By Sharon Robb
CARBONDALE, Colo., July 5, 2018---The second tournament of the summer polo season begins Friday at Sopris Mountain Ranch.
The fifth annual Craig Sakin Memorial begins Friday with two games played on the flat at 11 a.m. and noon.
In the opening game, Piocho (Grant Ganzi, Juancito Bollini, Nacho Figueras, Tom Barrack) plays Flexjet (Melissa Ganzi, Marc Ganzi, Alex Gooding, Juan Bollini) at 11 a.m. MST.
In the second game at noon, Los Amigos (Paul Foster, Alejandra Foster, Nacho Novillo Astrada, Pablo Dorignac) plays La Karina (Riley Ganzi/Gabriel Gracida), Brian Boyd, Lucas Lalor, Carlitos Gracida).
The winners of the game will advance into Sunday's final at 1 p.m. The losers will play in the Just For The Love Of It subsidiary final at 11 a.m.
On Saturday, the Aspen Cup at 11 a.m. at Sopris Mountain Ranch will feature Los Amigos Red (Alejandra Foster, Melissa Ganzi, Juan Bollini, Carlitos Gracida) against Los Amigos Blue (Paul Foster, Michael Payne, Gabriel Gracida, Alex Gooding).
The featured tournament is named in honor of Sakin, who passed away on Feb. 11, 2014 at age 52. The former president of the Homeowners' Association of Sopris Mountain Ranch was instrumental in helping Marc and Melissa Ganzi secure their first polo field. In 2015, some of Sakin's ashes were scattered over the polo field.
"I want to thank Melissa and Marc for every year honoring Craig," said his wife Sally Beneman Sakin, who annually presents the tournament awards. "I know he's watching with a big, huge smile on his face. I also want to thank them for being so charitable to the community, giving so much back especially to the Aspen Valley Hospital Foundation."
Sakin was a private equity investor and turnaround specialist. His personal interests included horses and the outdoors. Sakin owned Sugar Frosted Cat, a mare ranked by the National Reined Cow Horse Association, and Idocus, a Dutch Warm Blood stallion that competed in the 2004 Summer Olympic Games for dressage and represented the U.S. in the World Cup. He was an avid and skilled hunter and skier, pursuing his passions around the world.
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.
In last year's Craig Sakin Memorial, Casablanca (Santos Bollini, Grant Ganzi, Lucas Lalor, Juancito Bollini) knocked off Tonkawa (Ace Boyd, Alex Gooding, Jimmy Seward, Pablo Dorignac), 10-9. Boyd, the lowest-rated player on the field competing in her first major final, was MVP. Casablanca was the youngest team in the five-team field averaging 20 years. Travieso won the tournament in 2015 and 2016.
Last year Casablanca was the club's winningest team with three tournament wins during the summer season. La Karina won two tournaments.
The Craig Sakin Memorial is the second tournament of the 13-tournament schedule that features ten grass tournaments including the inaugural Aug. 31-Sept. 2 Triple Crown of Polo Trophy and three arena tournaments highlighted by the July 24-Aug. 7 USPA National Arena Handicap. It will be the first year the club will host a tournament on Labor Day Weekend during the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Experience.
For the second consecutive year, Aspen Valley Polo Club will host the USPA National Arena Handicap Tournament. It is the second time in several years that the tournament will be played as a stand-alone tournament.
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.
In last year's USPA National Arena Handicap, Flexjet (Melissa Ganzi, Juan Bollini, Alejandro Novillo Astrada) defeated Audi (Marc Ganzi, Nacho Novillo Astrada, Stewart Armstrong), 12-9, to win the title.
This will also be the first season players will compete for the Triple Crown of Polo. The three legs will be held at Denver Polo Club, Aspen Valley Polo Club and finish in Wellington this fall. Designed by Tiffany & Co., the Triple Crown of Polo is comprised of three separate trophies that fit perfectly together to create an entire polo scene that is breathtaking in sterling silver.
Aspen Valley Polo Club, coming off its most successful season in club history, has a star-studded roster of players lined up for the summer to compete with and against patrons and amateur players including brothers Nacho and Alejandro Novillo Astrada, two of the world's top players from Argentina.
Also expected to compete is Nic Roldan, the highest rated American player and winner of the recent Cartier Queens Cup with La Indiana; newly-named Team USPA member Grant Ganzi, Juancito Bollini, Alex Gooding, Stewart Armstrong and Brian Boyd among others.
Since Marc and Melissa Ganzi took over 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, Gladiator Tuesdays and Asado, Kids Polo and The Polo School. In addition, the club offers practice sessions for teams competing in the weekend tournaments.
In the last four years, Aspen Valley Polo Club has had a positive impact in the area hosting kids polo camps, teaching lessons and hosting several charitable events at the club that have benefitted local charities including last season's Champagne, Caviar & Chukkers fundraiser that raised $366,000 for the Aspen Valley Hospital Foundation.
The Ganzis are avid players and patrons and "have created a polo paradise" according to player-sponsor Tom Barrack, a member of last weekend's winning Piocho team in the season-opening Independence Cup. Players, sponsors, community leaders and fans share Barrack's sentiments.
"This is polo paradise," Barrack said. "For anybody who hasn't been here, get on an airplane, get off the airplane and you will come to a place that you can't believe that you could play polo in this kind of environment. The Ganzis have nailed it so hurry up and get out there."
Aspen, named after trees that quiver in the slightest breeze, offers hiking, mountain biking, rafting, fishing, golf, horseback riding, great restaurants and taverns in addition to a full summer of polo. Colorado is of Spanish origin meaning "colored red" which Spanish explorers named the muddy red river Rio Colorado that they discovered. Congress kept the name for the territory in 1861.