Casablanca Knocks Off Flexjet To Capture United States Arena Handicap Title; Grant Ganzi Named Most Valuable Player
Casablanca upset two-time defending champion Flexjet to win the United States Arena Handicap Polo Championship Tuesday at Aspen Valley Polo Club.
By Sharon Robb
Casablanca (Grant Ganzi, 3, Juancito Bollini, 4, Nic Roldan, 8) dominated the game from start-to-finish to win the four-team tournament, 16-11, in front of a good local crowd and USPA Polo Network worldwide audience.
Flexjet (Melissa Ganzi, 1, Alejandro Novillo Astrada, 8, Juan Bollini, 6) was looking to three-peat but could never mount a consistent offensive attack and was forced to play catch-up for most of the game against a stingy Casablanca defense.
Grant Ganzi was named Most Valuable Player. Ganzi was Casablanca’s second-leading scorer with six goals including a two-pointer and penalty-four conversion.
Kit Kat, a 7-year-old bay mare played by Astrada in the fourth chukker and owned by Wellington-based Santa Rita Polo Farm, was Best Playing Pony.
Nic Roldan, one of the highest ranked arena players, scored a game-high seven goals including a two-pointer and finished with seven goals. Juancito Bollini added three goals.
Leading 2-1 after the opening chukker, Casablanca jumped on Flexjet 7-1 in the second chukker for a 9-2 halftime lead. Flexjet outscored Casablanca 9-7 in the second half but could never make up the deficit.
“This was a pretty exciting game,” said Bob Puetz, CEO of the United States Polo Association. “Casablanca turned it on in the second chukker. They all did well. It’s a tough game, they were all working hard. I’m impressed.”
Melissa Ganzi led Flexjet with a team-high six goals, Astrada had four goals and Bollini added one.
In the semifinals, Flexjet advanced with an impressive 18-11 victory over Audi (Kris Kampsen, 9, Lucas Lalor, 6, Marc Ganzi, 3) in the opening game. In the second semifinal, Casablanca rallied in the second half for a 15-12 win over McClure River Ranch (Daren Tamplin, 2, Pablo Spinacci, 6T, Nacho Novillo Astrada, 8).
In 2018, Flexjet (Melissa Ganzi, 1, Alejandro Novillo Astrada, 8, Juan Bollini, 6) rallied in the second half to defeat The Polo School (Aiden Meeker, A, Carlitos Gracida, 5, Nic Roldan, 8), 14-10. Fourteen-year-old Aiden Meeker of Fort Worth, Tex., playing well above his “A” handicap in his arena championship debut, was named Most Valuable Player.
In 2017, the Flexjet trio of Ganzi, Bollini and Astrada defeated Audi’s Marc Ganzi, Nacho Novillo Astrada and Stewart Armstrong, 12-9, in an action-packed thriller. Bollini, a veteran pro for more than 30 years and cancer survivor, was named Most Valuable Player.
The annual event dates back to 1980 and is a national USPA tournament played at medium goal level. In the past, the tournament has been played as a subsidiary to the U.S. Open Arena Polo Championship at Country Farms Polo Club in Medford, N.Y. The U.S. Open Arena Polo Tournament will not return to Medford and will go out to bids. It may be hosted in Florida.
Part of the challenge of arena polo is the arena itself, a confined area of 150 feet by 300 feet. The fast-paced, spectator-friendly four-chukker game features teams of three playing on a dirt/sand surface with a larger polo ball, more like a mini-soccer ball.
The United States Arena Handicap is the eighth of eleven grass tournaments and three arena tournaments being staged at AVPC in what is expected to be its best season.
Coming off its most successful summer season, Aspen Valley Polo Club lined up a star-studded field of players including Hilario 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.
The 2019 summer tournament champions are: 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.
Among 2019 summer highlights is the 119th USPA Silver Cup with some of the world’s top players. The Aug. 11 final, set for club’s new field at McClure River Ranch Stadium in front of a sellout crowd, will be paired with the annual Chukkers, Champagne & Caviar fundraiser. Other top tournaments are the Aug. 7-14 Arena World Cup and Sept. 1-8 Triple Crown of Polo.
The club’s summer marquis charity event, hosted by club owners Marc and Melissa Ganzi and Aspen Valley Hospital Foundation, has raised $1 million dollars in the last two years to benefit Aspen Valley Hospital.
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 four 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 weekend 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.
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.
2019 Aspen Valley Polo Club Summer Polo Series
USPA Silver Cup
USPA Silver Cup Semifinals
at McClure River Ranch
10 a.m. Tonkawa vs Flexjet
4:30 p.m. Audi vs Casablanca
11 a.m. at Aspen Valley Polo Club
USPA Silver Cup Final and Chukkers, Champagne and Caviar Fundraiser
Mount Sopris Cup
Friday 8/9 11 a.m. at Sopris Mountain Ranch
1 p.m. Final at Aspen Valley Polo Club
2 p.m. Just For The Love Of It Cup
Rocky Mountain Open 8/9 – 8/17
Carbondale Classic 8/23 – 8/25
2019 PoloFest Denver 8/31
The Triple Crown of Polo Trophy 9/1 – 9/8
All game time are MST