Polo is a fiercely elegant game – as sleek and lovely as the ponies that thunder down the field, no wonder Ralph Lauren has been so inspired by it – but also rough and tumble.
We were reminded of that Sunday, June 14 as Airstream faced off against the new team sponsored by Shreve, Crump & Low at the Greenwich Polo Club in the town’s verdant backcountry on a perfectly idyllic late-spring day. There were quite a few penalties – and more than one or two balls out of bounds – as Airstream prevailed 10-9 in a Monty Waterbury Cup match that went down to the last few minutes of the last chukker (period). They don’t call it “horse hockey” for nothing.
If you’ve never been to a match, it’s quite something. The teams enter from opposite sides of the field – which is nine times the size of a gridiron – and then face the grandstand as if to say, “We who are about to entertain salute you.” The National Anthem is sung, on this day most beautifully by the Conn Artists, a Connecticut-based a cappella group. The rather heavy polo ball is dropped, and play begins with the two teams changing sides after each goal so no one team has an unfair atmospheric advantage. Or so explained expert announcer Alejandro (Alex) Roldan, whom the fans have really taken to their hearts for his enthusiastic, humorous play-by-play. At one point, Roldan said, “And as American Pharoah heads down the field….”
The crowd loved it. The fans also love mimicking the way he says, “And it’s wiiiiiiiiiiide” of a ball that falls outside the goalposts. Sometimes it isn’t wide and then it’s “scoooooooore.”
This was as aggressive a match as I’ve seen at the club, founded by businessman/philanthropist/art collector Peter Brant, himself an accomplished player. It could’ve gone either way. In the end, Airstream prevailed over SCL, which includes Brant’s son Christopher, thanks in part to the late-chukker heroics of MVP Guillermo Agüero, who made one of those last minute charges and goals that are the stuff of sports pages. He received Menaji skincare products. The Best Playing Pony was Presumida, bred by club players Mariano Aguerre and Nick Manifold at their polo pony farm, Los Machitos, in Argentina. Manhattan Saddlery draped Presumida in a plush green blanket before the horse was led away by a most insistent Australian sheepdog that kept tugging on the docile Presumida’s reins (too funny). The four players on each team received custom-made silver bowls from Shreve, Crump & Low, a well-respected New England jeweler new to Greenwich Avenue but not to sports trophies. (SCL designed tennis’ Davis Cup.)
Those who’ve been to the Polo Club know the match is but half the show. The rest is a game of seeing and being seen as couples, women in fetching outfits and straw hats, toddlers, strollers and dogs on stylish leashes – one looked like it was made of dog biscuits – parade by on the way to their picnic setups and various vendors. (We enjoyed buttery lobster rolls by Lobster Craft and the creamiest gelato by La Fenice Gelato.)
There’s even more promenading at halftime (end of the third chukker) as fans take to the field to stomp the divots and search for the cork that leads to an alcoholic prize – in Sunday’s case, a bottle of Champagne from Greenwich Polo Club friend Susan Oliver Whitney.
Sitting there lazily in the shade watching handsome men and handsomer steeds power up and down the field, we wished the day would never end.
Fortunately, there are many more such days in the offing as the season continues with the conclusion of the Monte Waterbury Cup June 21; the Butler Handicap June 28, July 5 and July 12; and the East Coast Open Aug. 23, 30 and Sept. 6, when the finals will be cablecast by NBCSN. The season closes Sept. 13.
The gates open at 1 p.m., with the match at 3. Tickets are $40 per car. For more, visit greenwichpoloclub.com.