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Royal Horseplay

Horsemen from Prince Charles to Outback Steakhouse's Tim Gannon Are Passionate about Polo
Eric O'Keefe
From the Print Edition:
J.P. Morgan, Mar/Apr 00

No matter the setting, no matter the sport, there are always those moments when an entire contest--sometimes even a season or a championship--comes down to the last play of a game. Quite often, in those final few moments, it is a single athlete's poise and talent (or lack thereof) that decides the day. Yet on this glorious summer afternoon in the south of England, there is no question in the minds of hundreds of onlookers about the outcome of the polo match soon to conclude on the immaculate grounds of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.  

Despite the participation of some of the world's best known amateur and professional polo players, it is assumed by the spectators (and most of the players, for that matter) that Adolfo Cambiaso will ride out from among his teammates and, much like Michael Jordan on a fast break, slap the 30-yard penalty shot straight through the goal posts to clinch the victory with no time left on the clock.  

It's something everyone has come to expect from the dazzling Argentine, who reached polo's topmost tier, a rating of 10 goals, a decade or so ahead of his peers at the unheard of age of 16. Cambiaso, now a seasoned veteran at 24, has lived up to his reputation as polo's prodigy by winning all of the game's top tournaments. He plays high-goal polo nearly year-round: in south Florida (January to April), England (May to July) and his native Argentina (September to December).   Yet after a brief huddle with his three teammates, Cambiaso and his mount remain motionless. So, too, does Prince Rashid of Jordan, himself a Sandhurst alumnus, who has spent most of the afternoon at full gallop as the team's offensive lightning bolt.

Tim Gannon, cofounder of the Outback Steakhouse franchise and high-goal polo patron, has been in man-to-man coverage with Lolo Castagnola, the match's other 10-goaler, all afternoon, and the two seem to be discussing the umpire's call with Castagnola's teammates: Dr. Amin Badr-El-Din, a well-known polo player from the United Arab Emirates who helped found the Ghantoot Polo Club in Abu Dhabi; Gen. Arthur Denaro, commandant at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst; and Mark Cann, a former cavalry officer who has helped organize today's match. Judging from their animated gestures, a difference of opinion exists.  

As if on cue, the crowd of cadets, field marshals, London models and polo denizens set aside their Pimm's Cups and Veuve Clicquot as the fourth horseman begins to canter toward the penalty line on a buckskin mare. HRH The Prince of Wales, a polo player since his school days, will take the shot and with it earn the praise or wear the blame for the outcome of the afternoon's competition.  

Sound like a good time? Moments like this--and there are plenty in almost every polo match--are why the game of kings is best described as an addiction rather than the oldest team sport in existence. Polo dates back several thousand years to the steppes of Central Asia. But it has only been in the past few decades that polo has become the province of hard-charging men and women who demand the same sort of challenges and rewards off the clock that they get running their own empires.  

Polo's seductive blend of speed and strategy, horsemanship and one-upmanship has attracted countless aficionados since British cavalrymen--with Sandhurst pedigrees to their credit--first came upon this most ancient of pastimes in India during the mid-nineteenth century and brought it back to England.  

Nowadays, Academy Award winner Tommy Lee Jones, the Sultan of Brunei, media magnate Kerry Packer and Franklin Mutual Series Fund chairman Michael Price are only a few of the marquee names whose idea of an afternoon off is to mount a 1,200-pound thoroughbred and go head-to-head against some of the sport's top professionals. In Los Angeles and Palm Springs, actors such as Jones, Stefanie Powers and Bill Devane are the latest in a long line of screen stars and studio heads to play polo.

Their predecessors include Will Rogers, Spencer Tracy, Walt Disney and Darryl Zanuck. In England, heads of state and royals such as the sultan, Prince Charles and Prince Rashid compete on fields where the Duke of Edinburgh, the Duke of Windsor, Lord Louis Mountbatten and Sir Winston Churchill once played.

Along the U.S. East Coast, in Greenwich, Connecticut, and Long Island, New York, in Boca Raton and Palm Beach, Florida, polo has long-standing ties to Wall Street heavyweights and entrepreneurial mavericks such as Ambassador Averell Harriman, Abercrombie & Kent chairman Geoffrey Kent and restaurateur Norman Brinker, the driving force behind Steak & Ale and Chili's.  


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