Big-Time Polo Comes to Virginia
This is a week late, and has already been blogged about on this Web site, but I don't care. A moving pictures version of this entry can be seen tonight on Washington Post Live, which will also feature the equally compelling Thom Loverro.
Anyhow, last week, I went to what was, far and away, the greatest athletic press conference I have ever attended. The press conference, which featured a taped message from Journey, live gospel singing, Mystics owner Sheila Johnson, Congressman Jim Moran and unlimited tequila samples, was to announce the arrival of the America's Cup of Polo in the greater Washington area. There are so many points worthy of consideration, I will have to create yet another list.
[Edit: I should have noted earlier, funds raised by the event go to the Journey for the Cure Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to finding cures for Leukemia, Lymphoma and Multiple Sclerosis, and to the preservation of Historic Morven Park. These would seem to be good things.]
1) Within the first 30 seconds of entering the room (at the National Press Club), I saw people greeting each other with cheek kisses.
2) Not long after, I met event chairman Tareq Salahi, who, according to the press packet, was "born with a philanthropist's heart and raised on ponies and wine." He told me that Sports Illustrated had dubbed polo the world's second-most dangerous sport, after auto racing. He also told me about polo's "ride-off," which is like a check in hockey, and must be performed at an angle of less than 45 degrees, I believe.
3) Wait. What, you ask, is this event all about? From the press release: "America's Cup of Polo will be a match between polo teams from the United States and the United Kingdom. It will commemorate America's anniversary, taking place 400 years after a brave band of 104 colonists settled in Virginia in 1607. Thereby establishing the roots of what became the United States....This promises to be an elegant and majestic affair fit for a queen. Indeed, Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom and U.S. President George W. Bush, respective heads of State of the teams competing in the cup have been invited to attend."
The event is May 12, rain or shine. General Admission seats cost $75. The Queen and the Prez, presumably, would be comped.
4) The event will have many entertainment options. For example, it will kick off with a fife and drum corps. Live entertainment will be provided by Journey (yes, that Journey, which will also play the Anthem and God Save the Queen) and an English band called The Webb Sisters (who will put on a full halftime UK Folk Rock show with a special song related to Pocahontas). Plus there will be a performance from Claude McKnight of the gospel group Take 6. To celebrate this wealth of talent, the press conference featured a taped message from Journey ("See you in Virginia!" they said), a teleconference with the Webb Sisters from California and an appearance from McKnight, who, after speaking at the podium, then launched into a few a capella stanzas of the Take 6 tune "Feels Good," as everyone else up front clapped along. How come that never happens at Bobby Knight pressers?
Other entertainment options include an F-18 flyover, some sort of Park Police presentation and performances by the urban H.I.P H.O.P. Nation Choir, a band called No Speed Limit and the Loudoun Symphony. Also, a specially blended wine called American Tribute will be released at the event, and there will be some sort of Native American dance. And Journey's Jonathan Cain has said he wants to get on a horse.
5) The captain of the U.S. team will be Charlie Muldoon, who is now a semi-pro but spent many years as a pro. He's now ranked a 5, but used to be as high as a 7 (the polo scale goes up to 10), which made him a top 20 player in the country. Charlie will also be in charge of "mounting" the Brits, which means the hosts will provide the visitors' horses. This is sort of tricky, because it gives the hosts a possible advantage.
"There's an old adage," Charlie told me; "if you can mount 'em, you can beat 'em."
That deserves to be a more popular adage.
6) Charlie told me that polo doesn't deserve its high-brow reputation, that you don't need 40 horses to get into the sport, that just one or two will suffice, and that it's a sport of fun, and tailgating, and fellowship.
"It's a stereotype; everyone from every level goes to a polo event and can enjoy it," he told me. "We're wild and crazy, just like anyone else."
But he did laugh when I pointed out the event's sponsors, which include Cartier, Land Rover and Ritz-Carlton. The players will stay in the Ritz and be transported to the field via Land Rovers, while the winners will each get $5,000 Cartier watches. Incidentally, one of Charlie's non-polo gigs is as director of business development for Grooming Lounge, which offers fine men's grooming products and services.
7) Speaking of sponsors, another sponsor is Casa Noble tequila, which will be making a special cocktail for this event, the "CasaRita," which basically is a Margarita, I guess, although they were sort of secretive about the recipe. This, however, was compared to the Kentucky Derby and its Mint Julep synergy.
Anyhow, a Casa Noble rep was sampling three varieties in the back of the room, which also should happen at Bobby Knight pressers. More on that later.
8) When the Land Rover representative spoke during the press conference, he pointed out that the LR3 is "the perfect vehicle" for carrying around all your polo gear.
9) A photographer from Polo Quarterly International offered to freelance some photos for us, if we wanted. He told me that PQI is the most prestigious polo magazine. Himself, though, he used to play Pato, which he said is the national sport of Argentina and is much better than polo. Apparently Pato used to involve players on horses attempting to grab a duck inside a leather pouch. Now, it's a ball with six handles instead of a duck in a pouch. The things you can learn in this world.
10) During the press conference, Tareq told a story about how when he was playing the Prince of Wales and Prince Harry in some sort of polo event, he knew then that he would have to bring such a high-profile event to Virginia. He has some great action photographs of himself and Prince Charles from the game hanging at home.
11) The captain of the British team, Julian Hipwood, also spoke. "I never imagined how big and how exciting everything would be," he said of this event, as I nodded silently in agreement. He also spoke of his brother Howard, who will be on the team.
"He's a bigger and stronger man than I am," Hipwood promised. "He was Mr. Hard Man of polo many years ago, and he still is."
"His brother is definitely a force to be reckoned with on the polo field," Muldoon concurred.
"Running into Howard is like running into a brick will," Hipwood later told me. Hipwood's son, Max, is also on the team, as is Debbie French Nash. I met her mom at the event. Debbie was in Columbia at the time.
12) When Rep. Moran spoke, he attempted to stir the pot a bit.
"Muldoon, are you going to win this match for us, are you going to promise us?" Moran asked Muldoon. Charlie did not guarantee victory. Ominous sign for U.S. polo supporters. Although Tareq was more confident; "we will not let our country down," he told me. He also predicted "one of the most aggressive polo games and one of the most fascinating polo games ever played."
13) Tareq said this event could become an annual attraction, similar to the Masters or the U.S. tennis open. Later, I asked if he was serious.
"It's certainly on that path, absolutely," he said. "The Super Bowl of [polo], that's exactly what we're talking about here."
Thirteen's probably enough for right now. Let's call this to be continued.
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