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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

(continued from page 3)

You have benchmarks along the way. You have win-loss records, and you can tell how you're doing. Plus, it's an exhilarating sport and the people are exciting. I played for 35 years and never missed a season, even though I had a lot of accidents and broke a lot of bones. But I never stopped."  

Like Brinker, Gannon plans to play the sport for many years. Numerous patrons such as Bill Ylvisaker, who founded the Palm Beach Polo and Country Club, and the late John Oxley, whose family started and operates the Royal Palm Polo Club in Boca Raton, demonstrate that polo can be played into one's 70s and 80s. Gannon keeps his interest keen once the south Florida high-goal season ends by playing less competitive low- and medium-goal polo in charity matches around the world.  

"In addition to being such a high-energy sport," says Gannon, "polo is a great way to relax, to open your eyes to new people and to new places, and to see the world. Despite its blood and guts reputation, it's important to remember that polo is as much about fun and friendship as it is about challenging yourself and your teammates. Kind of like what Adolfo did to Prince Charles at Sandhurst."  

What Gannon is referring to is the storybook ending to the closely fought match at the Royal Military Academy. The royal roster and the presence of two of polo's top 10-goalers was straight out of central casting, but the conclusion, Prince Charles taking--and making--the game-winning penalty shot was scripted to perfection.  

Afterwards the prince admitted that taking center stage hadn't been his idea. "Blame it on Cambiaso," he told a group who had gathered on the grounds after the match. "I certainly wasn't in a hurry to take the shot myself, but he insisted that I do so."  

Few know that despite his crowded schedule, Prince Charles regularly plays in a polo match or two each month for charitable causes. His efforts have raised more than $10 million for a wide assortment of organizations. The Sandhurst match, which Mark Cann coordinated for the Combined Services Polo Association, benefited Britain's Army Benevolent Fund. The match was underwritten by Fifth Avenue Channel, an Internet company.  

On most days, Charles plays only for the love of the game, garnering a few bumps and bruises. At today's match, however, the competitors receive handcrafted silver spurs much like the ones General Patton wore, forged in the style of a cavalry straight spur by Firmin & Sons, a venerable English firm that dates back to 1677.  

Once the match is over and congratulations are offered, the throng proceeds to a catered barbecue on the grounds at Sandhurst. A sense of celebration is palpable. To have witnessed a classic match in an unforgettable setting on a picture-perfect day is what draws so many to play and follow polo worldwide. Many of the guests have traveled from the States, from the Continent and from the Middle East, and Gannon, host of the reception, thanks everyone for joining him for the fund-raiser.  

To cap off the festivities, a magnum of Champagne is brought out. After a moment or two it's clear that something is afoot, and an unsuspecting Gannon is caught square in the middle. It seems as if the English are about to uncork the bubbly using everyone's favorite kitchen accessory, a sword.  

Gannon is selected to wield the weapon, a blunted saber also from Firmin & Sons. Firmin's chief executive, Frederik Hsu, says that although his company's Millennium Sword has become something of a rage as a fin de millénaire memento, "it wasn't really designed to guillotine fine Champagne." A polo player himself, Hsu knows a thing or two about the delicate operation Gannon has before him.  

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