|Sun 28th Jan 2024
Mackage clinch Snow Polo World Cup St. Moritz
Lidia Gauss becomes only the second lady player to win the tournament in its 39 year history
After a night of spectacular events across the über chic resort of St. Moritz, with VIPs having enjoyed the sold-out Gala Dinner at Badrutts Hotel and danced until dawn in the King’s Club with polo friends, it was time for the sporting pinnacle of this truly unique event as Finals Day arrived.
The atmosphere and excitement today was palpable, with thousands of spectators packed into the stands as the most glamorous and spectacular snow polo event in the world reached its climax.
Fur clad spectators packed the stands, basking in the warm sunshine once again provided by the smiling Gods of Polo. VIPs sipping Champagne Perrier-Jouët, dancing along to tunes pumped out by DJ Mr Mike, applauding the skill of the world-class players on the field, whilst craning their necks to get a glimpse of the celebrities, influencers and international glitterati showcasing the world’s latest fashions.
This is a tournament which has to be experienced first-hand, both by the best polo players in the world, who see it as a ‘must do’ tournament and the spectators who need to experience this – and once is never enough.
Once again, CEO and founder Reto Gaudenzi made the decision that today’s competition would be a series of penalty shoot outs, rather than the usual four chukka format. Whilst the ice is safe at a depth of 50 centimetres, recent warm weather has meant preparing the optimal playing surface has not been possible. In order to preserve the high standards of this elite high goal polo tournament and the highest levels of safety – for both the ponies and players – today each player had to take four penalties each: two from 30 yards out and two from 50 yards. It may have looked easy, but it really was a test of nerve and skill under the close scrutiny of both officials and spectators.
It was an all-American battle which kicked off proceedings today with Ganzi vs Ganzi action delighting the crowds. As the first and only female winner of the tournament back in 2019, ‘The Queen of Snow Polo’ Melissa had her work cut out pitting her wits and the skill of her World Polo League team against her husband Marc ‘The Cobra’ competing for The Casablanca Trophy. A flurry of nail-biting penalties defined this match, which came down to a test of nerve. Despite Nic Roldan, ‘The man who can’ in the words of commentator Jan-Erk Franck, coolly slotting three goals through the posts for Flexjet, matched by his teammate Martin Jauregui with another goal hat-trick – it was not enough. Alejandro Novillo Astrada, one of the best players in the world, who won the tournament in 2019 alongside Melissa, showcased his skill as the only player to secure all four shots. His efforts, combined with Melissa’s tally of two, nudged World Polo League into the winning spot, 11-9, to secure the deal. Marc Ganzi was magnanimous in defeat commenting, “We had a lot of fun this weekend. Melissa hit some great penalties and Alejandro was faultless. Fingers crossed the handicaps hold and we can return back next year with this competitive team. In the meantime, we are looking forward to having a great lunch and then hitting the mountains for some skiing!”. After the match, Stephen Alexander, Chief Executive of Casablanca, presented The Casablanca Trophy to a delighted Melissa Ganzi.
The action was narrowed down to the last four teams and next, Perrier-Jouët faced St. Moritz – Top Of The World in the Subsidiary Final for The Mackage Trophy. Perrier-Jouët has been the flavour of the weekend, with an impressive 3,000 bottles drunk on Saturday alone. Jonathan Tidswell-Pretorius and Niclas Johansson kicked off proceedings with faultless conversions, while five time winners Nacho Gonzalez and Max Charlton alongside David 'Pelon' Stirling added some penalty taking flair with a mixture of backhands, nearside forehands and air shots to score – a true display of the player talent on show in this world-class tournament. St. Moritz – Top Of The World, with Swiss-American from the Engadin Valley and winner for the past two years – Tito Gaudenzi, secured third place and The Mackage Trophy with a 14-11.
So, to the hotly anticipated Final – by definition featuring the two best teams of the tournament along with their large group of supporters, with The Kusnacht Practice crowd in chic all white team apparel and their Mackage opposites enthusiastically waving flags from the sun-soaked grandstands. It was Lydia Gauss, Captain of the Mackage team and the only lady left in the tournament, who started the scoring account for Mackage, slotting a seemingly effortless goal through the posts and another five 30 yard goals followed from her trio of polo professionals. The Kusnacht Practice answered with six goals at the 30 yard distance with strong play from young British player Hugo Taylor, experienced Nico San Roman and team Captain Eduardo Gregi bringing the half time total to a too close to call six goals apiece.
It was all to play for in the final period of play, which saw the true polo pedigree of Jack Hyde shine through. His father ‘The Polo Professor’ Chris – a former 10 goal arena player has won the tournament a record seven times. As they say, “Like father, like son” and Jack confidently followed in his father’s illustrious footsteps in St. Moritz to follow up his earlier two goals with another two at the 50 yard distance. As the only player in the Final to achieve a clean sweep of goals with no misses, he totally deserved the Most Valuable Player Award.
The final few penalty shots saw both teams matching each other goal for goal, the scores rested at just one apart as San Roman took aim for the final time for The Kusnacht Practice, but the ball hit the posts meaning that first timers to St. Moritz, team Mackage sealed the victory with a close 10-9 score.
“In 39 years of the tournament we have only had two lady players win it, the ratio is a little low but we are working on it!” said Reto Gaudenzi on Lidia Gauss as she demonstrated true ‘girl power’ team by joining Melissa Ganzi as the second lady in history to win this illustrious tournament.
Lidia Gauss won The Best Playing Patron Award, presented by TJ Joulak, the General Manager of Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi, winning a five-night stay at the exclusive resort. Lidia said, “I have never been, so this is right on time!”
The Most Valuable Player was awarded to Jack Hyde, who was presented with a shopping spree voucher of 2,000 Swiss Francs at Trois Pommes in Switzerland by FIP President Piero Dillier. Whilst the Polo Times Best Looking Pony was awarded by Nick Hine to Ryan Pemble for Ginny, a seven-year-old New Zealand mare, Ryan received a bespoke pony rug and 200 Swiss Francs from Evviva Polo St. Moritz for his groom, Martina Durkechova. The Kusnacht Practice received exclusive designer watches presented by Bucherer 1888, generously sponsored by Melissa Ganzi of World Polo League.
After three days of polo action on the frozen lake in this truly unique location, it was time for everybody to say goodbye. The team of 150 who had worked so hard to make the event a success, the players from around the world, the VIPs and public who enjoy the incredible spectacle that is Snow Polo World Cup St. Moritz, all bade a fond farewell to polo friends both old and new.
This year was a complete sell out, with thousands of spectators enjoying the event over the three days. Make sure you get your diary out now to join us next year. It’s going to be even better (if that is possible) as we celebrate Snow Polo World Cup St. Moritz’s 40th anniversary on 24, 25 and 26 January 2025… we look forward to seeing you then!
Photograph: Mackage, winners of The Snow Polo World Cup 2024. By Polo Times