Richard Mille holds off U.S. Polo Assn. to repeat as Aspen snow polo champions
A World Cup downhill ski race can be decided by less than a second. Not too often, if ever, does the same apply to a polo match.
“How appropriate that in Aspen a snow polo tournament is decided by a ski racer’s margin. It was pretty cool,” Marc Ganzi told The Aspen Times. “I cannot believe the game we witnessed, the final. We’ve been playing this tournament for seven years. We’ve never seen a final like that. I can’t remember a polo match that we had to go to video to figure out the ending.”
Friday at Rio Grande Park in Aspen, the seventh annual St. Regis World Snow Polo Championship came down to the bitter end, a goal coming less than a second too late in Richard Mille’s 7-6 win over U.S. Polo Assn. It was the second straight snow polo title for Richard Mille, a luxury Swiss watch brand and the tournament’s official timekeeper.
The winning threesome included 10-goal superstar Pablo MacDonough, who only last weekend won a record seventh Argentine Open with La Dolfina. MacDonough was the only returning player from last year’s championship team. This winter, he played alongside 3-goaler Louis Jarrige and 4-goaler Edouard Pan, both of France.
While MacDonough was the big name for Richard Mille, it was snow polo newcomer Jarrige who stole the show and was named most valuable player.
“It was amazing to play with a 10-goaler like Pablo,” Jarrige told The Aspen Times through a translator. “To control the horse on the snow is not the same, because you have to let the horse move the way he wants not to slip and the control of the ball is different because the ball is lighter and it is smaller.”
Unlike its full-sized cousin, snow polo is played on a small field with a much lighter ball. The sport has roots back to 1985 when it was first played in St. Moritz, Switzerland. Aspen is the only place in the United States that currently hosts snow polo events of any kind.
In its seventh year, the World Snow Polo Championship is hosted by Marc and Melissa Ganzi, who co-founded and run the Aspen Valley Polo Club, which is based out of Carbondale. The unique event brings in some of the top polo players in the world each year, including polo ambassador Nacho Figueras, who co-hosts the event with the Ganzis.
“I thank Marc and Melissa for putting this incredible event together,” Figueras said in a press release. “Thank you to the sponsors and public for coming to see us and supporting us. We love this game and hope you love it, too.”
The tournament started Tuesday night with the team draw at St. Regis Aspen, followed by Wednesday’s qualifying round robin among the six teams at the AVPC headquarters in Carbondale. Richard Mille and U.S. Polo Assn. each won their respective bracket to make Friday’s final at Rio Grande Park.
Led by American superstar and 8-goaler Nic Roldan, U.S. Polo Assn. had won the Aspen snow polo title twice before, both in 2015 and 2017. The threesome was the same for each: Roldan, Juancito Bollini and Grant Ganzi, the son of Marc and Melissa.
U.S. Polo Assn. was given a 2-0 lead to start Friday’s final against Richard Mille because of the tournament’s handicapping. That lead didn’t last long as Jarrige scored two early goals to make it 2-2, although Ganzi scored the first of his three 15-yard penalty conversions soon after to make it 3-2.
Tied 5-5 late in the contest, it was again Jarrige who led the charge, scoring back-to-back goals to make it 7-5 with just over three minutes remaining in the final chukker (or period). Ganzi scored on another conversion to make it 7-6 and thought he had tied it up at the final buzzer, but video review confirmed his shot was just after the clock hit all zeroes and therefore did not count.
“He’s heartbroken. I had to go to the tent and console him a little bit,” Marc Ganzi said of his son, Grant. “But he played great. I thought Grant showed a lot of class today. He really emerged as an adult player today. It’s fun to watch your kid play and maybe that’s the silver lining for me, is I get to sit here and watch my son play and cheer for him.”
Grant Ganzi seemed to get over the defeat quick enough.
“It was tough. It could have gone either way in the end,” he said. “The ball didn’t really bounce our way. It is what it is. That’s polo.”
This was only the second time in the seven years that Marc Ganzi did not compete in the Aspen snow polo tournament. He played for Richard Mille last winter when they won the championship — Martin Pepa was the third player, along with MacDonough — and he also won the title in 2014 with Piaget, alongside Roldan and Jeff Hall.
“It feels great to win two years in a row,” MacDonough said in a press release. “We are so happy to win again. It was a tough game and the field of teams this year was better than last year. I can’t say enough about this great event.”
Melissa Ganzi played for Flexjet, the 2016 snow polo champion, taking fifth overall — alongside teammates Alejandro Novillo Astrada and Juan Bollini — after winning the “High Alpine Cup” on Thursday over snow polo newcomer Royal Salute (Pierre Henri Ngoumou, Malcolm Borwick, Horacio Heguy). Flexjet led 6-1 at the half before winning, 9-7.
Aspen Valley Polo Club (Sarah Siegel Magness, Jesse Bray, Patrick Uretz) beat St. Regis (Julien Reynes, Jason Crowder, Figueras) in the third-place “Aspen Cup” game on Friday afternoon, 9-5. Bray scored six goals and was the match’s MVP.
Richard Mille also won the Celebrity Chukker match on Thursday over St. Regis. Richard Mille players included Sterling Jones, Gary Magness and MacDonough, while the St. Regis lineup included Figueras, his son Hilario Figueras, and Saye Yabandeh. The match included a cameo appearance by “Pitch Perfect” actress Rebel Wilson.
Delicioso, a 15-year-old bay gelding played by MacDonough, was named the Polo Today Best Playing Pony. Barata, played by Grant Ganzi, was the American Polo Horse Association Best Playing Pony.
The festivities ended late Friday night with a party at the W Aspen Hotel that benefited the Aspen Valley Hospital Foundation.
“The event has grown. The town has embraced it. I think we had record crowds. We had 1,900 people come the last two days,” Marc Ganzi said. “It’s just an amazing way to kickoff Christmas. As people funnel back into town, especially for me growing up here and seeing the people I grew up with, it just feels correct. It feels like home and it feels good to come back home and do something that we think is good for the town and obviously good to give back to the community.”
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Oregon’s Laurenne Ross and New Castle’s Alice McKennis Duran both announced their retirement in recent days and celebrated together during Saturday’s downhill. McKennis Duran is a local namesake who grew up skiing at Sunlight in Glenwood and formerly trained with the AVSC.