Polo's patrons in mint condition

The sport that costs a fortune also allows its tycoon backers to ride with the stars. Greg Wood mingles with the cool and the corpulent at Cowdray Park

The economics of many sports can be a little lop-sided, but when it comes to a thin rate of return, polo takes some beating. Consider this. The Labegorce team which won yesterday's Veuve Clicquot Gold Cup at Cowdray Park, the most important prize in the game, costs Herbert Perrodo, its patron, a minimum of around pounds 500,000 each year to run. Perrodo's prize was... the Gold Cup. No outsized cheque, no cash bonus, and in 12 months' time, he will probably have to give it back.

Say what you like about polo, it is certainly different, from the scenes on in the car park - a raucous cross between a car boot sale and the food hall at Harrods - to the game's unique structure. Were you to sit down and try to invent a sport, it is unlikely that a founding principle would be to allow - no, positively encourage - the participation of hopeless amateurs at the highest level of the game. Imagine Liverpool, for instance, being required to field nine professionals and a couple of those weedy kids from the playground who no one ever picked, or a club hacker going around Troon alongside Tiger Woods.

Yet that is one of the cornerstones of polo, and it has to be said that whoever slipped it into the rules 100-odd years ago was one of the most brilliant visionaries in sporting history. For if racing is the sport of kings, polo is the pastime of choice for international tycoons, since the average king these days does not have nearly enough disposable income to run a polo team, and its attraction for men with money to burn could be summed up in one word: vanity.

Michael Knighton may have kicked the ball around on the pitch at Old Trafford before his abortive attempt at a takeover, but had he succeeded, even he would not have expected to lead the line the following week. In polo, a patron would expect nothing else. The players are given a handicap rating, in "goals", of anything between -2 and, for the finest players in the world, a perfect 10, a mark which no more than a dozen or so of the finest professional riders can achieve.

Now this is the clever part: the four-man teams for the most prestigious competitions are allowed a combined handicap of no more than 22 goals, which generally means two of the best, another of a fair standard, and one who can barely swing a stick but, more importantly, is perfectly capable of signing cheques.

As a result, yesterday's final was effectively a match between Labegorce's two stars, Javier Novillo-Astrada and Carlos Gracida, and from the opposing Isla Carroll side which had flown almost 50 ponies from America for the 60-day season, Pite Merlos and Memo Gracida, Carlos's brother and generally reckoned the best player on the planet. Even to a relative polo virgin, Memo's talent was immediately obvious.

Polo is not a sport which is overburdened with either rules or strategies. There is little point for careful build-up play in midfield, not least because the midfield is the better part of 250 yards long, and the standard approach is to whack the ball as hard as possible at every possible opportunity. Memo, though, was never afraid to leaven the whacking with the gentle equivalent of a footballer's nutmeg, chipping delicately through the legs of an opponent's pony before spinning past and then, admittedly, lashing the ball upfield with all his might.

But while many had come to see the Gracidas, the real stars amid all the twisting and clattering of sticks were the ponies. As nimble as ballerinas and utterly unflappable. When a large helicopter landed yards from the Isla Carroll string, not one of the 30 or so ponies so much as pricked an ear. They can quicken from a standing start to a full gallop in a stride. Not only that, they can do so with a patron in the saddle, which in the case of John Goodman, the rotund owner of Isla Carroll, must take some doing.

So, too, does the business of following the action on a pitch which appears to be about half a mile long but in this, Cowdray's spectators have the inimitable assistance of Terry "the voice of polo" Hanlon. A commentator who seems to have learned his trade in the same academy which supplies the World Wrestling Federation, Hanlon's high-octane description of proceedings is something of a polo tradition. He even has a catchphrase, or rather a catch-noise, a strangulated squeak which escapes from his throat whenever a player bears down on goal.

"It's tick, tick, tick on the Veuve Clicquot clock," Hanlon kept yelling as the sixth and final chukka drew to a close with Labegorce 10-8 to the good.

And it was ching, ching, ching on Perrodo's cash register, but as the sweating, beaming patron struggled from his pony, he, at least, seemed to think that it had all been worth it.

Life and Style
Social media users in Mexico who commented on cartel violence have been killed in the past
techTweets not showing up or loading this morning, users say
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker