Who can forget the polo scene in the iconic 1990 film Pretty Woman where handsome eligible bachelor Edward (Richard Gere) and the ‘escort’ Vivian (Julia Roberts) frolic flirtatiously during the divot stomp?
Having removed her shoes, Vivian, a vision in brown and white polka dots, leans on Edward’s arm, flashes him her toothy smile and their eyes lock in adoration – their fate sealed. The rest? Let just say that in the end, as it said in the movie, “she got the fairytale”.
Spectating at last Saturday’s Paspaley Polo in the City in Sydney’s Centennial Park – the first of the series to run in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth – I couldn’t help but ponder: if racing is the sport of kings, could polo be the sport of romance?
With a moment to myself by the fan in the corner of the hospitable G.H Mumm tent, I consulted the program guide – the glossary of terms, to be precise – for some intel.
On polo ponies it read: “main qualities are heart, speed, stamina and the ability to accelerate, stop and turn quickly, and whose temperament is amenable to the rigours of the game”.
Surrounded by the assembly of Sydney’s social set on this warm summer’s day, it was impossible not to draw synergies –in fact, I was convinced I’d stumbled upon the perfect chronicle of what it takes to be a winner in the local dating scene.
According to Polo in the City spokesperson Janek Gazecki, the series now in its fourth year, has given polo the necessary ‘face lift’ demonstrating it as more than “a mere backdrop for a champagne party, but rather a veritable and vigorous sport”.
“It has brought polo to the people and injected new excitement to one of the oldest sports in the world,” he says. “Yet balanced it with a level of refinement and glamour traditionally expected of polo.”
This year, corporate hospitality sales close to doubled that of previous years, indicating a reliance on the sport for entertaining its high net-worth clients. Sponsors included Audi, Ernst & Young and, among such glamorous surrounds, one could be led into thinking polo remains the sport of billionaires and playboys. This is not the case says Gazecki.
“Here in Australia, one of the world’s top polo playing nations, there’s been a surge of young urban professionals wanting to get involved,” he says. “And the reality is many of the professional players, who travel the international circuit, hail from the country.”
As for my fairytale ending, I had my hopes pinned on the divot stomp but as the chukka ended and I looked around for a suitable pal to hit the turf with it appeared they were all preoccupied in the Stellar Artois tent.
In my closest company was a hot and sweaty polo pony – his head bowed in exhaustion. Not wanting to miss out, I walked over to him to pat his chestnut forelock. Then, checking that no one was watching, I asked shamelessly: “Is this the moment where you fall in love with me?”
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