Mountain Chevrolet Captures Rocky Mountain Open; Hilario Ulloa Most Valuable Player
|On a perfect day for polo, Mountain Chevrolet won its first 20-goal tournament in one of the most exciting finals in Aspen Valley Polo Club history
By Sharon Robb
Mountain Chevrolet (Michael Payne, Grant Ganzi, Hilario Ulloa, Salvador Ulloa) knocked off Audi (Marc Ganzi, Lucas Lalor, Nic Roldan, Jared Zenni), 10-9, to win the Rocky Mountain Open in front of a good local crowd Sunday at McClure River Ranch.
In the final minute, Hilario Ulloa weaved his way through a crowd of defenders and avoided a solid hook to score the winning goal with 32 seconds left.
The 31-year-old Argentine 10-goaler was named Most Valuable Player after scoring a game-high nine goals, including four penalty conversions.
“Hilario is so unbelievable,” Payne said. “The way he and Salvador control the ball and play so well together is amazing. It’s unbelievable the great plays those two come up with.”
Girl Power, played by Grant Ganzi in the first and sixth chukkers and owned by Wellington-based Santa Rita Polo Farm, was Best Playing Pony.
After playing medium goal last season at Aspen Valley Polo Club, Payne followed La Karina patron Brian Boyd’s advice and stepped it up this season playing 16-20 goal tournaments.
Like Boyd, whose La Karina team won its first 20-goal tournament, the USPA North American Cup, it was Payne’s first 20-goal tournament title as a patron and second tournament win this season. Mountain Chevrolet also won the ChukkerTV Challenge with Payne, Ganzi, Juancito Bollini and Nacho Novillo Astrada.
Payne came off a nine-year layoff from polo three years ago. He played for 16 years in the 1990s and early 2000s in Denver and Boulder. He thought he retired from polo until he moved his family from Denver to Aspen and “noticed the Ganzis and how they were bringing polo up in the valley. I thought I have to get back into polo. My girls were grown, ages 12 and 14 and I thought I would make this a family thing. I got the girls playing and took some lessons.”
Payne has made a smooth transition since his return. Last year he played in the Thursday and Saturday league games.
“It is a different game,” Payne said. “It’s faster. Everything happens so quickly. You can’t get caught looking or watching the game. You have got to turn and go or else your man is gone. In the lower goal you get more touches. This is definitely a different game but it is fun. I am still learning and I have got a lot to learn.”
It was a dream come true for Payne to play with the Ulloa brothers.
“We don’t know each week who we play with and I saw the teams and thought ‘oh my God, I can’t believe it.’ They are playing in Mountain Chevy jerseys. It was like a dream.”
Payne who lives in Basalt with his family plans to continue playing. “I am committed now,” Payne said. “I love it up here. I bought the horses and trailer and I am having a blast.
“I’m glad I listened to Brian and stepped it up this year. This is the real deal. It’s amazing the polo players who are up here and the fields are incredible.”
In addition to Ulloa’s nine goals, Salvador Ulloa added one goal. Hilario Ulloa finished with 11 goals and Salvador Ulloa finished with seven goals in two games.
For Audi, Roldan had a team-high five goals. Ganzi had three goals and Zenni added one goal.
In the semifinal round, Mountain Chevrolet advanced with a 10-9 victory over McClure River Ranch and Audi edged La Karina, 8-7.
The 12th tournament of the summer polo season wrapped up an exciting marathon day of polo, 18 chukkers over five hours that featured the Rocky Mountain Open, Rocky Mountain Handicap and Just For The Love Of It Cup.
In the Rocky Mountain Open subsidiary Just For The Love Of It Cup, La Karina (Brian Boyd, Carlitos Gracida, Sebastian Merlos, Kris Kampsen) broke open a close game in the second half to defeat McClure River Ranch (Gussie Busch, Juancito Bollini, Nacho Novillo Astrada, Stewart Armstrong), 14-7.
La Karina, leading by only one goal, 6-5 at the half, outscored McClure River Ranch, 8-2, in the second half including 4-1 fourth and fifth chukkers.
Gracida scored a game-high six goals. Merlos had five goals, Kampsen had two and Boyd added one. For McClure River Ranch, Astrada led with three goals and Busch and Armstrong each had two goals.
The Rocky Mountain Open is named after the major mountain range in western North America that stretches more than 3,000 miles from British Columbia south to the Rio Grande in New Mexico. The eastern edge of the Rockies rise dramatically in the Interior Plains of central North America including Colorado’s highest peak Mount Elbert with the highest peak of 14,440 feet above sea level.
Coming off its most successful summer season, Aspen Valley Polo Club lined up a star-studded field of players including Hilario and Salvador Ulloa, Sapo Caset, Alejandro and Nacho Novillo Astrada, Tincho and Sebastian Merlos and Nic Roldan for the summer to compete with and against patrons and amateur players.
It has been the most competitive and highest level of polo in the history of the club and Rocky Mountain Circuit.
Mountain Chevrolet joins other 2019 summer tournament champions, La Karina (Brian Boyd, Lauren Sherry, Carlitos Gracida, Sebastian Merlos), Mount Sopris Cup; Tonkawa (Jeff Hildebrand, Juan Martin Obregon, Sapo Caset, Mason Wroe), 119th USPA Silver Cup; Los Amigos Red (Alejandra Foster, Gabriel Gracida, Juan Bollini, Paul Foster), High Alpine Cup; Los Amigos Blue (Alejandra Foster, Alejandro Poma, Salvador Ulloa, Juan Bollini), Emma Challenge; Piocho Ranch (Gussie Busch, Nacho Figueras, Alejandro Novillo Astrada, Tom Barrack), Basalt Handicap; La Karina (Brian Boyd, Carlitos Gracida, Sebastian Merlos, Kris Kampsen), USPA North American Cup; Mountain Chevrolet (Michael Payne, Grant Ganzi, Juancito Bollini, Nacho Novillo Astrada), ChukkerTV Challenge; Los Amigos Red (Hilario Figueras, Paul Foster, Lucas Lalor, Nacho Novillo Astrada), Craig Sakin Memorial; and Piocho Ranch (Tom Barrack, Gabriel Gracida, Nacho Figueras, Salvador Ulloa), the season-opening Independence Cup winners.
With the majestic 12,965-foot summit of Mount Sopris as a backdrop, Aspen Valley Polo Club is one of the busiest and fastest growing USPA-sanctioned clubs in the nation with a membership increase of 75 percent over five seasons.
Since Marc and Melissa Ganzi founded the club in 2014, polo has increased in popularity in Aspen and surrounding cities with the club’s offerings of various weekly grass and arena tournaments, Tuesday Arena & Asado Nights, Kidz Polo, 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.
Aspen Valley Polo Club has had a positive impact in the area hosting kids polo camps, teaching lessons and several charitable events at the club that have benefitted local charities including the Aspen Valley Hospital Foundation.
Aspen Peak Magazine has featured the club and its polo and charity events several times and recently featured players Grant Ganzi, Juancito Bollini, Tony Calle and Nic Roldan in a cover story.
The Ganzis are avid players and patrons and “have created a polo paradise” according to Piocho Ranch padron Tom Barrack. “You can go all over the world but you can’t have these kind of people, players and horses in this setting. It’s really a gift.” Players, sponsors, community leaders and fans share Barrack’s sentiments.
All ages are welcome to enjoy polo at Aspen Valley Polo Club. Admission, food and refreshments are free for fans in a relaxed, laidback atmosphere. An added feature is the club’s Jumbotron which made its debut last summer for the fans’ enjoyment, Aspen Valley Polo Club Boutique and new electronic scoreboard.