Basalt Handicap

La Karina Rallies, Defends Title In Basalt Handicap; Stewart Armstrong Named MVP

Arianna Delin, Sharon Robb for Aspen Valley Polo Club

In one of the most exciting games of the summer polo season, La Karina rallied in the second half to defend its’ title in the Basalt Handicap Sunday at Aspen Valley Polo Club.

Trailing 7-3 in the fourth chukker, La Karina bounced back with six goals including four in the fifth chukker, to defeat Flexjet, 9-8.

Winning team La Karina with Basalt Handicap trophy

“That was unbelievable,” said La Karina team captain Brian Boyd. “They were a really good team, tough as hell. It’s definitely one of my great wins in my 20-year career.”

It was La Karina’s first tournament victory of the season.

MVP Stewart Armstrong of La Karina defending Ale Poma.

The La Karina foursome of Boyd, Tony Calle, Julio Novillo Astrada and Stewart Armstrong had its’ work cut out for them against Flexjet’s Ale Poma, Marc Ganzi, Sebastian Merlos and Alex Gooding.

La Karina fell behind early in the game, 4-2, at the half and 7-3 with 2:50 left in the fourth chukker after missing several scoring opportunities.

After an inspiring halftime pep talk from Armstrong, La Karina turned it around in the second half.

Tony Calle and Julio Novillo Astrada of La Karina double up on Sebastian Merlos.

“We got organized,” Boyd said. “We all marked our man and played traditional polo. We started picking them up, put the pressure on them and got a few lucky breaks.”

After a few strategic changes, La Karina started regaining its’ momentum late in the fourth chukker when Calle scored off a deep neck shot to cut the lead to 7-4 in the final minute.

Sebastian Merlos of Flexjet working the ball downfield with Tony Calle defending.

La Karina dominated the fifth chukker with four unanswered goals. After La Karina won its challenge to open the chukker, Astrada passed to Stewart who scored; Calle dribbled in a 30-yard penalty shot; Stewart scored another goal at the 2:42 mark to tie the game at 7-7; and, Astrada stole the ball from Merlos and scored to give La Karina its’ first lead of the game, 8-7, to end the chukker.

Astrada scored again on a nearside tap-in just inside the goal to give La Karina a 9-7 advantage and sixth consecutive goal. Flexjet scored one final time on Merlos’ 60-yard penalty shot but could get no closer.

La Karina team captain Brian Boyd rides off the field to celebrate.

“After getting upset in the first half, we relaxed, had some fun and got some confidence,” Boyd said. “Stewart has such great positive energy. He’s played every high goal tournament there is. He got us going with his ‘let’s go out there and have some fun’ positive energy. He changed a few tactics and we started turning it around. Once that happened, we started making the passes and the plays. It was amazing.”

Armstrong and Calle, a 20-year-old junior at Lynn University, each scored three goals. Astrada added two and Boyd had one. Merlos scored a game-high five goals for Flexjet.

Best Playing Pony Jasper with owner Melissa Ganzi and rider Sebastian Merlos

For his outstanding play, Armstrong was named Most Valuable Player. Jasper, a 4-year-old Buckskin gelding owned by Halo Polo, LLC and ridden by Merlos, was named Best Playing Pony. Members of the Eagle River Pony Club were post-game awards presenters.

“Stewart is the perfect choice for MVP,” Boyd said. “We were calling him MVP by the fifth chukker. He has got such a great attitude and is such an uplifting player. He is a warrior. He pushed and made some huge plays against Sebe. You have to know what you’re doing to make those plays.”

Lucas Lalor of subsidiary champion Los Amigos visits with fans.

It was also La Karina’s first tournament win with its new lime green jerseys that were unveiled earlier in the season. La Karina is named after Boyd’s wife, Karin, who is called Karina by family and close friends.

“I told my wife to pick any color and lime green is her favorite color,” Boyd said. “My wife is wonderful and so are the jerseys.”

Last year Boyd teamed with Peter Holowesko, Nic Roldan and Carlitos Gracida to defeat Flexjet and Aspen Valley Polo in a round robin format to win the Basalt Handicap. Boyd was MVP.

Eagle River Pony Club members with ChukkerTV announcer Dale Schwetz.

In the subsidiary final featuring Tonkawa, Travieso and Los Amigos, the El Paso, Tex.-based Los Amigos (Paul Foster, Alejandra Foster, Gabriel Gracida, Lucas Lalor, Carlitos Gracida) won with 4-3 victories over Tonkawa and Travieso in round-robin play. Teo Calle, who scored four goals, was named MVP.

The fourth tournament of the summer polo season marked the return of Nic Roldan, America’s top player rated at eight goals, and Argentine Tincho Merlos who joins his brother Sebastian for the remainder of the season. Merlos and Roldan were teammates on La Indiana that made it to the finals of the Cartier Queens Cup and Gold Cup for the British Open before losing.

Polo fans including player Secundo Merlos enjoying the afternoon at Aspen Valley Polo Club.

The Basalt Handicap is named after the town that began as a railroad town and was named for the basaltic rock formation on Basalt Mountain.

The three past tournament winners include: Travieso (Teo Calle, Tony Calle, Lucas Lalor, Carlitos Gracida), Craig Sakin Memorial; Travieso (Alex Gooding, Teo Calle, Sebastian Merlos, Brian Boyd), ChukkerTV Challenge Cup and Flexjet (Melissa Ganzi/Secundo Merlos, Sebastian Merlos, Carlitos Gracida), Independence Cup arena polo final.

ChukkerTV, leaders in polo broadcasting, is live streaming the 2016 schedule including the prestigious and longstanding Rocky Mountain Cup.

The Basalt Handicap awards ceremony with teams and awards presenters Eagle River Pony Club members. Photos by ChukkerTV

ASPEN VALLEY 2016 SUMMER SCHEDULE

July 27-31, Emma Challenge

Aug. 3-7, High Alpine Cup

Aug. 9, ChukkerTV Arena Challenge

Aug. 12-14, Mount Sopris Cup

Aug. 10-21, Rocky Mountain Open

Aug. 24-28, The Carbondale Classic