• United States Arena Handicap Tournament

    Flexjet, Audi Win Opening Games Of United States Arena Handicap Tournament At Aspen Valley Polo Club

    In two fast-paced thrillers, Flexjet and Audi won opening games in the United States Arena Handicap Polo Championship Tuesday at Aspen Valley Polo Club.
    By Sharon Robb

    Flexjet's Alejandro Novillo Astrada, Juan Bollini and Melissa Ganzi, Pablo Spinacci and Santos Bollini of Sopris Mountain Ranch.

    Led by Melissa Ganzi's eight game-high goals, Flexjet defeated Sopris Mountain Ranch, 14-8, to advance into Thursday's semifinals against La Karina Green.

    Flexjet's Juan Bollini hits the ball ahead of the pack.

    In the second game, Stewart Armstrong scored the winning goal with less than two minutes left and Nacho Novillo Astrada scored nine goals, including two 2-pointers, to lead Audi to a wild 15-14 win over La Karina White. Audi will play Aspen Valley Polo Club in Thursday's other semifinal.

    Melissa Ganzi of Flexjet drives to goal ahead of defender Gabriel Gracida.

    In the opening game of the doubleheader, Flexjet (Melissa Ganzi, 1, Juan Bollini, 7, Alejandro Novillo Astrada, 8), quickly made up its 4-0 handicap deficit to Sopris Mountain Ranch (Santos Bollini, 2, Pablo Spinacci, 6, Gabriel Gracida, 4), to take a 5-4 lead.

    With balanced scoring, Flexjet never trailed for the remainder of the game. Flexjet led 6-5 at the half and outscored Sopris Mountain Ranch, 4-1, in the third chukker for a 10-6 advantage and 4-2 in the final chukker.

    Alejandro Novillo Astrada of Flexjet getting stretched out before the game.

    In addition to Ganzi's eight goals including six in the second half, ball-hawking Alejandro Novillo Astrada, making his Aspen season debut, had six goals.

    Against Flexjet's tight defense, Sopris Mountain Ranch could only manage four goals from the field including a penalty-one. Gracida led with two goals. Spinacci replaced 9-goaler Kris 
    Kampsen unable to play because of a pulled groin injury.

    Alejandro Novillo Astrada of Flexjet works the ball toward goal.

    The pace was fast and furious between La Karina White (Ailsa (Ace) Currier, A, Carlitos Gracida, 5, Mike Azzaro, 9) and Audi (Daren Tamplin, 2, Nacho Novillo Astrada, 8, Stewart Armstrong, 4) in the second game.

    The two 14-goal teams were evenly-matched in a game that featured three penalty-ones and four two-pointers.

    La Karina White's Carlitos Gracida, Ailsa "Ace" Currier and Mike Azzaro.

    La Karina White jumped out to a 4-2 lead in the opening chukker. Behind Astrada's hot mallet that connected on five goals, including two 2-pointers, Audi outscored La Karina White, 7-4 in the second chukker to take a 9-8 advantage. Behind Azzaro's 2-pointer in the third chukker, La Karina White outscored Audi, 5-4, in the chukker to tie 13-13 at the end of the third.
    Mike Azzaro of La Karina White out of his saddle to gain control.
    Armstrong, who finished with five goals including four in the second half, scored to open the fourth chukker for a 14-13 lead. After La Karina White was awarded a penalty-one, Armstrong scored the game-winner.

    Nacho Novillo Astrada of Audi hydrating before the game.

    Tamplin replaced Marc Ganzi in the lineup and played well, turning back a key Azzaro goal attempt with 1:20 left in the game.

    Carlitos Gracida of La Karina White is surrounded by Audi players.

    On Thursday, La Karina Green (Brian Boyd, 2, Lucas Lalor, 6, Ramiro Cordero, 5) will play Flexjet at 11 a.m. MST. Aspen Valley Polo Club (6) Aspen Valley Polo Club(Grant Ganzi, 2, Juancito Bollini, 3, Pablo Dorignac, 7) plays Audi at noon. The winners advance into the championship final on Saturday at 11 a.m. MST.

    It is the first time in several years that the tournament is being played as a stand-alone tournament.

    Also for the first time, USPA Polo Network and Wellington-based ChukkerTV are both live streaming the three-day tournament.

    Stewart Armstrong of Audi controls possession with Mike Azzaro defending.

    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.

    Aspen Valley Polo Club, the nation's fastest growing USPA polo club, is enjoying its busiest summer polo season hosting 12 tournaments--eight grass and four arena.

    Getting ready for the United States Arena Handicap.

    The club has increased its membership and continues to grow and introduce polo throughout the valley.

    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 the Aspen Valley Hospital Foundation.

    Game jerseys awaiting the players. Photos by ChukkerTV

    The club offers various weekly tournaments, Gladiator Tuesdays and Asado, Kids Polo, indoor and outdoor arena polo, charitable events and The Polo School. Practice sessions are also held for teams competing in the weekend tournaments.