Packer reaps the ultimate reward

Greg Wood watches the Australian magnate weigh in with an enthusiastic performance in polo's equivalent of the FA Cup

"I can't believe it, there's people still arriving," a flustered Cowdray Park official said at two o'clock yesterday afternoon. Since the day's first match at Britain's premier polo venue was not until three, it seemed a strange complaint, but after a stroll through the car park, her reasoning became clear. Good heavens, she must have been thinking. They're only allowing an hour for lunch.

They take lunch seriously at Cowdray, near Midhurst in West Sussex, and the borders of the vast polo pitch were already a cross between a car boot sale and the food hall at Harrods. Kerry Packer appears to take lunch seriously too, not to mention breakfast, dinner, supper, elevenses and a little high tea. The only difference yesterday was that Packer was on the other side of the fence.

There must be two principal drawbacks to being a polo pony. The first is the habit among major owners of branding identity numbers on to their property's buttocks. The second is the chance that you will find yourself carrying the captain of the Ellerston Whites, Packer's team and one of the finalists in the Veuve Clicquot Gold Cup, the FA Cup final of polo and a trophy which the Australian magnate had been pursuing for years.

But this is the unique attraction of polo for men like Packer and Urs Schwarzenbach, "patron" of the Black Bears, the Whites' opponents yesterday. Not for nothing do they keep a string of 100 ponies and dozens of staff to prepare them, when the reward for winning the sport's biggest event appeared to be a magnum of bubbly and a kiss from the sponsor's wife. What matters is that polo's system of handicapping allows the owners to step over the sidelines and get involved.

Each of a team's four members has a rating in "goals", from zero (the poorest) up to 10. In the Gold Cup, the sum of the handicaps must be no more than 22, so with one Whites player on 10, and another rated nine, the way was clear for Packer (rating: one) to form a formidable rearguard. It is a little like Jack Walker insisting on keeping goal for Blackburn as a reward for his investment.

Not that Packer failed to punch his weight. He clouted the ball with admirable gusto, even if his ponies did seem to take a little more time to hit their stride than those of his colleagues. Having started the match a goal to the good (another quirk of the handicapping system), the Whites put a further four through the posts before two of the six seven-minute chukkas which make up a match had been completed. And if at times the scene resembled the front line at Agincourt, at others there was considerable skill and athleticism to appreciate, not least from the ponies.

The word "pony" summons images from Thelwell, but polo ponies are big, almost 15 hands high, which only makes their mobility all the more remarkable. They can go from a standing start to a full gallop in a couple of seconds, brake even faster, spin through 180 degrees and then pound off once more.

At times it would have been almost balletic, had it not been for the persistent accompaniment of Terry Hanlon, the "voice of polo". On the blue-blazered, upper-class polo circuit, Hanlon seems to be the closest they get to a bit of rough, and his roars and whoops - "it's KP, it's KP, come on KP!" he yelled as Packer bore down on the goal - ripped through Cowdray's otherwise torpid atmosphere.

"The chips are in the pan and you can hear 'em sizzling," Hanlon announced as the match entered the final chukka with the Whites still leading, by 10 goals to six. The Bears rallied, but Packer's team, with their patron's great ambition so close to being realised, held on to win 12-9.

The applause was warm from the blazers and Gucci set as he stepped up to receive his champagne, a rich man tasting ultimate success in the ultimate rich man's sport. Around the fringes, though, was the odd hint of dissent. "I've been poaching salmon since three in the morning," one woman said, "and I'm bored senseless."

Hanlon had summed it all up a few minutes earlier. "This is real pressure," he bellowed. "Have you ever been in a pressure cooker? Have you ever worked in a factory?" If the first suggestion was strange, the second was just plain daft.

Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas