). Ruiz scored a 150-yarder in the second chukker against Brookshire.
In the round robin games, Victory defeated Brookshire, 4-2; Brookshire topped El Tiburon, 4-2 and El Tiburon edged Victory 5-4.
In Friday’s opening day preliminary action, Los Amigos defeated El Tiburon, 8-6, in the first regulation six-chukker game. La Karina defeated Brookshire, 9-7, in the other game.
Instead of a USPA shootout, Los Amigos and La Karina played an exciting one-chukker playoff which ended in a tie forcing a sudden death eighth chukker where Paul Foster scored the game-winner with 5:43 left.
In the round robin qualifier, Tonkawa advanced into the final with 4-2 wins over Victory and McClure River Ranch.
A season-high seven teams competed over two days in the fifth 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).
Last weekend 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).
Other summer tournaments are this week’s 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, 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.