The Elite Sport Of Polo—As Played In London And Santa Barbara

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The Sport of Kings has forever been a study in contrasts. The spirited game features champion horses, their thundering hoofs vibrating flutes of Veuve Clicquot enjoyed by spectators in the field-side cabanas.

Some trendsetters forget to lower their Bulgari shades to notice the match―unless, of course, the players include Ignacio “Nacho” Figueras, Argentina’s star competitor and the urbane face of Ralph Lauren Black Label.

The rarified game of polo has become an essential summer diversion for its wealthy patrons, the charities that benefit and the hatted crowds that flock to the fields decked in gaucho-inspired fashion.

Two standout locations are worth a closer look: London and Santa Barbara, Calif. They’re regions that fall under the Federation of International Polo’s 86 national members, which include Egypt, Malaysia, Jordan, Mongolia, Nigeria, Ukraine, Zimbabwe and, of course, Argentina, renowned for turning out the best polo players in the world.

London

The venerable Cowdray estate and its extensive grounds have been recognized as the “home of British polo” for more than a century. Set within Viscount Cowdray’s 16,000-acre estate in West Sussex, the Cowdray Park Polo Club hosts 35 tournaments, including the British Open Polo Championship for the Cowdray Gold Cup.

The Gold Cup draws about 15,000 enthusiasts, but more than a few skip the match and head straight to the after-parties. Favorites include Cowdray’s Ibiza Night, which vibrates with trance and electro classics. Cowdray Park Polo Club sponsors include Boeing Business Jets and Aspinal of London, among others.

The poshest polo event on the British calendar is the Cartier Queen’s Cup, named for the late Queen Elizabeth II (Prince Charles’ team won the trophy in 1986). Held at Windsor Great Park and hosted by the Guards Polo Club, the event draws a stream of fashion, entertainment and music luminaries. Best-dressed notables include Isabel Getty and, among the royals, Lady Amelia Spencer and Lady Eliza Spencer

The London polo season’s crowd-pleaser is Chestertons Polo in the Park, described as the world’s largest three-day polo bash. It’s held each June in Hurlingham Park on the north bank of the River Thames.

“The event is absolutely massive, about 30,000 attend,” says Rebecca Hill, a senior digital marketing executive at London-based real estate agency Chestertons. “It’s vibrant and it’s buzzing. Everyone’s in a fantastic mood. With the elegant fashion, the DJs, the top market food and beverage, it has an Ascot feel to it.”

Chestertons has been the event’s title sponsor since 2012. This year marked a first –– the world’s best female player, Nina Clarkin, captained the men’s England Polo team to compete against Ireland for the Olympic trophy.

Like the three-century-old Royal Ascot, hats are en vogue. Certainly Panama hats for men and, for women, fascinators worn by habitual scene-stealers, along with some gaucho hats and an oversized Jacquemus or two.

And yes, you’ll probably spot a few Essex Men in striped blazers who’ve invaded the SW6.

The event’s after-parties are legendary (we recommend the White Horse, which insiders call Sloaney Pony, in Parson’s Green), as is the Mahiki Tent, which pulsates with live music and dancing (steel drums get the party going). The event’s Fulham Food Festival draws from London’s choice restaurants. The revered brand, Champagne Lanson, which dates to 1760, is a sponsor.

Between matches, the SheerLuxe Shopping Village caters to deep pockets, offering exclusive brands such as Mu Du London and Augustine Jewels.

Santa Barbara

The Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club is the preeminent polo club in the western United States. It held its first exhibition match in 1894 and was admitted to the United States Polo Assn.

Flanked by the Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, the club has hosted such luminaries as Prince William and Princess Catherine, the then-Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex, plays regularly at the club. He lives in nearby Montecito with his wife, Meghan, Markle, and their two children.

In the 1920s, American royalty played on the fields: Douglas Fairbanks, Will Rogers and Charlie Chaplin, among others. Today, commoners favor Friday happy hour matches, and on Sundays, the hats appear, some rivaling the best of British millinery.

Governed by trustees (some are grandsons of prominent families who owned the club in previous eras), the club and its 87-acre grounds are well positioned in the Santa Barbara area, which has been deemed the “American Riviera.” The historic clubhouse is joined by tennis, swimming and spa facilities.

“In July and August, we are the mecca of polo,” says club general manager David Sigman. “Every eye in the country is on us because we play at the highest level. Families from Argentina, Costa Rica, Brazil and Uruguay have been coming here for decades. It’s a whole polo culture.”

Each October, after polo season ends, the club hosts the Montecito Motor Classic, which showcases scores of rare and vintage vehicles. Guests arrive in a blue-chip selection of autos: Bentley, Rolls-Royce, Lamborghini, Maserati and McLaren, among others.

Sigman says Santa Barbara represents the ultimate polo lifestyle because you can practically live on the club grounds. The Spanish-style Polo Condos, with 139 units, edge the stately fields. Why drive in from Hollister Ranch when you can view the action from your balcony or walk from your patio to a reserved cabana?

A rare ground-level unit has come to market with “outrageous sunset views,” says Realtor Jackie Walters who holds the Village Properties listing. There are ocean vistas from the living room, primary bedroom and from a 1,000-square-foot wrap-around patio. The $2.4-million three-bedroom home has a gourmet kitchen, fireplace and heated bathroom floors.

“It feels like your own cottage,” says Walters of the 1,365-square-foot home, adding that about 80% of condo owners are members of the polo club.

The remodeled end unit doubles as a prime investment vehicle, leasing for $15,000 a month during polo season, Walter adds, and an average of $9,000 a month during off-season.

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