Aspen Valley Polo Club, the summer destination for polo, opens the season Wednesday with the traditional Independence Cup.
By Sharon Robb
With the majestic 12,965-foot summit of Mount Sopris as a backdrop for the 15-acre facility nestled among Aspen’s beautiful country side, polo returns to the Roaring Fork Valley when the club hosts eleven tournaments in July and August with an exciting lineup of players and tournaments.
The season opens with the Independence Cup on July 5th at 11 a.m. MST followed by the ChukkerTV Cup July 7-9. Preliminary games are Friday at 10:30 and 11:30 a.m. On Saturday, the Just For The Love Of It Cup is Saturday at 11 a.m. On Sunday at 11 a.m. the Just For The Thrill Of It Cup opens action followed by the ChkkerTV Cup final at McClure River Ranch.
Los Amigos (Paul Foster, Marc Ganzi, Gonzalito Pieres, Tomacho Pieres) won the coveted ChukkerTV Cup trophy for the first time in team history. Los Amigos defeated Casablanca (Alejandra Foster, Grant Ganzi, Torito Ruiz, Nic Roldan), 6-2, after three competitive round robin games. Marc Ganzi was MVP.
Brookshire (Scott Wood, Jason Crowder, Nic Roldan, Juan Bollini) in its AVPC debut, won the Chukker TV Cup. The foursome defeated Los Amigos Paul Foster, Vinny Sangaline, Gonzalito Pieres, Nacho Figueras), 11-7, to win the ChukkerTV Cup. Nic Roldan was MVP.
The season has attracted some of the world’s top pro players including Gonzalito Pieres, Juan Martin Nero, Nic Roldan, Alejandro and Nacho Novillo Astrada, Tomacho Pieres, Nacho Figueras and his rising star son Hilario, Sugar Erskine, Pablo Spinacci, Jason Crowder, Martin Jauregui and Grant Ganzi, as well as world-class horses, already acclimated to the altitude.
Other players expected to compete are Stewart Armstrong, father and son Juan and Santos Bollini, Marc, Riley and Melissa Ganzi, Jeff Hildebrand, Brian Boyd, Paul Foster, Alejandra Foster, Michael Payne, Vinny Sangaline, Dominic Stait, Collen Clarke, Scott Wood, Ale Poma, Becky Schmeits and Carol Farnsworth.
The highlight of the season is the August 27th Summer Polo Charity Classic, benefitting the Aspen Valley Hospital Foundation. It is the club’s summer marquis event and one of the city’s most anticipated social summer events. The event has raised $3 million since it began in 2016.
Other summer tournaments are the Craig Sakin Memorial, Basalt Handicap, Emma Challenge Cup, High Alpine Cup, Mount Sopris Cup, Rocky Mountain Open, Carbondale Classic, Triple Crown of Polo-Aspen and Silver Queen Invitational.
With more than 250 arrived early to acclimate to playing 7,908 feet above sea level. Much like elite athletes, horses benefit from playing in high altitude, enhancing blood oxygen-delivering capacity and improving vitality that has consistently translated to improved performance, aerobic power and stamina.
Last summer Aspen Valley Polo Club finished its most successful and historic season in club and Rocky Mountain Circuit history with a record 13 tournaments.
Los Amigos won three tournaments and Brookshire and NetJets each won two tournaments. Los Amigos won the season-opening Independence Cup, High Alpine Cup and Triple Crown of Polo-Aspen making the Texas-based team the winningest team this season.
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). Los Amigos (Paul Foster, Marc Ganzi, Gonzalito Pieres, Nacho Figueras) also 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. Its biggest victory was the Triple Crown of Polo-Aspen where Los Amigos (Paul Foster, Jason Crowder, Grant Ganzi, Nic Roldan) defeated defending champion Tonkawa (Jeff Hildebrand, Marc Ganzi, Tomacho Pieres, Juan Martin Nero), 5-4.
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). Brookshire (Scott Wood, Ale Poma, Nacho Figueras, Torito Ruiz) won its second tournament in the Basalt Handicap with a 12-7 win over Mountain Chevrolet (Michael Payne, Stewart Armstrong, Nic Roldan, Alex Gooding).
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).
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.
La Karina (Lauren Sherry, Brian Boyd, Torito Ruiz, Tomacho Pieres) won the Mount Sopris Cup with a 9-8 victory over NetJets (Melissa Ganzi, Vinny Sangaline, Alejandro Novillo Astrada, Juan Bollini). Ruiz was MVP.
NetJets (Melissa Ganzi, Jason Crowder, Nic Roldan, Juan Bollini) won the NetJets Rocky Mountain Open with a 7-6 overtime win over Tonkawa (Jeff Hildebrand, Marc Ganzi, Tomacho Pieres, Gonzalito Pieres). Roldan earned his third MVP title of the season.
In the Maroon Bells Cup, Victory (Kevin Schmeits, Vinny Sangaline, Torito Ruiz, Nacho Novillo Astrada) defeated Santa Rita (Melissa Ganzi, Alejandra Foster, Gonzalito Pieres, Alejandro Novillo Astrada), 20-19.
Los Amigos (Paul Foster, Jason Crowder, Grant Ganzi, Nic Roldan) defeated defending champion Tonkawa (Jeff Hildebrand, Marc Ganzi, Tomacho Pieres, Juan Martin Nero), 5-4, to win the coveted Triple Crown of Polo-Aspen. Grant Ganzi was MVP.
Victory (Vinny Sangaline, Kevin Schmeits, Torito Ruiz, Pancho Bensadon) defeated Los Amigos (Paul Foster, Nic Roldan, Marc Ganzi, Tomacho Pieres), 11-9, to capture the second annual Silver Queen Invitational. Ruiz was MVP.
Wellington, Fla.-based ChukkerTV (CTV sports) will live stream the entire 2023 polo season Mountain Standard Time with announcer Dale Schwetz calling the action.
The family-friendly club welcomes spectators. All matches, food and refreshments are free and open to the public.
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, Kidsz 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.
“I look forward to everything Aspen has to offer,” said club owner Melissa Ganzi, one of the world’s top amateur women players. “From the moment my feet touch the ground, and that first breath of fresh air, I get a sense of being home.”
The Polo School for all ages and ability levels operates in Carbondale. 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.
When not playing or watching polo, there’s all kinds of outdoor activities in a true adventurer’s playground including hiking, mountain biking, water rafting, swimming, fly fishing and golf.