A palpable sense of excitement is built on the frozen lake of St. Moritz, the birthplace of snow polo, as the sun rose over the Engadin Mountains of St. Moritz.
On January 29, the day two of the three-day competition Snow Polo World Cup St. Moritz got underway. It is hard to convey the amazing combination of sporting prowess and amazing alpine luxury that the event combines, which truly does have something for everybody.
‘The Godfather of Snow Polo’ Reto Gaudenzi, founder and CEO of the event, succinctly describes the event as “The delicious cocktail—a perfectly crafted blend of luxury, nature’s beauty, world-class polo, entertainment, and friendship”. And how right he is. The excellent standard of polo displayed on day one has the polo aficionados who have flown in from all over the globe appreciating world-class competition between the sport’s elite players.
Those interested in the social side of the event have, once again, not been disappointed, as there is so much to enjoy. There’s the seemingly never-ending Perrier-Jouët Champagne, the most lavish hospitality areas by Badrutt’s Palace, Ronnie Kessel’s Maseratis whisking guests to and from the luxury hotels above the frozen lake, and of course, meeting old friends and making new ones in this truly remarkable venue.
First on the impeccably groomed arena was Marc Ganzi’s All American team. Bitterly disappointed with the result against Clinique La Prairie, they came out with guns blazing and the polo pundits had them as ‘the ones to watch’ against their opposition today in the form of team Perrier-Jouët.
Marc’s team has an impressive arsenal of firepower, with snow polo firework Nic Roldan, alongside Tommy Biddle, who is one of only four USA players to have held a 10-goal arena handicap in the USA, and Benji Daniels. Mr. Ganzi himself holds the moniker ‘The Cobra’ for a reason, quick to strike upon any weakness. He has notched up many impressive victories, including the US Open.
Teamed with the flamboyant play of 8-goal Nic, Perrier-Jouët certainly had their work cut out. This, despite having 8-goal Isidro Strada and 7-goal Valentin Novillo Astrada in their ranks, alongside Swiss player Luca Meier and team captain Kutlay Yaprak from the opposing team.
So out of the traps they came—with World Polo League connecting well in the first half and Perrier-Jouët trying to counter. But World Polo League were strong in defense and found their form in the attack as well. Nic, the youngest American player to win the US Open, had certainly had his Weetabix this morning, but Perrier-Jouët persisted with strong teamwork and by half-time had added to their scoresheet with a goal from Valentin.
The second half saw World Polo League continue to dominate the throw-ins, taking the match by the reins. Nic carried the ball through the length of the field with an impressive volley to score for World Polo League. Perrier-Jouët found their form towards the latter half of the match, but they had a mountain to climb. Despite fighting until the end, World Polo League ran out the deserved winners, 8 to 3.5.
Fighting for the first semi final place and The President’s Cup, sponsored by Hatecke, saw Clinique La Prairie versus Casablanca. After an impressive performance yesterday, all eyes were on team captain Dillon Bacon. The American is certainly one to watch, alongside Italian teammate Aristide Faggionato, who is also debuting alongside Dillon Bacon in St. Moritz this year.
An important pivot in the team is British player Max Charlton, winner of the Snow Polo World Cup St. Moritz in 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2020. And this year, ‘Mad Max’ has teamed up once again with 2020 winning teammate Robert Strom, whose trophy cabinet is crammed full of European silverware.
Facing them across the ice, Team Casablanca have brought in the big guns with a stellar line-up. Young British player Jimbo Fewster is no stranger to success, with some of the top English titles under his belt, including the Gold Cup. Despite being a newcomer to St. Moritz, Misha Rodzianko is well-acquainted with the discipline and demands of snow polo, having won the 2016 Moscow Snow Polo Championship. At Number 4, this new team has the 10-goal powerhouse of Guillermo ‘Sapo’ Caset, Jr., who is one of the most exciting players on the high goal circuit. Team captain Ivan Romanovsky and Sapo are well-acquainted from their time at Moscow Polo Club in 2020.
Just six seconds had passed and already Max had notched up his first goal of the semi final. It was clear that Casablanca needed to lock Max down, but even then, the other three Clinique La Prairie players were a force to be reckoned with and their impressive horsepower highlighted their dominance early on.
2020 victor Robert went from strength to strength in this match, and the French/English combination put another goal on the board for Clinique La Prairie with nothing in reply from Casablanca. Clinique La Prairie’s strong positioning play left little space for Casablanca to move, although Jimbo had definitely found his snow polo mojo and had some excellent time on the ball. Despite moments of brilliance from Casablanca, they failed to take the penalty opportunities that came their way. A flurry of missed penalties from Casablanca combined with perseverance from Clinique La Prairie saw a 4.5 to 0 victory for Clinique La Prairie and a place in tomorrow’s coveted final.
Azerbaijan Land of Fire have been on the hunt for a Snow Polo World Cup St. Moritz title since their debut in 2017. 2020 saw them reach second place, and this year, they seem determined to blaze a trail to a place in the final. The only stumbling block in between them and the final were Badrutt’s Palace, the 2019 champions, this year with the first-ever mother-and-son duo in the form of Melissa and Grant Ganzi. Their tandem is combined with the St. Moritz stalwart Alejandro Novillo Astrada and US player, Jason Crowder, who is no stranger to the international polo circuit yet making his St. Moritz debut this year.
As the wind dropped and the sun’s rays warmed the packed grandstands, the two teams faced each other in the second semi final of the afternoon. The crowd rose for the Swiss National anthem and Badrutt’s Palace secured the first goal of the match with their opponents struggling to get out of their own half. The second chukka saw Azerbaijan Land of Fire manage to shut down Badrutt’s Palace’s attempts on goal. Following the up and down action, Adrian Laplacette Jr. leveled the scores 1 to 1 going into half-time.
The second half began with all to play for with even scores. However, Adrian scored in the first 30 seconds to take the lead with 2 to 1 for the boys from Azerbaijan. The second half was full of fast open play as both teams tried to get ahead.
Melissa Ganzi, the only woman to win the Snow Polo World Cup St. Moritz and the only female player competing this year, set up the perfect goal for Alejandro. Yet, local Engadin player Tito Gaudenzi replied with a spectacular goal to further pull Azerbaijan Land of Fire ahead, with a winning score of 4 to 2, securing the St. Moritz Cup and with it their place in tomorrow’s final.
So now, all attention turns to tomorrow with the battle for fifth and sixth place taking place between Perrier-Jouët and Casablanca. This will be followed by the match to decide third and fourth place between Badrutt’s Palace and World Polo League.
Afterwards, all eyes will be on the arena to watch the final between Clinique La Prairie and Azerbaijan Land of Fire to decide the team who will raise the tournament trophy and claim the Snow Polo World Cup trophy.