St. Regis wins snowy battle of the polo stars | AspenTimes.com

St. Regis wins snowy battle of the polo stars

Dale Strode
The Aspen Times

Brandon Phillips of the tournament-champion St. Regis team tends to a bloody lip, suffered when he was smacked by a polo stick during Friday afternoon's championship match.

The battle of the polo stars in Aspen came down to one well-placed pass and one precise shot.

Keep in mind: The pass came from the professional considered the best polo player in America; the final goal came from polo's most well-known international player.

In Aspen.

At Wagner Park.

In the finals of the World Snow Polo Championships.

"Honestly, it was more about luck really," said Nic Roldan, America's top-rated polo player, who delivered the tournament-winning assist as steady snow fell in downtown Aspen on Friday afternoon. "There were three good teams here, and it was whoever had the luck."

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Along with the skill, of course.

"With this new snow, it made it tougher to get the ball," Roldan said of the snowpacked snow surface at Wagner Park, which was left with divots and holes as the horses and riders worked their way up and down the abbreviated field.

Normally, outdoor polo is played on a huge grass field (the size of nine football fields).

Snow polo is more akin to indoor or arena polo, played with few players, sideboards and smaller goals on a much smaller field — like Wagner Park.

Plus, of course, there's the snow.

Roldan was one of the most adept players at lifting the polo ball (the size of a softball, but soft and filled with air) off the snow and into the air, where he could get a clean strike on the fluorescent red ball.

"It seemed like the way to get (the ball) clean was to lift it up out of the hole and hit it out of the air … place it somewhere," said Roldan, who offered the ultimate placement for the game-winning goal in the tournament championship.

Playing for the host St. Regis team, Roldan knocked the ball toward the Audi goal midway through the final 7-minute period (chukkar).

Nacho Figueras, the face of Ralph Lauren and the international face of polo, controlled the red ball and calmy tapped it into the goal for a 1-0 St. Regis lead.

The final goal came with 4:18 to play in the final game, which consisted of two 7-minute chukkars.

Earlier Friday, Roldan and his St. Regis team defeated the Piaget team, 2-0, behind goals from Figueras and Brandon Phillilps, another top American player.

In the second match of the day, the Audi team defeated Piaget, 2-1, on two goals from Melissa Ganzi, of the Aspen Valley Polo Club. She scored her first goal on her first touch of the match.

Mark Ganzi scored the single goal to tie the game for Piaget in the matchup of three-player squads.

But Melissa Ganzi converted a penalty shot with 1:15 to play for the final 2-1 margin, sending Audi into the championship match Friday afternoon.

"(Friday), with this beautiful snowfall, it made it particularly had to play because as the snow fell, the divots got deeper," said Melissa Ganzi, the No. 2-ranked American woman in polo. "The ball would get stuck, and it was hard to get it out of the snow. Then, you'd probably send it to the other team."

She said the players and their ponies had to be patient in the challenging conditions.

And, she said, they enjoyed the experience.

"It was fun. We were really lucky we were able to bring the best players in the world to Aspen for this unique event," Ganzi said. "We were really lucky."

The World Snow Polo Championships also served as a benefit for two regional charities, raising $20,000 for Sopris Therapy Services and the Aspen Sister Cities Program. Sopris Therapy Services uses equine-based therapy.

dstrode@aspentimes.com