Carbondale, Colo. – July 29, 2018 – On an emotionally-charged day, the Emma Challenge Cup final lived up to expectations in front of a packed house Sunday at Aspen Valley Polo Club. Argentine 9-goaler Nacho Novillo Astrada scored the winning goal with four minutes left in overtime to lead defending champion La Karina (Alejandra de la Vega, Brian Boyd, Stewart Armstrong, Nacho Novillo Astrada) to a thrilling 8-7 victory over Piocho Ranch (Grant Ganzi, Juancito Bollini, Nacho Figueras, Tom Barrack).
The day was dedicated to longtime player and groom Jesus “Chuy” Baez who died in an accident earlier in the week at age 60. Photographs of Baez, who worked at Aspen Valley and Grand Champions Polo Clubs, during his career were shown on the club’s Jumbo-tron throughout the day and were on display at the club. A moment of silence was held before each game and awards ceremony. A memorial service was held after the final.
“For me Chuy was a shining example of what our organization is about,” said Aspen Valley Polo Club co-owner Marc Ganzi. “It was a very difficult day for me. It’s the first time I showed up to my barn in 13 years and I haven’t seen Chuy. But as I told a couple of the grooms today and some members of our organization, Chuy will continue to live here at this club. He will live in every horse that rides out of this barn. My hope is that God gives him that ability to live through each of the animals that grace this field. Chuy we love you, we miss you and you will always be remembered.”
It was La Karina’s second consecutive victory over Piocho Ranch and second Emma Challenge Cup title in two years. Boyd is the only repeat winner off last year’s champion. “It was a lucky win and we will take it,” Boyd said. “Tom, Nacho and the boys played amazing.”
Last week La Karina won the Basalt Handicap defeating Piocho Ranch, 8-5. Both teams have now each won two tournaments during the summer season. Astrada was named Most Valuable Player after scoring a team-high four goals including the game-winner. Little Hawk, an 11-year-old mare, owned and ridden by Figueras in the fifth chukker, was selected Best Playing Pony.
Also scoring for La Karina was De La Vega with two goals including a clutch 30-yard penalty conversion that gave La Karina a 7-6 lead with 3:37 left in regulation. Boyd and Armstrong each added one goal. For Piocho Ranch, Figueras scored a team-high four goals and Ganzi added three including an incredible lofted neck shot that tied the game 7-7 with 1:29 left in regulation.
Astrada had an opportunity to win the game in regulation with a 60-yard penalty shot with 38 seconds remaining but his attempt sailed wide right. Piocho Ranch had the first opportunity to score in overtime but missed a long goal attempt. Astrada brought the ball downfield and despite having defenders all over him near the sideboards got the winning shot off.
“He’s a champion high goal player and he made the magic happen when it was all on the line,” Boyd said. “It’s a pleasure to play with all these great professional polo players. He and Stewart played amazing today. I had the best seat in the house.”
La Karina, known for its colorful white and lime green jerseys unveiled during the 2016 season, is named after Boyd’s wife, Karin, who is called Karina by family and close friends.