Aspen, CO - World-class polo takes center stage beginning Thursday at the Piaget World Snow Polo Championship at Wagner Park in downtown Aspen. Some of the world's greatest polo players including Argentine brothers Facundo and Gonzalito Pieres, two of only six players in the world with the perfect 10-goal rating, will compete on the final stop on the 2013 calendar for the World Polo Tour.
Melissa and Marc Ganzi of Aspen Valley Polo Club, sister club of Wellington, Fla.-based Grand Champions Polo Club, along with Nacho Figueras and Larry Boland, president of Piaget North America, are hosting the polo extravaganza. St. Regis Hotels & Resorts is the official hospitality partner and Audi is the official car.
"There will be more than 50 players here," said Marc Ganzi. "This town has never seen this level of competitors. There will be a different feel to the venue and the level of horses and players. We are trying to do something that's never been done before."
Before getting their game-faces on, players gathered Wednesday night to meet local media, VIPs and sponsors during an hour-long meet-and-greet, press conference and team introductions at the elegant St. Regis Aspen Resort.
On Thursday, a media day, St. Regis brunch and polo practice chukkers are scheduled. The practice, set for 1-2:15 p.m. will enable players and horses to acclimate to the weather and snowy playing surface before they get down to business on Friday with a round-robin tournament featuring high-goal teams Audi, Piaget and St. Regis Hotels & Resorts.
Ranked second in the world, Facundo Pieres will captain the Audi Polo Team and will be joined by teammates Juan Bollini and Melissa Ganzi, one of only two women in the nation on high-goal rated polo teams during the winter season in Wellington.
Facundo Pieres is coming off an outstanding year that includes playing for winning teams in the U.S. Open, Queens Cup, British Open and Gold and Silver Cups in Spain. He was ranked No. 1 in the world for most of the year.
Gonzalito Pieres will head the Piaget Polo Team and will be joined by Kris Kampsen and Marc Ganzi, one of the world's top amateurs ranked 45th in the player rankings.
Gonzalito Pieres is ranked sixth in the world. He was a member of Audi's 2009 U.S. Open and C.V. Whitney winning teams and 2011 USPA Piaget Gold Cup.
Nacho Figueras, will captain the St. Regis Hotels & Resorts Polo Team. His teammates are Nic Roldan and Brandon Phillips.
"The excitement has been building for this week's Piaget World Snow Polo Championship," said Roldan, a founding member of the Aspen Valley Polo Club and youngest player ever to win the U.S. Open at age 15.
"It's another great way to promote polo to fans who haven't watched it before and you have some of the greatest players out here."
Roldan's first snow polo tournament was in 2009. "Snow polo is such a fun event," Roldan said. "Polo's totally different on snow. It's a close-in game, more sticky, three on a side with a big red ball. And it's great because the spectators are really involved when they can see the game slower, on a smaller field."
Figueras, who serves as a St. Regis Connoisseur, is one of the sport's most popular and well-recognized players in the world. He is the sport's ambassadors and was named Sentebale Ambassador by Prince Harry.
"Polo is an innate part of the St. Regis legacy, and it is exciting to see how this social tradition manifests in Aspen among a new generation of global travelers and their families," said Paul James, Global Brand Leader for St. Regis Hotels & Resorts. "We are delighted to have Nacho Figueras captaining the St. Regis team for the first time here in Aspen. It is sure to be a thrilling day."
The much-anticipated tournament action is Friday with three games scheduled. At 11:40 a.m. Piaget will play St. Regis Hotels & Resorts Polo Team; 12:30 p.m. Audi will play the loser of the Piaget-St. Regis Hotels & Resorts Polo Team game and at 1:15 p.m. Audi will play the winner of the Piaget-St. Regis Hotels & Resorts Polo Team game. The awards ceremony is 2:15 p.m. followed by a lavish VIP After Party.
Polo fans will be able to relax and watch world-class snow polo from the heated VIP Pavilion while enjoying mountain fare from the The St. Regis Aspen Resort, including the brand's signature Afternoon Tea Service along with cocktails from Johnnie Walker Blue.
Tickets are available through Ticket Leap (www.ticketleap.com). A one-day pass for the VIP tent is $150.
The VIP Pavilion ticket includes full access, lunch courtesy of The St. Regis Aspen Resort and cocktails provided by Johnnie Walker's mixologist.
General admission is free to the public and will be first-come, first-serve bleacher seating on the east side of the park.
PoloLine TV will live stream both the practice chukkers on Thursday and championship tournament on Friday.
All proceeds benefit Sopris Therapy Services and Aspen Sister Cities.
Sopris Therapy Services is a non-profit organization that provides Equine Assisted Therapy and rehabilitation in a ranch-setting to children and adults with various disabilities.
Aspen Sister Cities' mission is to share ideas and cultures through the international exchange of students and All proceeds benefit Sopris Therapy Services and Aspen Sister Cities. Both charities depend on community support.
SNOW POLO FAST FACTS
Snow polo was first introduced in 1985 at the resort town of St. Moritz, Switzerland and attracted several hundred spectators. In the U.S., snow polo is held exclusively in Aspen, Colorado. Snow polo is a modified version of polo. Games are played on a snow-packed field surrounded by fencing to keep the ball in play. Teams have three players instead of four as in typical arena polo. Play consists of four seven-minute chukkers. The horses have special cleated shoes to provide better traction. The ball is larger and lighter and bright red for visibility on the snowy surface.