SILVER SHINES: Tonkawa captures historic title in Aspen.

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The Silver Cup has been called many names throughout its illustrious history. Originally established as the Junior Championship, it was first played in 1900. The Junior Championship attracted such historic teams as Rockaway, Cooperstown, Meadow Brook, Old Aiken and Laddie Sanford’s Hurricanes, to name a few. The 1935 Junior Championship boasted the largest field in the tournament’s history with 11 teams vying for the coveted trophy at Burnt Mills Polo Club in Bedminster, New Jersey. Aiken Knights, consisting of Dunbar W. Bostwick, Winston F. C. Guest, James F. Curtis Jr. and George H. Bostwick, triumphed over Texas 13-3.

In 1938, the Junior Polo Championship was renamed the National Twenty Goal Championship. During this period, teams such as Bostwick Field, Milwaukee, Aurora, San Antonio and Oak Brook carried the trophy home. The tournament took its present name, the Silver Cup, in 1974. Contemporary Silver Cup winners have included Bud Light, Old Pueblo, Isla Carroll, Goose Creek, Lucchese and Farmers & Merchants Bank.

Many winners of the cup have been enshrined in the Polo Hall of Fame—from J. Watson Webb and Tommy Hitchcock, to Robert Skene and Cecil Smith. In fact, no fewer than 50 Polo Hall of Famers have won the Silver Cup. Of those, W. Ray Harrington Jr. and Charles Smith have earned the most Silver Cup titles with eight wins each.

The 119th edition of the Silver Cup was hosted by the Aspen Valley Polo Club, owned and operated by Marc and Melissa Ganzi and located in Carbondale, Colorado, July 27-Aug. 11. It marked the return of the cup to the 20-goal handicap level and featured six teams. The 20-goal USPA North American Cup served as a warm-up event for the Silver Cup and featured four teams.

The Host Tournament Committee managing the event (Carlucho Arellano, Tony Coppola and Peter Rizzo) held the draws for both tournaments at the St. Regis Hotel.
The Silver Cup teams were divided into two brackets and teams drew for divisional round pairings and dates of play. After three preliminary rounds, teams were ranked from top to bottom and the top four teams advanced to the semifinal round.

Play began on Saturday, July 27 with three action-packed games played in front of an enthusiastic crowd at McClure River Ranch, featuring two brand new, full-sized polo fields to the Aspen Valley area.

Opening day action lived up to expectations despite two weather delays in the second and third games with downpours of up to two inches, yet the polo fields remained safe for continuation of the competition.

The first match, a real nail-biter, saw Tonkawa (Jeff Hildebrand, Juan Martin Obregon, Sapo Caset, Mason Wroe) win it with 30 seconds left after Caset stole the ball from a melee and scored the winning goal in an 11-10 victory over Flexjet (Melissa Ganzi, Gussie Busch, Hilario Ulloa, Alejandro Novillo Astrada).

In the second match, Hilario Figueras converted a clutch penalty shot in the final minute to give Audi (Marc Ganzi, Hilario Figueras, Nic Roldan, Jared Zenni) the win over a late-charging La Karina team (Brian Boyd, Carlitos Gracida, Sebastian Merlos, Tincho Merlos) for a 10-9 victory.

Trailing for most of the game, Casablanca (Grant Ganzi, Lucas Lalor, Nacho Novillo Astrada, Juancito Bollini) rallied to overcome a five-goal deficit in the fifth period to win 12-11 over a feisty McClure River Ranch (Salvador Lockey, Stewart Armstrong, Kris Kampsen, Alfredo Bigatti) in the third and final game of the round.

Four days later, the second round had Tonkawa leading from start-to-finish to beat Audi, 10-8, in a game played at Tonkawa’s beautifully situated High Mesa Field.

La Karina bounced back from its tournament-opening one-goal loss to Audi by dominating the McClure River Ranch team for a convincing 17-8 victory.

The following day, Casablanca, trailing for most of the game, rallied in the sixth chukker to defeat a stubborn FlexJet team, 11-9 at the McClure River Ranch Stadium field.

The third round games were played Saturday Aug. 3. Tonkawa advanced as the only undefeated team in the tournament with an 11-6 victory over McClure River Ranch.

“It is super fun playing with this team,” Obregon said. “It’s been competitive and tough. The good thing is we are doing well. I am really happy to be in the semis and looking forward to our next game.” Added Wroe, “We really don’t have any dynamic, we just play polo and play as the game develops and it allows us to play. The game dictates how we play.”

The second game of the day was the La Karina-FlexJet matchup, probably the most exciting game in the tournament. La Karina dominated the first half with leads of 3-1, 5-3 and 8-5, until Flexjet came out in the fourth chukker with a 4-1 advantage to tie at 9-9. FlexJet went on to win, 15-13.

In the third game, Audi shut out Casablanca, 3-0, in the second chukker for a 5-1 advantage and went on to win, 11-6.

The semifinal round was played Aug. 7 Casablanca rallied for an exciting 9-8 victory over Audi in sudden-death overtime after being behind for most of the game.

“I think the game was great,” said Carlucho Arellano, USPA Executive Director of Services. “Audi came out firing on all cylinders and got a nice lead. They were flying. They looked like they were a couple of gears faster than anybody else. Nacho [Novillo Astrada] and his team just kept chipping away. They were not going to go away. They definitely showed everybody they are not a team ready to fold.”

The final game was played Sunday, Aug. 11 at the McClure River Ranch stadium field in front of a sold-out crowd that included Gillian Johnston and other players from Wyoming flying in for the day to witness the action. In conjunction with the event, the club hosted its ever successful annual Chukkers, Champagne & Caviar fundraiser, which raised more than $600,000 this year, and nearly $2 million over the past three years at Aspen Valley Polo Club. The club’s summer marquis charity event is hosted by club owners Marc and Melissa Ganzi and the Aspen Valley Hospital Foundation.

“What a great day here at the club,” Melissa Ganzi said. “It looks like we raised a lot of money for a great cause. This is what it’s all about.”

The Aspen Valley weather forecast was bleak, however, blue skies prevailed by the end of the game. Pre-game ceremonies featured Denver singer and songwriter Jenny Shawhan singing the National Anthem as two members of the U.S. parachute team parachuted through blustery skies onto the polo field with the U.S. and Colorado flags.

Jeff Hildebrand, who suffered two broken ribs in the third round of competition, missing the semifinals, was back in the saddle for Tonkawa as it faced Casablanca. Tonkawa came out blazing from start-to-finish for an impressive 15-10 victory and a perfect 5-0 record. Casablanca ended the tournament at 3-2, but stirred a lot of interest as all three of its wins were come-from-behind victories.

Tonkawa took charge early in the game, jumping out to a 5-1 lead in the opening chukker. Behind Caset’s five goals, Tonkawa outscored Casablanca, 9-3, in the first half allowing Casablanca only one goal per chukker. Casablanca, known for its slow starts, came back in the second half. While Tonkawa maintained its lead, Casablanca outscored it in the second half, 7-6, but could never make up the deficit.

Casablanca came within three when Astrada scored with two minutes left in the fifth chukker to trail 12-9. But Wroe came right back with a great breakaway goal to put Tonkawa back up by four, 13-9. Caset scored again early in the sixth chukker for a 14-9 advantage. The goal of the game came at the 4:04 mark when Ganzi hit the ball just inside the goal post to trail 14-10. Both teams had opportunities to score before Obregon converted a Penalty 3 to end the game, 15-10.

In addition to Caset’s nine goals, Hildebrand and Obregon each had two goals and Wroe added one. The 19-goal team also picked up one goal on handicap. For Casablanca, Bollini led the scoring with four goals. Ganzi, Lalor and Astrada each had two goals.

“It has been an incredible day of polo at the club,” said Marc Ganzi. “Great game, great champions. Tonkawa was a very worthy champion. Hats off to them and [a] great tournament.”

Caset walked away with a handful of trophies. The Argentine 10-goaler dominated the game, scoring a game-high nine goals. He was the unanimous choice for Most Valuable Player. His calm and cool leadership style and his incredible mounts were instrumental in his team’s successful run throughout the tournament. The USPA Best Playing Pony was Pulga, played by Caset in the first and fourth periods. The Aspen Valley Polo Club Best Playing Pony of the Tournament was Lujan, played by Lalor. The American Polo Horse Association Best Playing Pony was Orangina, played by Astrada.

“This polo has been great here,” said USPA CEO Bob Puetz. “I do not know how you can play much better than Sapo is playing right now. I want to give a big shout out to the Aspen Valley Polo Club, Marc and Melissa Ganzi, Peter Rizzo and all the people who worked so hard to put this tournament on. And the ground crews and construction crews, who miraculously changed the landscape of this mountain area and put in two world-class polo fields within the last year. Not only world-class, but also capable of playing high-goal polo this fast. It is amazing. The future of polo in Aspen is strong.” •

––By Sharon Robb
—Peter Rizzo contributed historical information to this story


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