It’s a rare day when one can watch Olympic gold medalists playing polo, given that the sport is not an Olympic discipline. But three of the greatest Olympic athletes in history were wielding mallets the evening of June 20 at Cowdray Park Polo Club. The Cowdray Estate had especially resurrected the historic House Ground that has not been used for polo for more than a decade.
Nic Roldan's inaugural UK Sunset Polo event at Cowdray Estate drew Olympic and world champions including William Fox-Pitt (eventing), Scott Brash (showjumping) and Victoria Pendleton (track cycling). They played a benefit chukka with champion jockeys Leighton Aspell (2 time Grand National winner) and Mattie Batchelor. Two other jockeys, internet sensations Wocket-Woy and 'Pwoducer' Marc Goldstein, rounded out the field with polo pros Roldan and Facha Valent.
London 2012 Olympic Gold Medallist, Rolex Grand Slam Champion and former World no.1, showjumper Scott Brash.
Brash, high-scorer and MVP, laughed after the match as he chalked up his performance to “beginner’s luck.” He called polo “a brilliant sport,” adding, “I thoroughly enjoyed it. The game was over far too quickly for me!”
Fox-Pitt marvelled at the complexity of the sport. “It was thrilling!” he said, noting the hand-eye coordination and situational awareness required by polo. “It’s amazing—this is a whole different sport. We [eventers] focus on the horse, but here you really have to focus on the game.”
Scott Brash MVP of the Benefit Chukka
Fox-Pitt and Brash competed on the Lickfold Inn team, winning the chukka 2-0 with teammates Roldan and Goldstein. Ainsley Polo sponsored the opposing team of Valent, Batchelor, Aspell and Pendleton.
The idea of including non-polo players in the game, said Roldan, was to promote inclusiveness in equestrian sports. “The different riding disciplines are secluded worlds, and no one really gets together with people from other disciplines,” he said. “I thought it would be good to bring together athletes who excel in other disciplines and put them on polo horses and have some fun.”
Before the celebrity game a 4-chukka match took place between teams GSA (Roldan, Henry Porter, Ruffino Merlos and Clare Milford Haven) and Engel & Völkers (Valent, Tincho Merlos, Lulu Hutley and Nick Kinder). GSA won the tight match 6-5. Rufi Merlos, at age 10 the youngest player on the field, was named MVP. A crowd favorite, Rufi held his own against his dad (Tincho Merlos) aboard his grey Argentine pony, “Pilar,” which was named Best Playing Pony. At the award ceremony Pilar regarded the flower garland from Tregothnan as a bit of a monster, but then allowed it to be placed over her neck.
BPP Pilar and MVP Rufi Merlos
More than 750 spectators attended the event, a fundraiser for two UK charitable organizations: Brooke (the world’s largest equine welfare organization) and Chestnut Tree House (a hospice that cares for 300 gravely ill children and young adults). In an auction after the awards ceremony, players’ jerseys from the teams generated enthusiastic live bidding and brought in thousands of dollars for the charities.
“We’re over the moon at the level of awareness and funding the event brought to these two foundations,” said Roldan. “The evening was a huge success. We’re grateful to our sponsors, the town, Cowdray House and everyone for their support—it was above and beyond. We’re looking forward to doing it every year for as long as we can.”
All Photography by Helen Cruden