DOING THEIR PART: Players donate time and effort for useful program

Each year, some of the best polo players in the world set aside their differences and join forces in an effort to help raise funds for the Polo Players Support Group.

Eight of the world’s most accomplished players came together for the Lucchese 40-Goal Polo Challenge at International Polo Club Palm Beach in Wellington, Florida, Feb. 17.

Prior to the main game, several of the players’ children competed in a Future 10s kids’ game (see page 34). Spectators got a peek of some of the best young talent in the world, demonstrating their outstanding riding abilities and impressive hits.

Airstream (Adolfo Cambiaso, Nico Pieres, Sapo Caset, Sebastian Merlos) defeated Pilot Catastrophe Services (Miguel Novillo Astrada, Hilario Ulloa, Gonzalo Pieres, Mariano Aguerre) 14-7. The exhibition game is the preeminent fundraising event to benefit the Polo Players Support Group, a non-profit organization to financially help injured and ill members of the polo community. This year’s event raised over $320,000.

The event is truly a community effort. Clubs block the day off the playing schedule so players are available; team owners allow the players to participate; and players donate their time, as do umpires. This year 6-goal Sugar Erskine and 4-goal Eddy Martinez donned the striped shirts, provided by official apparel supplier U.S. Polo Assn, which also supplied the team jerseys.

Both umpires are well aware of the program’s value. Erskine received assistance from Polo Players Support Group after injuring his neck in a fall last year and Martinez received assistance in 2015 and 2016.

“It was an absolute relief to know that in those first few moments, days and weeks after my accident that the polo community is so well structured and able to put your mind at ease when the uncertainty of the situation is a little overwhelming,” Erskine told the Polo Players Support Group. “I have nothing but the utmost praise for everything everyone does for the organization and hope that I can continue to give back what was so freely given to me.”

The game got off to a fast start with newcomer Nico Pieres scoring within the first minute of the game. A unique feature of the Lucchese 40-Goal Polo Challenge is the use of a two-point line 70 yards from goal. Sebastian Merlos was the first to score a two-pointer for Airstream, increasing the lead to 3-0. A pony goal put Pilot on the board and Ulloa cut the lead to just one at the end of the first. Ulloa was the only player to reach the goal in the second, tying the score at 3-all. Caset traded goals with Ulloa in the third, then executed a pass to Adolfo Cambiaso, who found the mark, helping Airstream maintain a narrow 5-4 advantage heading into the half. A pair of two-point goals by Cambiaso pushed Airstream farther ahead by the start of the fifth, but Ulloa responded with back-to-back goals for Pilot. Caset and Cambiaso kept up the pressure, each tallying to increase Airstream’s lead to 11- 6. Cambiaso opened the sixth with another goal. Ulloa shot back with his sixth goal but with time running down, the writing was on the wall.

Nico Pieres put the final nail in the coffin with a spectacular two-pointer that earned him the Tito’s Handmade Vodka Long Shot of the Day award. “It was good fun and always a pleasure to play polo with these amazing players,” Pieres said. “It’s good to be part of it.” Ulloa’s Future Lituania received the Engel & Volkers Best Playing Pony blanket.

This year, organizers commissioned renowned polo sculptor Rich Roenisch to create a bronze likeness of Walton. The bronze was presented to Walton and copies were given to the players. Walton’s son, Del, was on hand to accept the bronze on his father’s behalf. Del, accompanied by his wife, Tessa, and their three sons, threw in the first ball to start the main game.

Having been involved in the 40-goal every year since 2012, Caset is committed to the greater purpose of this event. “[Polo Players Support Group president and co-founder] Dave offen is the one behind all of this and I think it’s a great idea to get all the 10-goalers together to play a good exhibition match and help,” Caset explained. “This is all for charity and it’s great that we do this to help players, grooms and other people around polo if they have an injury. I feel good to be a part of it and we should continue being involved in this way.”

Following the game, spectators walked across the field to the club’s pavilion where guests bid on a variety of silent auction items before taking their seats for dinner and the live auction.

Live auction highlights included a Folded Hills Winery and polo getaway donated by Andy and Kim Busch, which was purchased by Mandy Quattlebaum for $16,000; and a Costa Rican Vacation donated by Santa Clara Polo, which was purchased by Mike and Geannie Sheller for $13,000. Other items included a custom pair of Lucchese boots and an original piece of artwork painted during the event by Alejandro Moy.

Adolfo Cambiaso’s jersey and a week of polo at La Dolfina was purchased by Keith Whitman for $8,500; Catering packages by Bolay for 100 people with entertainment by Tom Blake were purchased by Melissa Ganzi and Peter and Steve Orthwein for $7,000 each; Adolphus Busch’s Belleau Farm duck hunt also had two buyers, each paying $7,000: Mandy Quattlebaum and Ryan Gilbertson.

Highlights of the silent auction included men’s and women’s Lucchese boots, and wine from the famous collection of Dave Page.

“Thanks to the generosity of the 10- goal players, their patrons, our sponsors, auction buyers and donors, attendees and volunteers, this year’s event again was a huge success and we will be able to continue helping those members of our polo family who are in need of assistance,” said Offen.

The impetus for a support system for players was when 8-goal polo player Rob Walton suffered a broken neck while competing in Malaysia in 1995.

With no support for players in his situation, benefits were held including the Rob Walton Arena Benefits at Palm Beach Polo and the Rob Walton 40-goal that originally took place in 2000 at Royal Palm Polo. These events were the inspirations for the formation of the Polo Players Support Group, co-founded in 2002 by Toronto native Offen with partners Tim Gannon and Tony Coppola.

“The 40-goal tournament means a lot to me,” Walton, who has been confined to a wheelchair since his injury, told us in 2016. “It makes the difference in being able to take care of myself or not. Without the PPSG’s help, I’d be in a lot of trouble. A guy never knows when he may get hurt.” To date, Polo Players Support Group had provided more than $2.2 million to 71 recipients.

As a non-profit, the Polo Players Support Group must follow strict IRS requirements. Qualified needs are defined as a serious illness or injury, which keeps someone out of work for four months or longer. Basic broken bones don’t qualify for assistance, and assistance is not a replacement for health insurance, but rather supplemental financial support to help with ongoing living and horse expenses. The grants can not be used for medical bills.

Because of the dangers of playing polo and working with horses, the need is ongoing. If you were unable to attend the 40-goal event, but would like to contribute, Polo Players Support Group accepts donations at any time. Simply go to polosupport.com and click the donate tab at the top of the page.

--Jewel Connelly contributed to this report.

Bright Futures

To wet the appetites of those in the stands, prior to the main match, the sport’s brightest young talent took to the field for a Future 10s two-chukker minimatch. Grand Champions defeated U.S. Polo Assn., 4-2, in a spirited match. Despite the players’ young ages, there were plenty of big hits, long runs, bumping and hard riding.

The game was delayed at one point when Keko Magrini and his horse took a spill. The horse was uninjured and after some time to catch his breath, Magrini remounted and continued playing. Looking at the names on the backs of the shirts, you might think you were watching a 26-goal match. Their highgoal fathers were watching from the sidelines, offering advice, adjusting their tack and holding their mallets. The future certainly looks bright!

 

 

 

 
 
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