Faces of Polo – Julio Arellano

Faces of Polo – Julio Arellano

At 8 goals, Julio Arellano is one of the highest-rated American polo players. A lifelong player, Arellano has anchored Gillian Johnston’s Coca-Cola team for years. Now in his 40s, he has won the U.S. Open Polo Championship no less than three times and is known as a pressure player. His team won the Ylvisaker Cup at the International Polo Club Palm Beach last season, and Coca-Cola made it to the final match of the USPA Gold Cup before falling to Valiente. He also took part in the inaugural season of Gladiator Polo, the new arena polo series in Wellington. He will be back in action for Coca-Cola during IPC’s 20-goal series.


Faces of Polo – Sebastian Merlos

Faces of Polo – Sebastian Merlos

Sebastian Merlos is one of the few elite polo players in the world to achieve the coveted 10-goal ranking. Currently playing as a 9-goaler, he has captured the titles of every major tournament in more than 18 countries. He counts three U.S. Opens at the International Polo Club Palm Beach among his successes, as well as victories at the British Open and the Argentine Open. Merlos has a fierce passion for horses, making him one of the strongest horsemen playing polo today. Merlos played for Travieso in 2017, making it all the way to the semifinals of the U.S. Open with teammates Teo Calle, Mariano Gonzalez and Alfredo Capella before falling to eventual champion Valiente. He will be back in action on Travieso for the 20-goal season at IPC.


Faces of Polo – “Sapo” Caset Jr.

Faces of Polo – “Sapo” Caset Jr.

Argentine 10-goaler Guillermo “Sapo” Caset Jr. was riding by age five, hitting a polo ball around the field. During his teenage years, he quickly soared from a 1-goal handicap to a 6-goal handicap. By 2011, Caset had established himself as one of the best players in the world, reaching the coveted 10-goal rating. Polo runs in his family; his father held a 7-goal handicap. Last year, Caset competed in the Hurlingham Open Final with Alegria and the Deauville Gold Cup Semifinal with Talandracas. He played at the International Polo Club Palm Beach last season with Jeff Hildebrand, Facundo Obregon and his cousin, Costi Caset, on the Tonkawa team, advancing to the final match of the Ylvisaker Cup. He will be back in action with Tonkawa in 2018.


Faces of Polo – Mike Azzaro

Faces of Polo – Mike Azzaro

American polo star and former 10-goaler Mike Azzaro has won the U.S. Open eight times. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2013. Azzaro opened last season winning the Joe Barry Memorial Cup as a member of La Indiana with Michael Bickford, Jeff Hall and Gringo Colombres at the International Polo Club. Azzaro participated last year in the inaugural season of Gladiator Polo, the new Wellington league leading a resurgence in the sport of arena polo. Azzaro played on Team Crixus with Santi Torres and Matias Magrini, making it all the way to the final match. Most recently, Azzaro won the USPA National 20-Goal Tournament as a member of Casablanca with teammates Grant Ganzi, Juancito Bollini and Jeff Blake in November.


INTERNATIONAL POLO CLUB Welcomes Eyes Of The Polo World With Start Of 2018 High-Goal Season

INTERNATIONAL POLO CLUB Welcomes Eyes Of The Polo World With Start Of 2018 High-Goal Season

Polo enthusiasts descend upon Wellington each winter season to enjoy the sport at the International Polo Club Palm Beach, the premier polo destination in the world, hosting the largest field of high-goal teams and the most prestigious polo tournaments in the United States.


The 2018 season opens on Sunday, Dec. 31, and will conclude 16 weeks later with the USPA 114th U.S. Open Polo Championship final on Sunday, April 22. Polo matches are open to the public, with a wide range of hospitality and guest seating, including elegant grandstand viewing, field tailgating, stadium seating, field-side champagne brunch and exclusive sponsor boxes.

In the spring of 2016, Wellington Equestrian Partners, the managing entity of the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center, home of the Winter Equestrian Festival and the Adequan Global Dressage Festival, announced the acquisition of IPC, transforming and expanding the group’s massive portfolio in Wellington.

“We’re thrilled with the progress we’ve made since acquiring IPC in 2016 and feel that we’re providing an expanded platform for the sport of polo, not just in Wellington during the winter season, but around the world,” said Mark Bellissimo, managing partner of Wellington Equestrian Partners. “The upgrades that we’ve made to this point are just a small piece of the ultimate footprint that we’d like to leave at IPC and for the sport of polo.”

IPC draws the attention of the polo world during the winter months, and the 2018 season is expected to be one of the largest yet, welcoming players and teams from around the country and the globe to South Florida for one of the most competitive succession of tournaments, highlighted by the 114th U.S. Open during the month of April.

IPC will once again serve as the social center of activity each Sunday, offering attendees numerous hospitality options and prime viewing opportunities for some of the best polo matches of the season.

To enjoy polo in style, the luxurious brunch in the Veuve Clicquot Pavilion is back this season featuring delicious breakfast and lunch options, a full bar, and field-side seating on the patio. Guests will also have exclusive access to a meet-and-greet with some of the world’s favorite polo players throughout the afternoon in the Pavilion. Each week, a different pair of players will be available for photos and autographs. The fun continues after the match at the Pavilion After Party. Live entertainment and cocktails will be served to celebrate the winning team.

For the ultimate VIP experience, guests can purchase tickets to the Coco Polo Lounge, presented by Seminole Casino Coconut Creek. Each ticket includes seating at a front-row table, exclusive field-side lounge seating, a lavish gourmet brunch, a complimentary specialty cocktail, a gift bag, celebrity meet-and-greets, expedited valet entry and more.

General admission is also offered for all of the Sunday afternoon games and includes access to all the favorite food and drink options. The fun-filled Kids Zone will return for children to enjoy each Sunday afternoon. Bounce houses, games, face painting and more will be available to any child attending the 3 p.m. match. Multiple shopping options are also accessible to all spectators while they are on site Sunday behind the stadium. During half time, everyone is invited onto the field for a complimentary glass of champagne and ice cream — and, of course, to stomp some divots.

IPC offers a collection of nine polo fields accumulating 248 acres of pristine land, as well as a main grandstand, croquet facility, meeting and breakout rooms, 7,000 square feet of indoor usable floor space, a private health club, a pool, tennis courts and sufficient parking options. In addition, the facility has proven to be an ideal site for soccer, lacrosse, field hockey, rugby and a variety of other sports. Just last June, IPC was selected as the Large Market Sports Venue of the Year by the Florida Sports Foundation. The Palm Beach County Sports Commission has utilized the venue to host some of the largest sporting events in the nation, including the American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) National Games, USA Field Hockey’s National Hockey Festival, the Florida United Lacrosse Cup Series – Palm Beach Blast and the Florida Draw Lacrosse Classic.

Several updates have been made to the facility in order to improve the game of polo and continue IPC’s tradition of distinction. Five of the playing fields, including the main Engel & Völkers Field, have undergone major renovations in recent months.

Each of the fields were sprigged with a one-of-a-kind strain of durable Bermuda grass, which will lengthen longevity and durability. These characteristics of field grass are crucial when hosting high-goal polo for a prolonged season and will benefit both the players and the venue looking ahead.

In addition to improving the grass fields, IPC has also begun developing a new field surface that will create high availability and dramatically lower relative cost of ownership per polo practice. The special mixture of sand, felt, fiber and a unique binding agent allows for a safe surface for players and horses, while reducing cupping and divots created by horses’ movement that may impede the travel of a traditional grass polo ball.

This approach has the potential to offset limited field access and the high cost of renting practice fields.

“This innovation is not intended to replace grass polo fields, but rather provide an option for a renewable, high-availability practice environment on a regulation-size field, which allows practice at game speed,” Bellissimo explained.

Guests are welcome to visit the International Polo Club throughout the week to watch qualifying matches on the backfields. These matches offer a more laid-back experience to see some of the world’s top polo teams compete before the main match on Sunday. Whether one prefers a low-key match during the week or Sunday’s impressive 3 p.m. featured stadium game, IPC has options for all levels of polo enthusiasts.

For more information about the International Polo Club Palm Beach, visit www.internationalpoloclub.com or call (561) 204-5687.



Major Sponsors Bring Visibility And Support To Polo At IPC

Major Sponsors Bring Visibility And Support To Polo At IPC

Each year, as the high-goal polo season swings into gear at the International Polo Club Palm Beach, the venue highlights a large group of committed sponsors, each aiming to help grow the reach and expansion of the sport, and preserve the tradition of polo in South Florida during the winter months.

As one of the most popular and exclusive social scenes on the weekend for players, spectators and other polo enthusiasts, sponsors of the high-goal season reap extraordinary benefits, both for their own brand visibility and engagement with the fun-loving and energetic audience base of polo.

Katherine Bellissimo of Wellington Equestrian Partners, the ownership entity of the International Polo Club Palm Beach, managed by her husband, Mark Bellissimo, oversees the sponsorship and marketing efforts at IPC during the intense winter season and is committed to broadening the sponsorship opportunities for lifestyle and commercial brands at the venue.

“Sponsorship support is a key component in the success we’ve experienced to this point at IPC and is something that our team focuses on tremendously throughout the year leading up to high-goal competition,” Bellissimo said. “It’s an incredible market for sponsors to activate and display their brands, as we see thousands of spectators at IPC from December through April each year. We manage one of the largest sponsorship portfolios for equestrian sport at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center and are confident that we will be able to do the same with polo over the coming years.”

Following suit with many of the major professional sporting league trends, corporate sponsorship deals continue to have a major influence on the prominence and distinction in the sports sector and industry, helping brands reach new target audiences and provide unparalleled experiences for fans and attendees.

“Sponsorship, in general, has to be a very forward-thinking department in terms of what we can offer or provide that will give these brands and businesses the most reward or success in reaching their target audiences,” Bellissimo explained. “We’re incredibly thankful to all of the sponsors that we’ve seen step up since we acquired IPC and are looking forward to the future of polo thanks to their continued support.”

As brands and businesses look for new creative ways to tap into new and pre-existing audiences, one thing remains certain: sports and sporting events provide a unique gateway for fan engagement and recognition, the ultimate key to a successful sponsorship. With a trifecta of opportunity, including audiences attending the Winter Equestrian Festival at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center, the Adequan Global Dressage Festival at Equestrian Village and the continued expansion at the International Polo Club Palm Beach, corporate sponsorship at equestrian events in Wellington will continue to thrive.

This year, IPC will welcome the following sponsors to the venue for the 2018 season: AIG Private Client Group; Engel & Völkers, Amy Carr and Carol Sollak; Goldmund; Hinkley Yachts; Lugano Diamonds; the Michelle Farmer Collaborative; NetJets; Rosenbaum PLLC; Seminole Casino Coconut Creek, featuring the Coco Polo Lounge; Socapri; the United States Polo Association; U.S. Polo Assn.; Veuve Clicquot; The Wall Street Journal; and the Wanderers Club.

Polo competition will begin this season on Sunday, Dec. 31, and continue through Sunday, April 22, featuring some of the best polo in the world throughout the duration of the three-month tournament season, concluding with the prestigious 114th U.S. Open Final. General admission tickets are available for grandstand seating at every match on Sunday. Pavilion brunch seating and Coco Polo Lounge tickets are also available for purchase at www.internationalpoloclub.com.

For more information about the International Polo Club Palm Beach, or to learn more about sponsorship opportunities, visit www.internationalpoloclub.com.


GLADIATOR POLO Returns to Wellington Bigger and Better in January 2018

GLADIATOR POLO Returns to Wellington Bigger and Better in January 2018

Last year’s inaugural Gladiator Polo season took Wellington by storm, ushering in a new era of arena polo and offering an additional evening of equestrian entertainment during the popular winter circuit.

Gladiator Polo is a re-energized form of traditional arena polo, which pits teams of three against each other in an “ice hockey-like” environment, where play of the boards is encouraged and the fast-paced nature of the game captivates spectators and fans alike.

The brainchild of Mark Bellissimo, managing partner of the Wellington Equestrian Partners, which oversees the ownership and management of the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center, home of the Winter Equestrian Festival, the Adequan Global Dressage Festival at Equestrian Village, and the Wanderers Club, Gladiator Polo seemed to be a surefire way of re-engaging polo fans and introducing the sport to an entirely new spectator group on Thursday and Friday evenings at Equestrian Village on South Shore Blvd.

“It has always been our intention with Gladiator Polo to engage fans and spectators on a global scale. Gladiator Polo can become a tremendous catalyst in promoting interest in the sport of polo and equestrian sport as a whole,” Bellissimo said. “The fan base and support we’ve seen surrounding Gladiator Polo motivated us to expand the reach of the game so we can interact with a broader audience around the world and ultimately offer an opportunity to provide enormous exposure for the sport.”

The response to the inaugural season was incredible. Thousands of fans flocked to Equestrian Village on the first evening game in January to watch the action unfold live.

Themed by the ancient Roman era in 2017, Gladiator Polo featured four teams during the inaugural season: Team Spartacus, Team Priscus, Team Spiculus and Team Crixus, each named after famous gladiator figures from antiquity.

The teams played for an ultimate purse of $250,000, the largest prize money offering known in modern day polo in the final match of the season. Team Spiculus ultimately captured the top title in 2017, using the teamwork of Sebastian Merlos, Mariano Obregon and Pelon Escapite to outplay opponent Team Spartacus to take home the largest cut of the massive check.

The game of arena polo is traditionally played in a 300-foot-by-150-foot arena on packed footing, helping the ball to move quickly across the playing surface, but also allowing fans to sit close to the action and experience the game like never before.

This season, Gladiator Polo will once again return to Wellington during the winter season as the perfect accompaniment to traditional field polo hosted at the International Polo Club Palm Beach on Sundays from December through April.

This year’s Gladiator Polo season will feature 13 league games followed by another high-dollar final match at the end of the season in April. The number of teams in the Gladiator Polo league will also expand in 2018, increasing from last year’s four to a total of eight teams.

Following a successful debut in Wellington, Gladiator Polo transitioned to a summer home hosted at the Tryon International Equestrian Center in North Carolina, sister venue to the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center, where once again the derivative of arena polo was met with immense enthusiasm. More than 10,000 fans attended the inaugural match in June, before returning for the Gladiator Polo Fall Series at the venue, which hosted four weeks of competition in September.

“We were thrilled with the support and engagement of the fans and spectators surrounding Gladiator Polo this year, and thoroughly impressed with the level of play we saw across the board from each of the participating players,” Bellissimo said. “Our goal is to expand this game on both a national and international level and feel that these players and this atmosphere translates well anywhere in the world. We’re looking forward to the future of this game and are eager to unveil a re-energized version of the series in 2018 in Wellington.”

Gladiator Polo Manager Gates Gridley is eagerly anticipating the start of the 2018 season and is confident that the play and intensity of the second season will entice more spectators to become involved with the sport.

With its fast-paced nature and simplicity of regulations and rules, Gridley believes that Gladiator Polo is the perfect introduction to the sport of polo that can help bring a broader spectator audience base to the game, not just on a national level, but also on a global scale.

“It has been very clear from the response and popularity that we’ve experienced to this point that the future of Gladiator Polo is very bright,” Gridley said. “Fans love the action, the players love the pace of the game, and I think it checks a lot of boxes for people wanting to experience something new in Wellington during the winter. The expansions that we have planned for the upcoming 2018 season will be major, and we feel that it will only help to broaden the platform the sport provides. We’re incredibly excited.”

The first match of Gladiator Polo’s season in Wellington will take place in the beginning of January and continue through the peak season, with a final in April. For more information about Gladiator Polo, visit www.gladiatorpolo.com.


Obregon Family Finds Success During Wellington’s Winter Polo Season

Obregon Family Finds Success  During Wellington’s Winter Polo Season

There are many occupations in the world that require travel, but the polo industry demands excessive time on the road. It can be exhilarating and adventurous for the young and curious, but taxing on those who long for an established home and lifestyle.

None know the positive and negative attributes of polo better than the Obregon family. With three generations of players, the Obregons understand what it takes to make it on the field and stay competitive.

The family’s involvement with polo began with their grandfather when he joined the cavalry and started playing polo in Argentina. After completing his military service, he continued to play polo, even traveling to England and New York to compete. Following in his father’s footsteps, Mariano Obregon entered the military during his 20s in Buenos Aires.

Later, he and his wife Margarita moved to Denver to pursue his professional polo career.

Margarita also came from an equine background, riding and competing in the sport of show jumping for many years in Argentina. Today, they live on a farm just outside of Aiken, S.C. Rather than traveling back to their native country during the popular high-goal fall season, they stay in South Carolina and relax on the farm.

The patriarch of four very successful high-goal players, Mariano Obregon began teaching his sons polo at a young age. He started them off with the basics of the sport and taught the classic style and discipline of the game first. But it was never required or expected that the boys would continue the polo tradition.

“If you liked to play polo, you played. If you didn’t like to play polo, you didn’t,” said Geronimo, the youngest of the four brothers.

Yet, they all did. All four brothers improved their skills and eventually began playing in top tournaments throughout their home country of Argentina, as well as the United States.

The oldest of the brothers, Mariano Jr. or “Nino,” began riding and competing at age 12 in Argentina. Facundo and Juan Martin followed, and started playing at just eight years old and six years old, respectively. Geronimo competed in his first tournament by age nine.

Their father’s military background meant he could be a strict parent at home, but that helped the boys improve their discipline on the field. Geronimo dedicates much of his achievement and character to his dad.

“He taught us the meaning of working hard and appreciating what you have,” he said. “We were expected to tack up our own ponies and get on without help.”

None of the boys had grooms growing up, even when traveling to tournaments with a full string of six to seven horses. But they value each person on their team today who works hard and helps them succeed.

As a young and aspiring player, Geronimo loves to travel. Playing in different places helps his game and technique. “In Argentina, the game is much more open and fast-paced, whereas in the States, it’s more controlled,” he explained. “So, you get in a special mindset when playing in each location based on the style of play.”

When there are multiple Obregons on a team, however, the sport sees a whole new style of play. Not only is it more fun for the brothers to compete together, but it gives them an advantage.

“You click a little bit faster than regular teams. You know them and exactly what they’re going to do and how they react, so the play is faster, too,” Geronimo said, adding that when playing against one another, the competitiveness increases. “[You] definitely feel the pressure to win because you want to beat them, and when you’re the youngest, you want to beat them even more.”

The Obregon family can be seen playing at the International Polo Club Palm Beach this season or battling against the boards in Gladiator Polo, but one thing remains for sure, the polo in their blood runs deep, and their passion for family and the game are evident.

Their rise to the top of the sport has been a long road, but the family that plays together stays together, and is eager for a competitive season this year in Wellington.


Wellington’s ‘Voice Of Polo’ Tony Coppola Takes On A New Role As USPA President

Wellington’s ‘Voice Of Polo’ Tony Coppola Takes On
A New Role As USPA President

Longtime Wellington resident Tony Coppola has done it all in the sport of polo — professional player, announcer, club operator, business owner, hall of fame honoree — and now he can add president of the United States Polo Association to his long list of achievements in the sport.

Coppola was elected to the position at the annual member meeting held in late September in Stevenson, Wash.

Coppola joins Chairman Chip Campbell III, Chief Executive Officer Robert Puetz, Secretary Stewart Armstrong, Treasurer Sam Ramirez Jr., Paul Jornayvaz, Dan Walker, Maureen Brennan, Stephen Orthwein Jr. and Tom Gose on the Executive Committee of the USPA Board of Governors.

“To be elected by my peers means a lot,” said Coppola, who has been a fixture of Wellington’s equestrian community since the 1970s.

Known locally as “the voice of polo” for his many years of play-by-play announcing at polo matches, he is taking his new role at an important transition in the USPA’s history.

Although president is second to chairman in the board’s hierarchy, Coppola said he and Campbell share the same vision: a reorganization of the USPA.

“There is a different dynamic to polo in the U.S. over the past 10 to 15 years. It’s grown from an association of players into a business. It was time to bring in some new blood,” Coppola explained.

In 2015, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan ruled that the USPA can’t be held in contempt for selling sunglasses with the “double horsemen mark” — which depicts two mounted polo players vying for a ball — and is also featured on merchandise sold under the Polo Ralph Lauren brand trademark.

The USPA — in a partnership with JRA Trademark Co. — also sells products, sometimes in competition with Polo Ralph Lauren, under the brand name U.S. Polo Assn. The decision in favor of the USPA is a departure from the original ruling in favor of Polo Ralph Lauren in 1984, and more than 20 years of supporting judgments.

The USPA was founded in 1890, while the Ralph Lauren Corp. started in 1967.

The revenue stream from royalties will allow the organization to initiate programs previously only dreamed about.

Many of these programs are focused on growing the sport of polo, introducing the sport to youth and developing world-class players to compete on the international stage.

“A lot of my focus and attention has been spent on young players,” Coppola emphasized.

Coppola is also president of the Polo Training Foundation, a nonprofit organization that offers programs for players from as young as six and up to 16 years of age, as well as a gap program for those 16 to 21 years old.

The programs currently include teaching and mentoring young players by more experienced ones, but he would like to take them further.

“The youth is the future of U.S. polo,” Coppola stressed.

Coppola knows a little about developing a world-class player. His 23-year-old son Matt has been competing internationally since he was 16. This year, he has traveled to Argentina, as well as Texas and California multiple times to compete in high-level tournaments.

“Matt has been doing pretty well for himself,” the proud father commented.

Coppola said there will also be an emphasis on female polo players, through training and development programs, along with tournament sponsorship and support. He pointed to the fact that approximately 40 percent of USPA membership is comprised of women.

“The U.S. women’s team has won a number of international tournaments, including making it to the semifinals of the Argentine Open,” Coppola said.

He felt new blood was needed in the USPA leadership to combat what he characterized as a “slight decline” in polo across the U.S. He recognizes polo is an expensive sport, but pointed to the different levels players compete at based on their ability and financial resources.

“Polo is not only an elitist sport. You have ‘country club’ golf and ‘public course’ golf — the same is true for polo,” Coppola explained. “We need to promote the sport at the grassroots level.”

He spends a lot of time on the road throughout the year, including three months every summer in the Northeast, where he is involved with a number of polo clubs.

His travels frequently take him to the center of the polo universe — Argentina, known around the world as the “Mecca of polo.”

Coppola explained there are a thousand or more polo fields in and around the city of Pilar, which has a population of approximately 300,000 people and is located close to the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires.

In Argentina, polo is a top-tier sport, and the popularity of polo in Argentina probably can’t be duplicated in the U.S. However, the focus on growing youth programs can be.

Coppola feels that the future of polo in Wellington, known as the winter capital of the sport here in the U.S., is fundamentally sound over the long term, although there was a decline in players here last season.

“There are four polo clubs in the greater Wellington area, which means there are plenty of places for players of all levels to participate,” he said.

The tough season last year also affected a decline in sales at Coppola’s iconic tack store, the Tackeria on South Shore Blvd.

“We had less competitors in all equestrian areas last year, plus there is increased competition from other suppliers, especially on the internet,” Coppola explained. “There’s a lot of people competing for the same dollar.”

However, he noted that he is seeing polo players returning to Wellington this year that he didn’t see last year — a good sign for the future, both over the short term, and the long term.

Coppola has been a member of the USPA since 1969 and has been in leadership in the Florida and Caribbean Circuit for years. He feels ready for leadership at the national level after all he has done for the sport here.

“I played professionally and have been involved in polo for many years. This means I have to carve out a little bit more of my time, and give back as much as I possibly can to the sport,” Coppola said.

For more information about the United States Polo Association, visit www.uspolo.org. The Tackeria is located at 13501 South Shore Blvd. in Wellington. For more information, call (561) 793-2012 or visit www.tackeria.com. –––


Wellington Polo Icons To Be Inducted Into Hall Of Fame

Wellington Polo Icons To Be Inducted Into Hall Of Fame

Since its inception in 1990, an elite group of individuals has been inducted into the Museum of Polo’s Hall of Fame. For 2018, the nominating committee has chosen inductees Sunset “Sunny” Hale, Ruben Gracida, Jimmy Newman, Roy L. Barry, and horses Lovely Sage and Ruifino.

Criteria for each category are clearly outlined for the nominating committee, and the museum’s Director of Development Brenda Lynn said the process focuses on the development of the sport in the United States.

“We are an American museum, so the Hall of Fame is geared toward people who were not only outstanding players, but who had influence on the sport in America,” Lynn said. “Sunny Hale had an outstanding impact on polo in the U.S. and set the standard for women playing polo with men. It’s just incredible what she has given back to the sport in general. In the case of both she and Ruben, who made his living in the U.S., it wasn’t only their playing ability, but what they’ve given back to the sport.”

Sunny Hale, unfortunately, will be honored posthumously. Following a valiant battle with breast cancer, she succumbed to its complications on Feb. 26, 2017 at age 48.

In the less than five decades she was alive, however, Hale achieved a remarkable record on the playing field, reaching a five-goal handicap in the male-dominated sport and making history when she became the first woman to win the U.S. Open Championship. She was hired as a polo professional to play on teams alongside the world’s greatest male players for more than 20 seasons, leaving shards of the women’s “glass ceiling” in her wake.

But Hale, a longtime Wellington resident, achieved great things off the field as well. She consistently strove to promote the sport, horses and horsemanship. She was an avid mentor and inspiration to aspiring polo players, both male and female, young and old. She wrote a series of polo help books, created an online clinic, and traveled the world lecturing and giving polo clinics and seminars.

Hale also founded the American Polo Horse Association to establish polo ponies as a breed and preserve their information for posterity, much like the American Kennel Club. She created the women’s handicap system that was adopted for use by the United States Polo Association, started the Women’s Championship Tournament to give greater opportunities to polo-playing women and helped revive the United States Women’s Open. In addition to her induction into the Hall of Fame, an exhibit paying tribute to Hale has been ongoing at the Museum of Polo.

In short, Hale more than met Hall of Fame criteria by contributing to the game “in an extraordinary and honorable manner, whether by dedication to the sport or by ability and record as a player.”

Museum of Polo Executive Director George DuPont agreed.

“What she accomplished in giving back to the sport in her short life is nothing short of amazing,” he said. “Her achievements are multi-faceted. Because of her talent, courage and her relentless efforts to share her knowledge with others, Sunny was regarded the world over as the most influential woman in polo of our time.”

The museum’s award for Living Hall of Fame is being awarded to Ruben Gracida, who won the U.S. Open four times and was its MVP in 1983. He also won the 1983 International Gold Cup, the Avilo Camacho Cup in 1981 and 1988, back-to-back Coronation Cups in 1985 and 1986, along with numerous other tournament victories.

“Ruben came to the States as a very young player and made the U.S. his home,” Museum Vice President Tony Coppola recalled. “Starting out at three goals, he rapidly rose through the ranks to eight goals. He worked hard and racked up a long list of impressive wins on his way up the ladder and made a name for himself as a tough competitor and an influential figure on the American polo scene.”

Jimmy Newman got the nod as this year’s living honoree for the Philip Iglehart Award for “exceptional lifetime contributions to the sport.”

Over 54 years, Newman has become well known in polo, working his way through the sport, training, selling countless polo ponies and going on to play medium- and high-goal polo, including the U.S. Open.

Having attained a three-goal outdoor handicap and four indoor, Newman won the 1985 U.S. Open Handicap, also known as the 26-goal C.V. Whitney. During his career, he has served as manager and organized tournaments for Retama in Texas, Palm Beach Polo & Country Club, the Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club and the International Polo Club Palm Beach. He managed 27 U.S. Open championships and served the USPA as southwest circuit governor, governor at large and more.

“The Iglehart Award is for outstanding lifetime contributions for the sport, not necessarily on the playing field, but as a help to people within the sport and the sport in general,” Lynn explained.

The posthumous inductee for the Iglehart Award is Roy Lawson Barry, who began playing polo in Texas in his 20s and made his reputation buying, training and selling horses. Through his natural ability, he quickly attained a seven-goal rating in 1948, won the Monty Waterbury Cup in 1951, was a finalist in the U.S. Open and played in clubs across the United States, often managing the clubs as well as his sponsors’ strings of polo ponies.

In 1954, at age 45, Roy suffered a stroke while playing in the Monty Waterbury tournament on Long Island. He was advised to quit working with horses and playing polo but, just three years later, he returned, ultimately enjoying many years of club polo. He taught his son the game and, in 1995, Roy Matthews Barry was inducted into the Hall of Fame as a nine-goaler.

The Horses to Remember award recognizes outstanding polo ponies whose achievements on the field were singled out by contemporary judges in tournaments and shows, and by other experts, as worthy of special recognition.

Lovely Sage made her mark as the very first winner of the Hartman Award for Best Playing Pony of the U.S. Open when it was established in 1965. At that time, it was given to the best playing horse of the entire tournament, not just the final.

In the mid through late 1930s, the gray mare Ruifino played with distinction, most closely associated as a mount for the great Tommy Hitchcock in the U.S. Open and Waterbury Cup matches. Owned at the time by J.H. “Jock” Whitney, her talent was so superb that she was declared the winner of the coveted Prince Friarstown Challenge Cup. In later years, she was called upon to play under other notable Hall of Fame players in the most important matches of the era.

To join in the celebration of these accomplishments and contributions to the sport of polo, reserve your space in advance for the awards gala and induction ceremony, to take place at the Museum of Polo on Friday, Feb. 16. Reservations are $250 each. Contact Brenda Lynn at (561) 969-3210, (561) 969-7015 or polomuseum@att.net to RSVP. The Hall of Fame Awards Dinner is the primary fundraiser for the Museum of Polo, a not-for-profit organization.

To learn more about the Museum of Polo, visit www.polomuseum.com.


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