La Karina captured the Independence Cup with an exciting 9-7 victory over Aspen Valley Polo Club on Sunday in the club’s summer polo season-opener.
Aside from Aspen Valley Polo Club (Collen Clark, Grant Ganzi, Juancito Bollini, Lucas Lalor) tying the game at 3-3 midway through the third chukker, La Karina (Carlitos Gracida, Mariano Gracida, Brian Boyd, Marc Ganzi) led for most of the game.
Boyd, coming off a serious wrist injury suffered last summer, was named Most Valuable Player after dominating the game and scoring five goals.
Javi, a 7-year-old dark bay stallion played by Lalor in the sixth chukker and owned by Wellington-based Santa Rita Polo Farm, was named Best Playing Pony.
It was Boyd’s first game since fracturing his right wrist during the final of the last season’s Mount Sopris Cup which his Steta Polo team won with a 12-11 win over Flexjet.
Boyd underwent a three-hour surgery and extensive physical therapy. One bone was shattered so badly that it had to be allografted with a cadaver bone and bone paste.
“It was a pretty bad fall and really a major deal, I rehabbed all year,” Boyd said. “I was worried I wouldn’t be able to play again. I thought I would have to retire.”
Before Sunday’s game, Boyd had only one stick-and-ball session earlier in the week.
“I was riding around scared in the first chukker,” said Boyd, who wears a protective wrist guard for support. “I knew I was coming back from an injury but I also knew I was playing with friends. I think I am a better player than I was last year. This really helps my confidence.”
La Karina’s team chemistry was evident from the opening chukker.
“My teammates were great,” Boyd said. “Marc and I love playing together. We just click and have chemistry. Marc helped me a lot. It helpedhaving him behind me playing the four position. He could see everything. He told me when to slow down, when to check my horse, when to stop at zero. We made a lot of transition goals that way. Carlos and Nano were super fun to play with. It just all came together at the right time.”
La Karina took an early 2-0 lead in the opening chukker with goals from Ganzi and Boyd. Carlitos Gracida added another goal in the second chukker for a 3-1 advantage.
La Karina continued attacking on offense missing scoring opportunities, opening the door for Aspen Valley Polo Club.
Clark, who scored his first goal in the opening chukker, added another in the third followed by Lalor stealing the ball and scoring to tie the game at 3-3.
Boyd ended the first half with another goal and 4-3 lead. La Karina shut out Aspen Valley Polo Club, 3-0, in the fourth chukker to take a 7-3 lead.
In the fifth chukker, the momentum swayed and Aspen Valley Polo Club rallied to shut out La Karina 3-0 to trail by only one, 7-6.
“We were worried after the fifth,” Boyd said. “The momentum changed and Lucas got the boys organized. They started clicking more like they normally do. I thought we were in trouble. We went back to the tent and said we got to make some plays here.”
Boyd opened the sixth chukker with an early goal and 8-6 lead as it started to rain. Grant Ganzi converted a penalty-three at the 4:10 mark to again trail La Karina by only one. With a minute left, Boyd just missed another goal after a breakaway. Marc Ganzi and Mariano Gracida then worked together on the final goal with Ganzi tapping it close to goal and Gracida finishing it.
Grant Ganzi led Aspen Valley Polo Club with three goals. Clark, making his Aspen debut, and Lalor each had two goals.
“I think we all played our positions and were very disciplined, that made the difference,” Boyd said. “We took our men and got lucky a few times.”
La Karina, known for its colorful lime green jerseys unveiled last season, is named after Boyd’s wife, Karin, who is called Karina by family and close friends.
It was the second consecutive year Carlitos Gracida won the Independence Cup. He was also a member of last year’s Independence Cup winner Flexjet.
In the opening Stars and Stripes Final, Los Amigos Red (Alejandra Foster, Melissa Ganzi, Mike Azzaro, Juan Bollini) defeated Los Amigos Blue (Paul Foster, Alex Gooding, Gabriel Gracida/Jonathan Gracida, Pablo Dorignac), 9-5.
Alejandra Foster scored a game-high five goals and was named Most Valuable Player. Melissa Ganzi added three goals. Alex Gooding had a team-high four goals for Los Amigos Blue.
After a close game for four chukkers with three of them tied, 3-3, 4-4 and 5-5, Los Amigos Red shut out Los Amigos Blue, 4-0, in the final twochukkers with two goals from Foster and one goal from Ganzi in the fifth and another Foster goal in the sixth.
Presenting the post-tournament awards were Rich and Kelly Straub Hull and baby Hunter.
The game marked the Aspen Valley Polo Club debuts of pros Mike Azzaro and Pablo Dorignac.
Azzaro is a former 10-goaler and one of the all-time greatest American players. The Hall of Famer held the sport’s highest handicap of ten goals for 10 years and won seven U.S. Open titles.
Dorignac, a 6-goaler from Argentina and member of the Dorignac family dynasty, is coming off a successful season at Grand Champions Polo Club, sister club of Aspen Valley Polo Club.
The Independence Cup was the first of 12 tournaments scheduled, eight grass and four arena tournaments including the July 25-Aug. 6USPA National Arena Handicap.
Polo continues to increase in popularity in Aspen and surrounding areas with the club’s offering 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 weekend tournaments.
ChukkerTV, leaders in polo broadcasting since 2014, is live streaming the club’s entire summer season.
2017 SUMMER POLO SCHEDULE
July 7-9, ChukkerTV Challenge
July 14-16, Craig Sakin Memorial
July 21-23, Basalt Handicap
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
ASPEN VALLEY POLO CLUB
CLUB ADDRESS: 3275 County Road 100, Carbondale, Colo. 81623
POLO HOTLINE: 970-710-1663