Jul 23, 2020 3:45 PM


Story courtesy of Aspen Valley Polo Club.

Casablanca's Nic Roldan goes for the hook on Seminole Casino's Alejandro Novillo Astrada.
Casablanca's Nic Roldan goes for the hook on Seminole Casino's Alejandro Novillo Astrada.

First played in 1980, the United States Arena Handicap is a national tournament played at the 12-goal level and above. The tournament was formerly played as a subsidiary to the U.S. Open Arena Polo Championship and became a stand-alone tournament in 2017. A confined area of 150 feet by 300 feet, part of the challenge of arena polo is the arena itself. The fast-paced, spectator-friendly four-chukker game features teams of three playing on a dirt or sand surface with a larger leather ball resembling a small soccer ball.

Casablanca will return this year to defend their title alongside returning competitor McClure River Ranch in the 2020 United States Arena Handicap Final at Aspen Valley Polo Club in Carbondale, Colorado, on July 28.

Game 1: Casablanca vs Seminole Casino

Casablanca's Seminole Casino's
Father and son race down the arena, Casablanca's Juan Bollini Jr. with Seminole Casino's Juan Bollini in pursuit.

Casablanca (Juancito Bollini, Grant Ganzi*, Nic Roldan) defeated Seminole Casino (Melissa Ganzi, Alejandro Novillo Astrada, Juan Bollini) in the opening match of the four-team tournament 17-14.

In the first chukker, Casablanca jumped off to an early lead, with Grant Ganzi scoring four goals including a two-point conversion. There was plenty of parent-child rivalry in the arena, with Seminole Casino’s Melissa Ganzi and Juan Bollini facing off against sons Grant and Juancito. In the second chukker, Seminole Casino fought back with Melissa leading the comeback sliding along the wall to tap the ball in, with Alejandro Novillo Astrada following up with a huge two-point neckshot. The half ended with Casablanca in the lead 8-5.

The second chukker saw Seminole Casino outscore Casablanca and narrow the lead to two goals. However, Casablanca kept the pressure on to win the match 17-14. Melissa Ganzi was the high scorer of the match with seven goals, followed by Nic Roldan with six.

Game 2: McClure River Ranch vs Sopris Mountain Ranch

McClure River Ranch's Sopris Mountain Ranch's
McClure River Ranch's Jared Zenni reaching high for a backshot as Sopris Moutain Ranch's Anthony Devrient reaches to tap the ball forward.

In the second match of the day, McClure River Ranch (Nacho Novillo Astrada, Jared Zenni*, Marc Ganzi) took on Sopris Moutain Ranch (Anthony Devrient, Pablo Spinacci, Tincho Merlos) in a hard-fought match that ended with McClure River Ranch winning 21-16.

Sopris Mountain Ranch started the match with a goal on the board, due to McClure River Ranch’s one goal team handicap advantage. Tincho Merlos dominated the scoring for Sopris Mountain Ranch in the first chukker with two two pointers. McClure River Ranch also benefitted from the two-point rule, and the chukker ended 6-5. In the second chukker, Merlos fired off another two-point conversion followed by Pablo Spinacci tying it up at 9-all. The half ended with Sopris Mountain Ranch narrowly ahead at 11-9.

The competition stayed tight through the third chukker, with Merlos and Novilla Astrada both scoring two-point conversions. In the fourth and final chukker, McClure River Ranch mounted a strong defense to keep the green team off the goal. A goal by Astrada brought the score to 20-15, and Ganzi solidified the game in the last minute to see McClure River Ranch claim victory 21-16. Novillo Astrada and Merlos were joint high scorers, with nine goals each.

*Jared Zenni and Grant Ganzi are Team USPA alumni. The mission of Team USPA is to improve the sport of polo in the United States by developing the talent/skills of young American players through mentored training and playing opportunities, ultimately leading to a pool of higher-rated American players.

All photos courtesy of ©ChukkerTV.