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.