Carbondale, Colo. – July 21, 2019 – In one of the most exciting games in USPA North American Cup history, La Karina won its 20-goal tournament debut Saturday at Aspen Valley Polo Club’s McClure River Ranch. Aspen-based La Karina (Brian Boyd, 0, Carlitos Gracida, 4, Sebastian Merlos, 8, Kris Kampsen, 6) led from start-to-finish to defeat McClure River Ranch (Hilario Figueras, 3, Pablo Spinacci, 6, Nic Roldan, 8, Stewart Armstrong, 3) with a stunning 15-12 victory in front of a worldwide USPA Polo Network audience.
“The polo gods were with us today,” said Boyd, the only amateur player in the championship final competing in his first 20-goal tournament. “Nobody gave anybody an inch. They were a strong team, not a weak link among them. If you made a mistake you paid for it. It was a war out there. We had a lot of heart in that sixth chukker.”
Former 10-goaler Sebastian Merlos, 46, was named Most Valuable Player. The Argentine field general led his team on both ends of the field and shared in team-high scoring honors with four goals. Kampsen also had four goals.
“Sebe was the MVP today,” Boyd said. “He was a great captain. He was very tactical. He still has the 10-goal brain. I learned a lot from him. He captained us so well and won a lot of balls in the middle of the field. Sebe fired us up and pulled us all together.”
Linador, an 11-year-old gelding owned and played by Armstrong, was USPA Best Playing Pony. Rumba, a 7-year-old chestnut mare owned and played by Merlos, was selected American Polo Horse Association Best Playing Pony. The American Polo Horse Association was created in 2006 by the legendary Polo Hall of Famer Sunny Hale to recognize polo ponies in America and encourages events that showcase them and hard-working dedication of grooms.
The final between the two evenly-matched teams lived up to expectations. La Karina had the edge taking advantage of its momentum opportunities. La Karina led by as many as four goals, 11-7, in the fourth chukker after Boyd scored back-to-back goals in the final two minutes. Boyd, playing well above his 0-rating, lofted an 80-yarder with 1:53 left after Merlos won the throw-in and Gracida took out Roldan. Boyd then scooped up the ball and scored on a missed Merlos attempt with eight seconds left.
McClure River Ranch started winning the throw-ins in the fifth chukker and reeled in La Karina to trail by only one, 12-11, after Roldan connected on a nice cut shot right before the horn. But it was the closest McClure River Ranch would get after Merlos rallied his teammates to enable La Karina to outscore McClure River Ranch, 3-1, in the final chukker to put the game away. La Karina got balanced scoring. In addition to Boyd and Kampsen each with four goals, Gracida had three goals and Boyd added two goals. The 18-goal team also picked up two goals on handicap.
Roldan, making his summer debut in Aspen, scored a game-high seven goals. Spinacci and Armstrong each had two goals. Figueras, playing above his 3-goal handicap defending Merlos for most of the game, added one goal. “We all pulled together and were calm in that sixth chukker,” Boyd said. “Sebe told everyone if we weren’t on our best two horses, go get on them, that it was going to come down to the horses, discipline and a little bit of luck.”
Boyd, a 20-year veteran of the game, started his polo team, named after his wife Karin, 12 years ago. Playing only summer seasons, La Karina competed in 12-goal polo for eight years at Santa Barbara and Aspen Valley Polo Club where co-owners and players Marc and Melissa Ganzi convinced him to compete at the 20-goal level.
“Marc and Melli encouraged me to do it, they told me I would love it,” Boyd said. “Melli is so good at the logistics and putting teams together. The biggest difference playing 20-goal is it’s way more expensive. But you get to play with all these big guys.
“I’ve never played this fast before,” Boyd said. “The horses were amazing the speed is fun. It was so competitive but I felt safe. I love it and now I’m hooked. This is the biggest win of my polo career.” Boyd also plans to compete in the highly-coveted 119th USPA Silver Cup with brothers Sebastian and Tincho Merlos and Carlitos Gracida.
It was a day of historic firsts for Aspen Valley Polo Club. It was the first time the USPA North American Cup was hosted by the club and first of two 20-goal USPA tournaments of the summer season in Aspen. It had been held at Wellington, Fla.-based sister club Grand Champions Polo Club since 2011.
“This tournament has purpose on a couple of levels,” said Marc Ganzi. “As a USPA club we have always wanted to try the best competitive polo we can do here in the Rocky Mountain region. I think the next month provides a really unique opportunity to see true 20-goal polo played up here in the mountains. Great players, great teams, great organizations. I think you are going to see some really fantastic polo in the next three to four weeks.
“It’s a real treat,” Ganzi said. “There has never been USPA 20-goal polo here in the Rocky Mountain circuit. I think that’s historic for the association and for our club as well. I’m really looking forward to seeing how these teams shape up for the next few weeks and most importantly how these new fields perform because they look absolutely amazing. It’s really exciting to see what was once a big working ranch with cattle a year ago is now a really incredible polo facility.”
The USPA North American Cup has a rich tradition in history dating back to 1974. The tournament has been a mainstay in American and Canadian polo for decades at the 16 and 20-goal level. The first winner was Tulsa with Hall of Famers John T. Oxley and Billy Linfoot, Corky Linfoot and Jim MacGinley. During the late 1990s and early 2000s Calgary Polo Club hosted the tournament before moving to Grand Champions.
The USPA North American Cup was the fourth of eleven grass tournaments and three arena tournaments being staged at AVPC in what is expected to be its best season. Coming off its most successful summer season, Aspen Valley Polo Club has lined up a star-studded roster of players including Hilario Ulloa, Sapo Caset, Alejandro and Nacho Novillo Astrada, Tincho and Sebastian Merlos and Nic Roldan for the summer to compete with and against patrons and amateur players.
The first three tournament winners of the 2019 summer season were: Mountain Chevrolet (Michael Payne, Grant Ganzi, Juancito Bollini, Nacho Novillo Astrada), ChukkerTV Challenge; Los Amigos Red (Hilario Figueras, Paul Foster, Lucas Lalor, Nacho Novillo Astrada), Craig Sakin Memorial; and Piocho Ranch (Tom Barrack, Gabriel Gracida, Nacho Figueras, Salvador Ulloa), the season-opening Independence Cup winners.
Among the 2019 summer highlights is the 119th USPA Silver Cup. The Aug. 11 final, set for one of the club’s two newest fields at McClure River Ranch, will be paired with the annual Chukkers, Champagne & Caviar fundraiser. Other top tournaments are the July 23-August 6 USPA National Arena Handicap, Aug. 7-14 Arena World Cup and Sept. 1-8 Triple Crown of Polo.