Mountain Chevrolet won its first major tournament of the summer polo season Sunday at Aspen Valley Polo Club.
By Sharon Robb
Mountain Chevrolet (Michael Payne, 1, Pablo Spinacci, 6, Hilario Figueras, 5, Martin Jauregui, 6) defeated NetJets (Santos Bollini, 2/Marc Ganzi, 1, Nacho Figueras, 5, Gonzalito Pieres, 9, Stewart Armstrong, 2), 12-9, to win the High Alpine Cup at McClure River Ranch.
“We finally won one this year,” Payne said. “We’ve had a lot of fun this year, but it’s always extra fun to win.
“All three of the pros played well,” Payne said. “They came in with a game plan and executed it. There was great rotation between the three of them. I felt they had control of the game from start to finish.”
Martin Jauregui, making his third finals appearance, won his first title in his summer polo debut and was named Most Valuable Player.
“Well-deserved for Martin,” Payne said. “He was just incredible on the back-end. He wasn’t letting anybody through. The way he would regain possession was like a thing of beauty watching him. He did a good job.”
Ensenada Lamparita, a 5-year-old bay mare (Open Iluminado x Lapa 03), played by Pablo Spinacci in the opening chukker and owned by Wellington-based Santa Rita Polo Farm, was Best Playing Pony.
Both teams were 18-goal rated and evenly-matched in the five-team tournament. Mountain Chevrolet had come close to winning past tournaments.
The wide open game was close for the first three chukkers. Both teams scored in the opening chukker. In the second chukker, NetJets outscored Mountain Cheverolet, 2-1, and in the third chukker Mountain Chevrolet outscored NetJets 2-1 for a 4-4 halftime.
The second half was all Mountain Chevrolet. The foursome came out strong, outscoring NetJets 3-0 with two goals from Spinacci and one from Payne. With Jauregui playing superb defense, NetJets was unable to rally. With a 7-4 Mountain Chevrolet lead after the fourth quarter, the teams played to 2-2 and 3-3 chukkers.
“I might have scored so maybe we got lucky,” Payne said. “It was clicking. I could tell before the game it was a really good mindset between everybody. It’s always tough when you are going up against a team with Marc and Gonza on it so we knew we had our work cut out for us. The guys came through.”
The biggest key to victory Payne said was his “lucky charm” making his polo fan debut. Brooks Payne, his two-week-old grandson and his parents, Michael Jr. and Shannon, watched his grandfather win. “He was my little lucky charm,” Payne said. “I think that’s why we won.”
Spinacci scored a game-high six goals. Figueras added three, Payne had two and Jauregui had one. For NetJets, Pieres had five goals. Ganzi had three goals and Figueras added one.
In Friday’s qualifying hardfought action, Mountain Chevrolet held off Los Amigos, 14-13. Figueras had a game-high six goals. Melissa Ganzi and Alejandro Novillo Astrada each had six goals for Los Amigos.
“Hilario was key in Friday’s game, he was just a machine which got us to the finals,” Payne said.
The three-team round robin came down to a shootout after the teams tied in regulation. Gonzalito Pieres clinched the win for NetJets. Pieres was two-for-two in penalty shots. In the regulation matches, NetJets and ST8 tied 6-6; NetJets tied Tonkawa, 4-4 and ST8 and Tonkawa tied, 3-3.
In the Just For The Thrill Of It subsidiary, Tonkawa (Jeff Hildebrand, 0, Grant Ganzi 3, Tomacho Pieres, 6, Nacho Novillo Astrada, 8) won a hardfought round robin. Hildebrand scored a tournament-high seven goals.
Tonkawa defeated Los Amigos (Melissa Ganzi, 0, Sugar Erskine, 6, Alejandro Novillo Astrada, 7, Juan Bollini, 3), 8-4, and ST8 (Ale Poma, 1, Jason Crowder, 5, Nic Roldan, 8, Dominic State, 2), 6-2. In the other match, Los Amigos defeated ST8, 6-4, to finish second. ST8 was third.
On Saturday, it was AVPC Kidz Polo Day with both outdoor and arena games. In the opening game, Polo School Green (Inda Pieres, Fran Spinacci, Gonzalito Pieres) and Polo School Purple (Silver Novillo Astrada, Artemio Figueras, Nacho Novillo Astrada) tied 4-4 after four chukkers.
In the second fun arena game, Polo School Blue won 3-0. Santos Valent, the nephew of 8-goaler Nic Roldan, scored all three goals. The youngest player was Lolo Novillo Astrada, the 3-year-old son of Alejandro Novillo Astrada who shared a horse with his son. Among other players were Alba Figueras, Mia Pieres, Facu Novillo Astrada, Lupe Pieres, Azu Pieres and Violeta Pieres.
Last season in the High Alpine Cup, 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). Pieres swept MVP and BPP honors with his 9-year-old Bay mare Open Conga.
The High Alpine Cup is named after a Snowmass ski area/lift and legacy of Gwyn’s, a longtime Snowmass favorite located mid-mountain where diners experience some of the tradition and favorites from years past, in addition to a newly-envisioned take on mountain dining.
Remaining summer tournaments are the Mount Sopris Cup, Rocky Mountain Open, Carbondale Classic, Triple Crown of Polo-Aspen and Silver Queen Invitational.
Six 2023 champions have already been crowned. Victory Polo (Becky Schmeits, Grant Ganzi, Alejandro Novillo Astrada, Juan Bollini) won the Independence Cup with a 4-3 win over Mountain Chevrolet (Riley Ganzi/Santos Bollini, Michael Payne, Nic Roldan, Jimmy Seward). In the ChukkerTV Cup final, Santa Rita (Melissa Ganzi, Tito Gaudenzi, 2, Alejandro Novillo Astrada, 7, Juan Bollini, 3) defeated Tonkawa (Jeff Hildebrand, Jimmy Seward, 3, Tomacho Pieres, 6, Martin Jauregui, 6), 9-7. M.A.G. Polo (Govinda Quish, Dominic State, 2, Nic Roldan 8, Jason Crowder, 5) defeated NetJets (Santos Bollini, 2, Marc Ganzi, 1, Nacho Figueras 5, Hilario Figueras, 5), 8-7, to win the Craig Sakin Memorial. NetJets (Ale Poma 1, Nacho Figueras, 3, Marc Ganzi, 1, Nic Roldan, 8) won the Basalt Handicap with an 11-8 win over ST8 (Melissa Ganzi, Dominic State, 2, Nacho Novillo Astrada, 8, Juan Bollini, 3). Casablanca (Grant Ganzi, 3, Hilario Figueras 5, Nic Roldan, 8, Stewart Armstrong, 2) won the Emma Challenge Cup with a 9-5 win over Los Amigos (Melissa Ganzi, Martin Jauregui, 6, Alejandro Novillo Astrada 7, Juan Boliini, 3).
Wellington, Fla.-based ChukkerTV (CTV sports) will live stream the entire 2023 polo season Mountain Standard Time with announcer Dale Schwetz calling the action. Aspen Valley Polo Club is the only USPA club live streaming its entire summer schedule.
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, Kids Polo, Kids 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 is for all ages and ability levels amd 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.