Growing up on the outskirts of London, Ash Price first experienced polo at Ham Polo Club during a school-work placement when she was 15 years old. This led to an opportunity during her gap year to travel to Argentina to help Robert Graham and Will Healy with their breeding operation, while also learning to play. They helped her find her feet in the polo world, and now, aged 31, she manages Park Place, one of the largest high-goal polo operations, for patron Andrey Borodin, and has her own string of ponies.
Who have you worked for prior to Park Place? What was your role?
In 2010, aged 20, I worked as the assistant polo manager at Beaufort Polo Club with the Tomlinson family. At the end of that season, realizing university was not quite where I wanted to be, I took up a position working with Andrew Hine. Via my contract with Andrew, I was very fortunate to work with a number of incredible people, including Princess Azemah and Prince Mateen Bolkiah (Brunei/ MB Polo team) and Harald Link (Thai Polo team), and through my contract with Polofix (polo events, sponsorship consultancy and management agency), I worked on a variety of events such as The Polo Awards, England Internationals and a number of Royal Charity Polo Days. I met Andrey Borodin at his first polo lesson in 2012, which is where my journey with Park Place began.
Where is Park Place based in the U.S. and the U.K.?
In 2019, we bought what was formerly Lechuza Caracas in Wellington, Florida. We have undertaken a large amount of renovation work on the property since we acquired it, including the addition of a new 26-stall barn this summer. The current turnout facility for all of our U.S.-based horses is in Kentucky, however last year we bought a 375-acre farm in Aiken, South Carolina, which is being developed for breeding and turn out. Aiken is very well set-up for making young horses, which is the primary reason for choosing the location. In the U.K., our main base is at Park Place Estate in Henley-on-Thames, and for the last five years we have kept our overflow of horses 10 minutes away at Black Bears Polo Club and winter the horses at a farm in West Sussex.
How many horses does the operation have worldwide?
That’s an amazing question as I have stopped counting! Factoring in all of the playing ponies and those involved in the breeding operation, Park Place owns around 220 horses worldwide and we oversee another 70 horses owned by the professional players for the team—so close to 300 horses worldwide to keep track of at this point in time!
How many horses are there in the U.S. and the U.K.? Do any fly back and forth to play the seasons?
Focusing solely on the playing horses, we have a bigger base in England as the team has been competing here for longer. Park Place must own approximately 80 playing horses in England and 60 in America. We played our first U.S. high-goal season in 2019, so we are still a relatively new team in Florida. A few horses fly between the U.S. and U.K. each year, but we don’t tend to double up on seasons with many of the horses.
Where did the horses come from and did you help select them?
The majority of the horses have been bought in Argentina, some in England and America but many of those have originated from Argentina. Andrey’s personal strings are usually selected by Argentine 5-goaler Francisco Lanusse, who pilots for him and has a very good sense of what he is looking for. Most of the pro strings are selected by the professional players in the team—mainly Facundo Pieres, Hilario Ulloa and Juano Britos, subject to which country the horses are destined for and who will play them.
How do you make decisions about which horses play where and who plays which horses?
I keep lots of lists! I am very fortunate to work with some incredible professionals, many of whom have had multi-year contracts with Park Place. With such a tight-knit team, it is very easy to have honest and open discussions about which horses go where and who plays who, to ensure everyone is happy and on the same page and we utilize our horsepower to the best of our ability.
Tell us about Park Place’s breeding and training program.
England’s climate is not the most suited to making young horses as you battle against unfavorable weather conditions for so many months a year and there is very rarely a community of people nearby who you can arrange young horse practices with. This makes it hard to play consistently through the year and balance training and rest periods for the horses while they are young.
It is hard for a horse in England to gain the same amount of experience as its Argentine counterpart, where they can be produced to play the Open at 6 or 7 years of age. Our idea is to move the whole breeding operation to the U.S. but continue to breed from our best mares in the U.K. using OPU/ICSI and send frozen embryos to the U.S. to foal there.
We started doing a small number of embryos in the U.K. a few years ago with the first two foals born here in 2017, and in the last 12 months we have started breeding in the U.S. as well. The horses bred in England have been broken-in here, but the idea with our farm in Aiken is to do everything from foaling to breaking-in and young horse training there. To further supplement the breeding program, we are also cloning some of Andrey’s personal favorite mares.
How do you keep track of the horses so they are not over- or underplayed, they get the rest they need, etc.?
We have a team of vets who work with us internationally and do a fantastic job managing the soundness and well-being of the horses. I am probably slightly biased in saying this, but having been an established organization for a few years now, we have also built up a great team of grooms who really know the horses in their string and understand the intensity of the season and how to best manage the horses through it. We also have some incredible pilotos who are appointed to a string of horses with one player and focus their energy on a select group of horses. This way, each horse gets the attention and individual treatment it deserves, and its daily activity is managed according to what it needs to keep it in optimum playing condition.
I also tend to be planning a week in advance at all times to manage practices around games to best suit the horses’ requirements. I find communication and forward planning to be an absolute necessity in an organization this big!
Does Andrey get attached to some of the horses? Does he have favorites?
One of the qualities I love about Andrey is the importance he puts on every single horse in the organization. It is incredibly refreshing to work with someone who values his best playing mare the same way he values an older horse whose job might be to be the nanny of the weanlings, for example. I truly admire how much he cares for each horse, but if he had to pick one favorite, I believe it would Latía Repetida (Open Sunset x Open Entrometida).
We played one season of 12 goal in Florida in 2017 and Hilario very kindly lent her to him for one practice when she had just turned 6 and he fell in love and bought her. She came to England that season and is known for being his best mare here. I could very easily name more of his favorites, but the majority of his top mares have all come from Ellerstina, an organization we have a very established relationship with, and we have been fortunate to buy some incredible horses from them over the past five years.
What happens to the horses once they have finished playing?
Park Place is quite a new organization in the grand scheme of polo teams, so we haven’t yet had to retire many. Some of Andrey’s first ponies bought in the earlier years (2014/ 2015) have retired to the field and live very happily in the paddock. Other younger horses that may have had an injury and are not suitable to play anymore, we have used as recipient mares for the breeding program. So far we haven’t ever sold a horse!
How many grooms are there in the operation and where are they from?
I would say that 98% of our organization is Argentine. There is one group of grooms for the U.S. and another group for the U.K. and the head groom of each string usually does both seasons. Each groom tends to work with four to five horses and generally in a season we will have around 20 grooms based with us.
How do you manage the many different personalities?
Once you know and understand the different personalities, it gets easier to manage groups and try to pair people who work well alongside one another. While I do not speak Spanish completely fluently, I have learned a significant amount on my journey through polo, which I feel has been paramount to doing this job. I didn’t feel I could earn the respect of the grooms without making any effort to speak Spanish and I wanted them to feel that they could speak honestly and openly with me about any issues that might arise during the season, which requires clear channels of communication.
Does everyone basically get along or are there conflicts?
Generally speaking, we have very few conflicts within our team, thankfully! If there is a conflict it tends to be between the players, pilotos, coaches or personal trainers about who lost a bet and has to buy the next asado or picada!
Are some pros more difficult than others?
I have been exceptionally fortunate with the teams we have had and the professional players who have been based with us because generally speaking, they are a dream to work with. Like in any team, you get to know the personalities within it and how different people respond to different situations and you adapt to work around that. I cannot say I have ever worked with a pro that I would call ‘difficult.’ Some can be more particular than others about certain details, but on the whole, I have really enjoyed working with every player that has played for Park Place.
I try to ensure things run smoothly for them and that their families are comfortable and have everything they need. If they have all the tools they need to play polo and their horses, grooms and family are happy, you don’t generally see the difficult side to any of them!
Is there anyone within the organization who has helped grow Park Place?
Park Place wouldn’t be what it is today without a number of key people that have all contributed in various ways to the growth of such a big team. From grooms to pilotos, vets, drivers, groundsmen and personal trainers, there is a very long list of names who should be recognized as being important members of the team. Hilario Ulloa and Juano Britos have been two key figures in my journey with Park Place. They have been instrumental in building the team and our horsepower and they are like brothers to me after spending so much time together.
Federico Gonzalez Bergez is my longest standing teammate who I have worked with since the very beginning of Park Place (and even before that, going back to Beaufort Polo Club). Facu Pieres has been an incredible captain and is going into his third year with us. I have only the best things to say about him and his brothers (Gonzalito and Nico) who have both worn the Park Place shirts. Gonzalo Pieres and the whole Ellerstina organization have also been incredibly supportive over the years.
Do you get just as much joy out of a win or disappointment with a loss as the players? How so?
Yes, I think if anything, I suffer more on the side-lines sometimes! Being so invested in this team for so many years and having met Andrey when he took his first polo lesson nine years ago, it has been an incredible journey to grow everything that Park Place now is and look back at where we started.
When we win, it means the world to me and when we lose, I share the same sense of sadness and disappointment as the players. Everyone in the team does their part outside of the field to ensure the horses and players are at their best, to endeavor to lift a trophy, so when it doesn’t come together, I really empathize with how everyone in the team is feeling. I feel particularly disappointed for Andrey because he has given so much to polo and he has given jobs to so many people. He has supported the sport in a way only a handful of other patrons have, and I know how disappointing it is for him if we don’t win, but we have had some great successes in just a few years, and I hope there are many more to follow!
What are the teams biggest achievements to date?
This year, we won the new 22-goal tournament at the end of the U.K. season–The Talacrest Prince of Wales Championship Cup and the C.V. Whitney in the U.S. Last year, we won the Prince of Wales Trophy at RCBPC in England and we have had a number of successful seasons, but without quite lifting the trophy. Our first year of high goal was 2018 and since then we have made three Queen’s Cup finals in England, and Gold Cup quarters and semis twice. This year, we made the semis of the USPA Gold Cup and final of the U.S. Open in Florida. We had success with the medium goal in England too, winning the infamous Royal Windsor Trophy and the 18-goal Victor Ludorum Series.
When did Andrey’s daughter Varvara start playing, and when did she start entering teams in the ladies high goal?
Varvara (or V as she is known to many) is 15 and a very keen show jumper too. She started learning to play in 2015 and competed in her first season of ladies 18 goal in 2020. This year, she played three ladies 18-goal tournaments and one ladies 22-goal tournament at Cortium, and to date, she’s made every semi-final or final. She juggles show jumping and polo around one another and has plans to keep doing both!
Has she competed in the U.S. as well as the U.K.?
V hasn’t played anything yet in the U.S. because the Florida season somewhat clashes with her U.K. school commitments but as she gets older, I’m sure that might change! She was only 6 when I first met her so it has been amazing to watch her journey and see her progress and improve!
Has Park Place confirmed its teams for the 2022 high-goal season in the U.S. and U.K.? If so, what will the lineups be?
Still work in progress! But the U.S. season will be Hilario Ulloa, Juan Britos and a 3-goal American player with Andrey. In the U.K. we will have two high-goal teams: Park Place (Andrey Borodin, Facundo Pieres, Fran Elizalde, Will Harper) and Park Place Vaara (Hilario Ulloa, Juan Britos, a 4 and a 0 TBD).
What does managing a large polo operation entail? What is a work day, week, month or year like for you?
This could be a very lengthy answer! There is a huge amount of detail that goes into trying to manage a large, international polo operation, but I try to focus on having a reliable, trusted team around me so everyone can fulfill their specific role for the team. But, I believe a lot of the success lies in the small details. For instance, I sit with the boys and make them do the forecast for the week ahead to know which days they will ride and which days they want to practice around our games so I can make a plan for the fields—where we play, when we need to irrigate, [aerate], etc. The field is of huge importance to the success of the team and the soundness of the horses, so I put a lot of time into trying to ensure our fields are always as well maintained as possible.
Many hours of my year are spent in front of the master white board doing lists; planning a couple of days in advance to see which horses need to play when; and ensuring none overplay and everything that needs to play, gets to play. I also ensure we put the same importance on the girls’ teams as the boys’ teams and make sure they get team practices when needed too. I am also very picky about truck and trailer lists and make sure I know which horses are going to games or practices offsite. That includes making sure we have enough spaces on the trucks for the horses that need extra space to travel comfortably and arrive safely at the field.
The office side of my job is as important as being in the barn. Some of my duties include finalizing contracts for players and members of our team, arranging winter training plans for the players where required, arranging all of the obvious logistics such as visas, airfares, accommodations, cars, etc., and ensuring all of the monthly invoices from the teams’ expenses and salaries are presented and paid in a timely manner, just to name a few examples!
We also have some big property development works underway, which take up a large amount of my time. There are different requirements for each property but my involvement ranges from reviewing engineering plans and surveys, to siting the location of roads and paddocks, development of polo fields and renovation and construction of barns, arena and exercise tracks, etc.
Plus, alongside that, there is our breeding project, which includes planning mare and stallion combinations, shipment of stallions/frozen semen to the U.K. or U.S. to try and improve the combinations we can do, sourcing suitable recipient mares, making decisions about where to locate the horses at various stages of the project (foaling, weaning, training, etc.) and making decisions on breakers and trainers to work with us.
I could continue but that is probably more than enough examples of what the job entails!