CARBONDALE, Colo., July 15, 2017
If Saturday’s USPA National Youth Tournament Series qualifier is any indication, the future of polo will be in good hands.
With a few famous polo-playing fathers including former 10-goaler Mike Azzaro, Nacho Novillo Astrada and Juan Bollini watching and coaching at times, eight talented players competed for the opportunity to play in the season-ending national championship.
|Top Argentine player Nacho Novillo Astrada helps his son Santos with his horse.|
Sopris Mountain Ranch (Santos Novillo Astrada, Johnny Kirton, Santos Bollini, Grant Ganzi) defeated Aspen Valley Polo Club (Hunter Azzaro, Nikko Ramirez, Christian Weisz, Harrison Azzaro), 3-1, in a fast-paced, physical battle at Sopris Field.
It was the first time the Azzaro brothers competed together in the four-chukker game. It was also the final appearance of Ganzi, a two-time national champion, who will age out of the competition.
Players from as far away as Hawaii (Johnny Kirton) competed in the NYTS event in hopes of qualifying for an all-star talent pool for the Sept 1-4 National Championship at Santa Barbara Polo and Racquet Club in Carpinteria, Calif.
|Former 10-goaler Mike Azzaro coaching sons Harrison and Hunter between chukkers.|
The NYTS qualifier season began in March and continues through August 7. All-Stars are selected by a committee at each qualifier based on horsemanship, sportsmanship, playing ability at their handicap and ability to play with a team. This year, a new second level East vs. West Challenge will be held during the NYTS Championship weekend for players rated 0 goals and below.
“It’s such a great idea to help improve the sport and let kids play more,” Santos Bollini said. “It’s not about the winning, it’s learning how to be respectful on the field and how to play with others.”
Named to the All-Star team were four players whose fathers and mother compete at a high level. Weisz, the son of top player Andres Weisz; Harrison Azzaro, the son of Mike Azzaro, ranked at 10 goals for 13 years; Santos Bollini, the son of former 8-goaler Juan Bollini and Ganzi, the son of Marc and Melissa Ganzi, both top amateur players and major tournament winners including the U.S. Open.
|Action was fast and furious in the NYTS qualifier.|
After a scoreless opening chukker, the game picked up with some outstanding plays on both offense and defense.
Santos Novillo Astrada gave Sopris Mountain Ranch a 1-0 lead after converting a penalty-two in the second chukker.
Aspen Valley Polo Club had its share of scoring opportunities on good runs but was unable to finish.
Ganzi converted a penalty-three for a 2-0 lead in the third chukker and Bollini added a goal from the field to make it 3-0 before Weisz got Aspen Valley Polo Club on the scoreboard before the game ended.
Harrison Azzaro, at 17, with his big, booming 100-yard plus hits and aggressive defensive play, resembled his father in the early years. Bollini turned back three scoring attempts and goal runs. Nikko Ramirez showed off his horsemanship leaning out of his saddle to ride off Bollini’s goal run. Weisz also stopped two goal runs by Sopris Mountain Ranch. All eight players competed above their handicaps, ranging from minus-one to two.
“You could tell after the game today everybody had a blast,” Bollini said. “The game ended 3-1, but still everyone had fun.”
Added Weisz, “It was really a good game. My team was really good. We all did what we said and went with our man but sadly our shots weren’t falling.”
|Eight talented players all smiles after the USPA NYTS qualifier.|
The top-caliber horses were provided by Wellington-based Santa Rita Polo Farm and Aspen Valley Polo Club.
The nation’s fastest growing polo club is coming off its most successful summer season in club history. The club, enjoying an increased membership, continues to grow and introduce polo throughout the valley.
|All-Star selections Christian Weisz, Harrison Azzaro, Santos Bollini and Grant Ganzi with awards presenter Marc Ganzi. Photos by Chukkertv|
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.
Polo has increased in popularity in Aspen and surrounding areas with the club’s offerings of various weekly tournaments, Gladiator Tuesdays, 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.
In August 2014, polo players and patrons Marc and Melissa Ganzi opened the Aspen Valley Polo Club to rave reviews by the community and players. Both co-own the club and its sister polo club Grand Champions in Wellington, Fla. and have played key roles in the sport’s growth and popularity.
Chukker TV is live streaming the entire summer polo schedule. ChukkerTV, featuring cutting-edge technology, was the first to introduce state-of-the-art live streaming technology and instant replay in January, 2014 at Grand Champions Polo Club.
2017 SUMMER POLO SCHEDULE
Sunday, Basalt Handicap and WindWalkers Fundraiser, subsidiary 11 a.m. MST, Los Amigos, La Karina, Audi round robin; final 1 p.m. Casablanca vs. Tonkawa.
July 21-23, Craig Sakin Memorial
July 25-Aug. 6, USPA National Arena Handicap
July 28-30, Emma Challenge
Aug. 4-6, High Alpine Cup
Aug. 8-15, Arena World Cup
Aug. 9, ChukkerTV Arena Challenge
Aug. 11-13, Mount Sopris Cup
Aug. 18-20, Rocky Mountain Open
Aug. 25-27, Carbondale Classic