By Sharon Robb
CARBONDALE, Colo., July 8, 2018---Piocho Ranch is making a lasting impression in its first season of playing polo at Aspen Valley Polo Club.
Piocho Ranch won the fifth annual Craig Sakin Memorial with a thrilling 11-10 victory over Los Amigos Red on Sunday in front of a good local crowd for its second consecutive tournament victory. Piocho also won the season-opening Independence Cup.
Piocho Ranch (Grant Ganzi, Juancito Bollini, Nacho Figueras, Tom Barrack) jumped out to a big lead before Los Amigos Red (Jonathan Gracida/Alejandra Foster, Pablo Dorignac, Nacho Novillo Astrada, Paul Foster) rallied in the sixth chukker.
Ganzi, a member of Team USPA, and Bollini are repeat winners of the Craig Sakin Memorial Cup. Last year they won with Casablanca.
The Most Valuable Pro Player was Nacho Figueras for the second week in a row. The MVP Amateur Award went to Alejandra Foster of Los Amigos Red, who also won MVP honors on Saturday in the Aspen Cup.
Yatay St. Regis, a 7-year-old mare from Figueras' horse breeding ranch in Argentina, was Best Playing Pony. The horse, owned by Tom Barrack and played in the fifth chukker by Figueras, is out of Quattro (Vicki Armour) by stud Cabernet (Ellerstina).
Figueras scored five goals including the game-winner with 2:31 left. Ganzi and Bollini each had three goals.
Nacho Novillo Astrada, making his tournament season debut, scored a game-high six goals. Alejandra and Paul Foster each had two goals.
In one of the club's most exciting games in tournament history, Piocho Ranch was sitting pretty in the first half controlling the game on both ends of the field. Piocho jumped out to a 3-0 lead before Los Amigos Red scored its first goal in the final minute of the chukker.
Piocho, controlling the throw-ins, was unstoppable in the second chukker scoring three consecutive goals for a 6-1 lead. Back-to-back goals from Novillo Astrada and Paul Foster and winning the final two throw-ins kept Los Amigos Red in the game.
Piocho Ranch opened the third chukker with a long mid-air goal from Ganzi at center field for a 7-3 lead. Novillo Astrada kept Los Amigos Red in the game and also scored from centerfield to cut the lead to 8-5 before Piocho took a 9-5 halftime lead after another long goal from Ganzi.
With Piocho Ranch still in the lead, 10-6, at the end of the fourth chukker, Los Amigos Red started chipping away at the lead, reeling off four consecutive points including the tying goal by Alejandra Foster with three minutes left.
Both teams had scoring opportunities late in the game but it was Figueras heroics of scoring the game-winner and stopping Novillo Astrada's long hit to goal that clinched the win.
The Barrack family owns Piocho Ranch, acquired in 1992, and features rolling acres of vineyards nestled in the Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara, Calif. Piocho Ranch combines the family's passion for polo and the art of wine making. The vineyards have produced six wines: Ten Goal, Brand, Blanc, Piocho, Chukker and Piocho Sauvignon Blanc. Piocho means "where the two rivers meet and go to heaven."
Flexjet (Melissa Ganzi, Juan Bollini, Marc Ganzi, Alex Gooding) won the Just For The Love Of It subsidiary final with a 12-9 victory over La Karina (Jonathan Gracida, Brian Boyd, Lucas Lalor, Carlitos Gracida).
Melissa Ganzi scored a team-high four goals including two penalty-threes. Marc Ganzi and Juan Bollini each had three goals and Alex Gooding added two goals.
Jonathan Gracida scored a game-high five goals, all in the first half, for La Karina. Brian Boyd scored four goals in his tournament season debut.
The subsidiary final was just as competitive as the final. The lead changed hands six times in the first four chukkers before Melissa Ganzi's long pass to Marc Ganzi for a goal tied the game at 8-8 followed up by Gooding's long goal shot to take the lead for good. It was all Flexjet in the fifth and sixth chukkers.
"I always prefer to play with my wife," Ganzi said. "And I really like it when she hits me the ball like she did today. That was a good wife.
The 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 released over the polo field.
"I want to thank Melissa and Marc for honoring Craig particularly this year that's been an incredibly trying time in the mid-valley," said his wife Sally Beneman Sakin during the awards presentation. "A lot of things have been cancelled and I really want to extend hats off because you have shown us our community spirit and how we stand together in trying times."
Between games, Aspen Valley Polo Club hosted an entertaining Kids Foot Mallet Game with Green defeating Red, 5-3. Green led from start-to-finish. Emmett Tamplin led scoring with three goals and Lucy Ramirez added two goals. Solon Tamplin had two goals for Red. All players are members of The Polo School at AVPC. The youngest player was Silvestre Novillo Astrada, celebrating his eighth birthday.
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.
"We want to make Aspen Valley Polo Club the place for this Valley," said co-owner Marc Ganzi, who grew up in Aspen. "Most importantly the idea is to de-mystify the game of polo that people have the impression that it's a sport you can't access, that you can't play.
"We've always told people to come here," Ganzi said. "The gates are open, the food is free, the drinks are free and your first polo lesson is free if you want to come take one and try the game. Our approach is come as you are. We prefer the flip flops over the high heels. We just want to get people to appreciate the horses and the Valley."
The Craig Sakin Memorial was 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.
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.
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 of Piocho. 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.