2004 POLO EXCELLENCE AWARDS.
Honoring those at the top of their game.

The Polo Excellence Awards, polo’s version of the Oscars, honors exceptional talent in our sport today. The awards were developed by POLO magazine founder Ami Shinitzky in 1986 as a way to officially recognize outstanding talent in the sport.

Nominees are chosen by a select group of their peers. Awards were divided into five categories: Player of the Year, Young Player of the Year Amateur Player of the Year, Horse of the Year and Corporate Sponsor of the Year. Criteria for player awards include ability, performance, win-loss record, contributions to the team, horsemanship and sportsmanship. The Horse of the Year Award was introduced last year, although we were unable to reach a consensus then. This is the first year the award will be given as a way to honor an outstanding horse based on its overall playing ability.

The Corporate Sponsor Award is to honor a company that has made a significant contribution to promoting polo on a local or national basis. Without further ado, we present to you the winners.

Carlos Gracida won the very first Player of the Year Award in 1986. This year he is receiving his fifth Player of the Year Award, a record matched only by his brother Memo. He was born and raised in Mexico City and became involved with horses at an early age. He started stick and balling while being led around and by age 10 began playing tournament polo. By age 18 Carlos Gracida held a 3-goal rating and had his first opportunity to play polo in the United States at Steve Gose’s Retama Polo Center. A few years later he played in his first highgoal tournament, competing in and eventually winning the USPA Rolex Gold Cup and the International Open at Palm Beach Polo. By then he was 5 goals and counts these as some of his most thrilling victories. Five years later Gracida reached 10-goal status. His years in the sport have taken him all over the world, playing and winning in all the major tournaments, including the U.S. Open, Argentine Open in Argentina, the Queen’s and Gold cups in England, Mexico’s Open, the Melbourne Cup in Australia and Deauville’s Gold Cup in France.
He is highly respected in the United States and abroad. In fact, Gracida is the only foreigner to have won five Argentine Opens and Argentina’s Triple Crown with Ellerstina in 1994. Gracida was lowered to 9 goals for 2003 and 2004, but his spectacular play in 2004 prompted his handicap to be raised to 10 goals for 2005. At 43 years old, Carlos stood out among a field of young, talented superstars. His accomplishments in 2004 include winning the 22-goal Joe Barry Memorial, the 26-goal C.V. Whitney Cup and making it to the semifinal in the U.S. Open with Catamount. The team narrowly missed their chance to advance to the final by succumbing to White Birch in overtime. Carlos went on to win the 22-goal Hildon Queen’s Cup in England. He also competed in Argentina’s Triple Crown of Polo with Adolfo Cambiaso’s La Dolfina team. Though the team didn’t win any of the titles, he won the respect of the top players in the world.

CARLOS GRACIDA
PLAYER OF THE YEAR

2004

PREVIOUS WINNERS
2003 Francisco “Paco” de Narvaez
2002 Adam Snow
1999 Hector Galindo/Memo Gracida
1998 Adam Snow
1997 Memo Gracida
1996 Memo Gracida
1995 Carlos Gracida
1994 Mike Azzaro
1993 Carlos Gracida
1992 Owen Rinehart
1991 Memo Gracida
1990 Memo Gracida
1989 Carlos Gracida
1988 Gonzalo Pieres
1987 Owen Rinehart
1986 Carlos Gracida

Carlos Gracida is the only foreigner to have won the Argentine Open five times.

Queen Elizabeth II decorates Carlos Gracida after a Queen’s Cup victory.

YOUNG PLAYERS OF THE YEAR
2004

ULYSSES ESCAPITE

Ulysses Escapite began 2004 as a talented 16-year-old with an A (0) handicap. He was asked to play on Scott Devon’s Catamount team in the 22-goal Joe Barry Memorial at International Polo Club Palm Beach in front of Devon, 10-goal Mike Azzaro and then 9-goaler Carlos Gracida. This would be the first highgoal tournament he ever played in, and those watching were impressed. He played such a significant role in his team’s success that the handicap committee decided to invoke the monster rule and raise his handicap to 2 goals.
He then competed in the FIP World Cup for Mexico, with the team advancing to the final playoffs in France. Before the trip to France, he was asked to play on Mike Hakan’s 20-goal Duende team during the summer high-goal season in Santa Barbara. He played impressively and the team went on to win the Santa Barbara Cup, the subsidiary of the America Cup. He was raised to 3 for 2005.
Escapite lives in El Paso, Texas, and learned to play polo from his uncle at a club in Mexico.

MIGUEL TORRES JR.

Miguelito Torres, now 16, was born into a polo family in California. He competes at the Eldorado Polo Club in Indio, California, and the Santa Barbara Polo Club.
In 2004, he won two 8-goal tournaments, one at Eldorado and the other in San Diego. His team was runner-up in Eldorado’s 14 goal, and he was on the winning team in Aiken, South Carolina’s 16-goal, even earning MVP honors. After training with 10-goal Adam Snow, Snow was so impressed with him that he thought Miguelito would be a good fit for Antelope’s 20-goal team in Santa Barbara.
Was he ever! The team went on to win the coveted Pacific Coast Open championship over eight other highly competitive teams. Snow said, “He’s extremely talented, and I feel lucky to have something to do with the start of his polo career.” After California’s high-goal season his handicap was raised from 1 to 2.

ULYSSES ESCAPITE

MIGUEL TORRES JR.

PREVIOUS WINNERS
2003 Weston Gracida
2002 Julio Gracida
2002 Frederick Mannix Jr.
1999 Jeff Blake
1998 Nicholas Roldan
1997 Jeff Hall
1996 Joe Wayne Barry
1995 Lucas White
1994 Tiger Kneece
1993 John Gobin
1992 Todd Offen
1991 Julio Arellano
1990 Mike Azzaro
1989 Ted Moore
1988 Tom Biddle Jr.
1987 Mike Azzaro
1986 Dana Fortugno

The monster rule was invoked in 2004 for Ulysses Escapite.

Miguel Torres’ defense helped his
team win the Pacific Coast Open.

Scott Devon is one of the top amateur players in the country. He started playing when he was 20 years old thanks to his late father, Wes. Wes hired a young pro by the name of Cali Garcia-Velez to play in an 8- goal league in the Midwest at the time, which inspired Scott to start playing. After, Joe Henderson played with the Devons and helped teach Scott the basics. Scott first played at Oak Brook Polo Club in Chicago then followed some of his Chicago friends, including the Kuhns and Wigdahls, to Florida and other polo places. “I had very memorable times with Adam and Michael Butler, traveling with them to play in international events throughout Europe.” In Florida, Devon had the opportunity to play with several good players, including Fortunato and Agusto Gomez, Samuel Moreno, Juan Bollini, Rob Walton, Sunny Hale and Wicky el Effendi.
In the late 1980s Devon got a taste of high goal when he played with the Revlon team, which was a great experience for him. Overall, much of his experience has been with low- and medium-goal polo, which he still very much enjoys. In fact, one mediumgoal tournament stands out. “Our last team [in those earlier years in Florida] with Julio Arellano and Dave Offen won the 14-goal, which was very special to me because it was the last time my dad played,” he said.
Devon’s father became ill, so he took six years off from polo to take over the family business concerns with the hope of someday returning to the sport. Boy, has he ever! Wes Devon’s favorite player to watch in the 1980s was Carlos Gracida. “I guess I must have taken good notes back then since I decided to form a team with Carlos as captain. He has been a pleasure to play with and is a gentleman as well as a great player. Mike [Azzaro] was also a family favorite as both of my parents knew Mike’s family from the Chicago days.” In 2004, he assembled his Catamount team with Carlos Gracida and Mike Azzaro and got off to a wonderful start, winning the 22- goal Joe Barry Memorial and the 26-goal C.V. Whitney Cup. Though his Catamount team was eliminated in the semis, it was one of the early favorites to win the tournament.
It is no doubt Devon was one of the reasons for the team’s success. His handicap was raised from 3- to 4-goals for 2005.
“I consider myself fortunate to have played at so many different levels of polo and can honestly say I enjoy every level as much as the next. I have two sons that show an interest in the sport, so hopefully I can provide the same type of experience for them as my father did for me.”

AMATEUR PLAYER OF THE YEAR
2004

SCOTT DEVON

PREVIOUS WINNERS
2003 Thomas Boyle
2002 Gillian Johnston
1999 Andy Busch
1998 Steve Van Andel
1997 John Goodman
1996 Georges Daou
1995 Doug Matthews
1994 Fred Mannix
1993 Adam Lindemann
1992 The Busch brothers
1991 Merle Jenkins
1990 Peter Brant
1989 Peter Baldwin
1988 Norman Brinker
1987 Rodger Rinehart

Scott Devon has made the transition from low- and medium-goal polo to high-goal polo with considerable success.

This is the first year we are awarding the Horse of the Year. Each year a horse is awarded the Willis L. Hartman Best Playing Pony award in the U.S. Open. It is traditionally awarded to a horse that plays in the final match. We didn’t want to limit the award to the final but wanted to recognize the top horse playing among all the teams competing, whether or not it played in the final.
The 2004 Horse of the Year goes to Memo Gracida’s 8-year-old black gelding, Wembly. Just to have a 10-goal player say a horse is something special is, well, something special. But in Wembly’s case, his name was mentioned by many 10-goalers and other high-goal players as well.
Gracida purchased Wembly in England three years ago. He is by a thoroughbred stud, out of one of Kerry Packer’s Australian mares. He was trained by Ross Ainsley. According to Gracida: “I knew he was special after the first 50 yards I rode him. He does everything effortlessly. He has all the qualities of a champion.” Gracida has played him for the past three years.
Gracida said Wembly is very explosive when you want to handle him on the ground but very willing and obedient once you are on his back. He can play any level of polo from kids polo to a 40-goal match.
Wembly has classic thoroughbred looks and stands 15.3 hands. He has won best playing pony awards in Greenwich in 2002 and in the 2004 Ylvisaker Cup. Gracida ranks him among his best six and one of the best of all time. “[He just keeps] getting better and better,” Gracida said.

HORSE OF THE YEAR

WEMBLY, OWNED AND PLAYED BY
MEMO GRACIDA

2004


Wembly is one of Memo Gracida’s
all-time best ponies.

 


Wembly, by artist Melinda Brewer

 

CORPORATE SPONSOR OF THE YEAR
2004

BOMBARDIER

In 2004, its second year sponsoring polo, Bombardier Business Aircraft signed on as presenting sponsor of the 26-goal U.S. Open Championship at International Polo Club Palm Beach in Wellington, Florida; sponsor of the 20-goal Pacific Coast Open in Santa Barbara, California; and presenting sponsor of the Lamborghini Polo Cup at the Las Colinas Polo Club in Dallas, Texas. Bombardier’s commitment didn’t end there. The company recently expanded its sponsorship of polo by signing multi-year sponsorship agreements with polo clubs in Wellington, Houston, Dallas and Santa Barbara.
“As we enter our third year of polo sponsorship in the U.S.,” said Brant Dahlfors, vice president of sales at Bombardier Business Aircraft, “we are proud to be a mulit-year presenting sponsor of the U.S. Open Championship at International Polo Club Palm Beach.” The Bombardier polo sports program is managed by Gary Soloff, Bombardier regional marketing executive, and facilitated by Charles Ward of Idea Works, Dallas.
Bombardier Business Aircraft manufactures the Bombardier Learjet, Challenger and Global business jets. It offers charter service through Bombardier Skyjet, fractional ownership through Bombardier Flexjet as well as aircraft support services, and pilot and maintenance training through Bombardier Aircraft Services.


International Polo Club Palm Beach founder John Goodman, second from right, welcomes Idea Works’ Charles Ward, and Bombardier’s Bob Knebel and Dylan Haynie.

 


Bombardier has been sponsoring polo tournaments at different levels and in
different cities, including the U.S. Open.