POLO must be in decline, I thought. Stands to reason. The Eighties are over. We have waved goodbye to conspicuous consumption, and the rich are giving up their idle pursuits.

The major did not see it quite like that. 'Nonsense,' he spluttered, plunging a fork into a red pepper terrine that matched the colour of his face. 'Game's never been fitter. Clubs all over the country. Big business queuing up to sponsor. Wonderful ponies, wonderful sport.'

I stood corrected. The final of the Queen's Cup, held last Sunday at the Guards Polo Club in Windsor Great Park, is one of the highlights of the international polo season. It is also an event of growing popularity in the social calendar, sandwiched neatly between the Derby and Ascot.

The focal point is the Alfred Dunhill marquee rather than the game itself. Here, the titled and the well-connected rub shoulders with the Queen, the vaguely famous and the occasional genuine polo aficionado for drinks, luncheon, tea and more drinks.

Debra Winger, the Hollywood actress, was there this year with her son ('He wants to see the Queen'). So was Harry Connick Junior, the singer, in a preppy cardigan that made him look like a teenager.

Another regular is Andrew Neil, editor of the Sunday Times, who peeled off his jacket to reveal a colourful pair of braces. He held court in the sunshine, waving a glass of champagne, surrounded by admirers and people looking for a job.

When they are not gossiping in the marquee, the guests take their seats to watch eight men on Argentinian Crollo ponies thwack hard white plastic balls around a

giant ground with the aid of bamboo-shaft sticks. The closest non-players get to involvement is at half-time, when spectators are invited 'to tread in the divots'.

There are two points to remember. The best players are always South American, and the most overweight rider is always the team's patron (the Australian multi-millionaire Kerry Packer, who is now in his mid- 50s, led the Ellerston White team last week. 'Kerry picks himself,' explained the major.)

Curiously, the men were dressed rather better than the women, who perhaps were saving their best frocks for Ascot. There were lots of polo bimbos straight out of Jilly Cooper novels, wearing little jackets and short skirts, accessorised with blonde hair and brown legs. The best-dressed women had the good sense to dress down in long, button-through print dresses and sandals or dress up in cool cream trouser suits (the latter are still acceptable at Royal Ascot, although 'not encouraged').

The men were conservatively dressed, but splendidly so. Blazers, white trousers, white shirts, club ties and panama hats, supplied by a roll-call of classic British menswear names. The more adventurous wore linen or cotton suits. Jasper Conran, the designer, was wearing a three-button single-breasted pistachio-green viscose linen jacket, and a white T-shirt and trousers.

He was accompanying Amanda Verdan, buying director of Harvey Nichols, who wore a collarless cream trouser suit designed by her escort. Even the terrine-coloured major had to agree she looked immaculate: a lesson in laid-back style for her customers.

(Photographs omitted)

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