Aspen, Colo. – Dec. 19, 2016 – Flexjet knocked off defending champion U.S. Polo Assn. to capture the World Snow Polo Championship for the first time Sunday at Rio Grande Park.
In front of an overflow crowd including a sold out VIP tent and worldwide ChukkerTV audience, Flexjet, led by two first-time snow polo players, defeated U.S. Polo Assn., 7-4, to win the coveted trophy.
Flexjet’s Melissa Ganzi, Jason Crowder and Jesse Bray hoist the coveted winning trophy.
Flexjet avenged last year’s 10-5 finals loss by dominating the four-chukker game with Melissa Ganzi and first-timers Jason Crowder and Jesse Bray. It was also the first time the California players and long time friends competed on the same team.
U.S. Polo Assn. (Bash Kazi, Carlitos Gracida, Tommy Biddle), making its third finals appearance in four years, could never find its rhythm or offensive punch against lightning-quick Flexjet.
MVP Jesse Bray of Flexjet approaches the goal with Tommy Biddle defending.
Bray, 25, an up-and-coming pro and Team USPA member rated at five goals, was named Most Valuable Player. Bray scored a game-high four goals and played well defensively.
“We had a good game plan, we stuck to it and finished strong,” Bray said. “It was a really fun team to play on. Melissa up front did a good job when we would get stuck with Tommy. We were able to just clear the ball and Melissa was always there to bring it down field.
Melissa Ganzi of Flexjet scores in the second chukker.
“Jason did a great job with Tommy as well which left me a lot of time when I was able to get the ball.”
Bray and Crowder had no trouble transitioning to the snow surface which was ideal on game day due mainly to the efforts of the Aspen Skiing Company that prepared the surface, removed the loose snow from Friday’s deluge and packed the arena surface.
Jason Crowder of Flexjet and Tommy Biddle of U.S. Polo Assn. pursue the ball.
“All the pros came off the field saying this is the best surface they have played anywhere in the world,” co-host Marc Ganzi said.
The arena had weathered two extra feet of snow the day before forcing shootouts instead of full games for the qualifying round to ensure the safety of the horses and players.
Audi, Flexjet, St. Regis and U.S. Polo Assn. teams during post-game ceremony.
“The footing for the arena was great,” Bray said. “I have played a little bit of arena in high school but other than that I haven’t played too much arena and never snow. It was a very fun tournament.”
Tampa Glitter, a chestnut mare ridden by Ganzi in the third chukker and owned by Santa Rita Polo Farm, was named Best Playing Pony.
Audi’s Grant Ganzi scoring one of his game-high five goals in the consolation game.
Ganzi is the first woman to win the World Snow Polo Championship. Last January, Ganzi made history as the first woman to compete in the St. Moritz Snow Polo World Cup Tournament in Switzerland since its inception in 1985 and will return to compete in January.
Flexjet jumped out quickly in the opening chukker when Bray, with Biddle on his hip, took the ball on the near side and scored at the 2:07 mark. A minute later, Crowder followed with another goal for a 2-0 lead. Biddle converted a 15-yard penalty shot to end the chukker with Flexjet leading, 2-1.
MVP Nacho Figueras of St. Regis follows up his shot with Grant Ganzi defending.
Early in the second chukker, Crowder connected with Ganzi who scored to give her team a 3-1 lead. A penalty one gave Flexjet a 4-1 lead with 2:20 left.
Bray came up with the shot of the day when Crowder hit a neck shot off the wall and Bray leaned out of his saddle to pick up the loose ball on the rebound out of the air and scored with 30 seconds left for a commanding 5-1 lead after two chukkers.
The soldout VIP tent cheers for the teams during traditional post-game ride around the arena.
The third chukker turned into a defensive battle with U.S. Polo Assn. missing four scoring opportunities. Cooper scored the only goal of the chukker on a penalty shot with 21 seconds left to trail, 5-2.
Bray scored back-to-back goals in the fourth chukker at 3:44 and 2:59, the last goal aided by Crowder taking Biddle completely out of the play. In the final 40 seconds, Biddle scored back-to-back goals.
Biddle finished with three goals and Cooper added one on a penalty shot.
Best Playing Pony Tampa Glitter of Santa Rita Polo Farm with owner and rider Melissa Ganzi.
“This was my first time playing with Jason,” Bray said. “Of all my years playing against him we finally got to play together and we were able to win.”
In the consolation game, Audi (Grant Ganzi, Juancito Bollini, Nic Roldan) defeated St. Regis (Bernie Uechtritz, Carlitos Gracida, Nacho Figueras), 7-4. Figueras was named MVP. Ganzi scored a game-high five goals.
Opening ceremonies featured the national anthem, flag bearer and breathtaking scenery.
Winning team members and MVPs from both the championship and subsidiary games were awarded luxury Franck Dubarry watches.
Actor Sterling Jones, known for his movie roles in Lone Survivor, Very Good Girls and All In A Day’s Work, presented the team trophy along with Flexjet Sales Director Eli Flint.
For the fourth consecutive year, Aspen Valley Polo Club co-founders Melissa and Marc Ganzi, hosted the star-studded event along with Figueras, polo ambassador and St. Regis Connoisseur and his wife Delfina.
Actor and awards presenter Sterling Jones with Flexjet’s Melissa Ganzi.
“This event doesn’t happen without the support of the community,” Marc Ganzi said. “We would like to thank the City of Aspen, without them this event cannot happen. We would also like to thank the City of Aspen Parks and Recreation who helped us have this venue and put it on.
The event has joined the St. Moritz Polo World Cup as one of the world’s top snow polo tournaments. It is the kickoff to the social season in Aspen and the only snow polo tournament held in North America.
Horses trying to stay warm between chukkers.
Flexjet now joins past champions: 2013, St. Regis (Nacho Figueras, Nic Roldan, Brandon Phillips) defeated Audi (Facundo Pieres, Melissa Ganzi, Juan Bollini), 1-0; 2014, Piaget (Marc Ganzi, Jeff Hall, Nic Roldan) defeated U.S. Polo Assn. (Grant Ganzi, Brandon Phillips, Tommy Biddle), 4-3; and 2015, U.S. Polo Assn. (Grant Ganzi, Nic Roldan, Juancito Bollini) defeated Flexjet (Melissa Ganzi, Jeff Hall, Juan Bollini), 10-5.
Polo fans enjoyed the action-packed polo from the opening chukker. VIPs and sponsors watched from the heated VIP tent that featured Alpine luxe furnishing, fine array of food from the St. Regis Aspen Resort and DJ.
Bundled up fans and dogs enjoying the warm VIP tent. Photos by Nick Tininenko
Ticket proceeds benefitted the Aspen Education Foundation, a private non-profit education foundation dedicated to supporting the Aspen School District by raising funds from the community.
“One of the most important parts of snow polo is giving back to the community and to recognize the things that are going on here in the valley,” said Marc Ganzi. “One of the causes we think is important is continuing kids’ education.”
ChukkerTV, an independent media company based in Wellington, Fla. and leader in polo broadcasting, live streamed the snow polo tournament. The video will be posted on its website.