Santa Rita Captures ChukkerTV Cup; Alejandro Novillo Astrada Named MVP

Santa Rita won the second tournament of the summer polo season Sunday at Aspen Valley Polo Club.

By Sharon Robb

In front of a good crowd, 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), to win the six-team tournament with an exciting 9-7 victory at McClure River Ranch.

For the second consecutive week, Argentine 7-goaler Alejandro Novillo Astrada was named Most Valuable Player. Gismo, a Bay gelding owned and played by Jeff Hildebrand, was Best Playing Pony.

Santa Rita advanced to the final with wins over M.A.G, 6-3, and Los Amigos, 5-4. Tonkawa advanced with a 3-1 win over NetJets and 4-2 win against Mountain Chevrolet in round robin play on Friday.

The featured game was one of three games held during the fun day of polo.

In the opener, M.A.G. Polo (Dominic State, 2, Jason Crowder, 5, Sugar Erskine, 6, Stewart Armstrong, 2) and NetJets (Marc Ganzi, 2, Riley Ganzi, Santos Bollini, 2, Nacho Novillo Astrada, 8) battled to an 8-8 tie with Riley Ganzi passing off to her father Marc Ganzi with 1:48 left to play for the tie In The Just For The Thrill Of It at McClure River Ranch. Marc Ganzi finished with four goals and Riley Ganzi had two. Erskine and Armstrong each had three goals.

In The Just For The Fun Of It at McClure River Ranch, Mountain Chevrolet  (Vinny Sangaline, 1, Michael Payne, 1, Hilario Figueras, 5, Nic Roldan, 8) defeated Los Amigos (Alejandra de la Vega Foster, Nacho Figueras, 5/Tomacho Figueras, 6, Gabriel Gracida, 3, Pablo Spinacci, 6), 9-7. Roldan had four goals including three in the second half. Pieres, who filled in for Figueras who left the game in the opening chukker, and ended up playing 12 chukkers in one day, added three goals. Foster finished with three goals.
In a fourth game held on Saturday, Becky Schmeits scored the tying goal with one second left for a 7-7 tie between Victory Polo (Becky Schmeits, Tomacho Pieres, Jason Crowder, Sugar Erskine) and McClure River Ranch (Nacho Figueras, Artemio Figueras, Fran Spinacci, Pablo Spinacci) in the Just For The Love Of It at Sopris Field. Schmeits finished with seven goals.

In the championship final, Melissa Ganzi scored a game-high five goals in one of her finest performances of her career. Astrada, the team’s field general, added four goals. Hildebrand led Tonkawa with three goals and Jauregui, a World Polo League player making his Aspen Valley Polo Club debut this summer, added two goals.

After trailing Tonkawa for the first two chukkers, Melissa Ganzi scored back-to-back goals in the third chukker to give Santa Rita a 5-4 halftime advantage.

Santa Rita broke open the game in the second half including a 3-1 fifth chukker for a 9-6 lead going into the final chukker. Santa Rita never trailed in the second half.

“I think we played very well, we spread them out in the second half,” said Bollini, at 61 the oldest active pro player in the U.S. “Alejandro, Melissa and I have played together for so many years, we know what to do on the field and we trust each other a lot. It’s easy to play with players like that.

“Melissa was incredible today, she deserved MVP by far,” Bollini said. “It was one of the best games she has played. It was one of her best days. She was quick and was hitting well.”

Bollini was pleased with Santa Rita’s quick winning start so early in the season.

“We have really good people working behind the scenes that no one knows,” Bollini said. “It’s such a team effort. The organization that Santa Rita has is incredible. We are on top of the world. This is the best place by far in the summer to play polo. Every season gets more competitive and we have the best prizes.”

The most innovative club on 15 acres is hosting eleven tournaments in July and August with an exciting lineup of players.

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, including a record $1 million last year.

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.

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 polo season.

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, 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. 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.


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