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I Went to a Polo Match on Sunday, And Loved It!

10/13/2011 10:30 am ET | Updated Dec 13, 2011
  • Jay Weston Publisher, Jay Weston's Restaurant Newsletter

polo players

I have some advice for those people at AEG/Staples Center who are slugging it out with another faction for the right to build a new football stadium in Los Angeles. Let them have it... and steal their thunder by building, instead, a fabulous polo field! Yes, you heard me, a polo field, a large (300 by 160 yards) grassy open field the size of nine football arenas, surround it with comfortable bleachers... and once the populace of our fair city gets to see a real polo match, they will respond with incredible enthusiasm and support. Agile, brave guys atop thundering horses running up and down the field swinging mallets in pursuit of a little white ball... what could be more exciting?

Vanessa Kay is President of Veuve Clicquot USAA

Vanessa Kay, President of Veuve Clicquot USA, wearing a period dress from the twenties.

This weekend I was invited by Vanessa Kay, President of Veuve Clicquot USA, to attend the Veuve Clicquot Polo Classic at Will Rogers State Park in Pacific Palisades. This is the only remaining polo field in Los Angeles. It may be hard to believe but in the 1930s there were 25 polo fields in the city. Originally the home of cowboy humorist Will Rogers, I am old enough to remember the exploits of this remarkable man... he of the winsome smile wrote a newspaper column that 40 million people read regularly, was a movie star and raconteur, and a polo player. In the '30s, he would join fellow stars Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Walt Disney, David Niven, Hal Roach, Darryl Zanuck to play polo on his private field. Then they would all adjourn to the Beverly Hills Hotel bar, which became known (to this day) as The Polo Lounge.

polo players in action

Polo players in action. They change horses after every chukker.

Last year I had arranged for Ann Walraven of MHUSA to get several classic cars of the '30 from the Mullin Automotive Museum, for the event, which they did again this weekend. You may rightly ask why I would even want to see a polo match. As I just told my buddy Brad Gietter of Moet Hennessey, when I was a kid growing up in the thirties in a tough New York neighborhood, my father told me of a relative who was a Colonel in the very small, struggling U.S. Army stationed at Fort Hamilton in Canarsie, Brooklyn. And they played polo there every Sunday, so my dad and I went to many a polo match in the late '30s and I acquired a taste for the sport. Not that I would ever want to play it...my experience with horses at that time was confined to seeing every Western movie that came down the pike. (To my mind, the best movie ever made was ""Red River," and a high point of my life was working as a co-producer of "How The West Was Won" for Cinerama. When I came to L.A. I did get to see several polo matches in the late fifties at the same Will Rogers field, and I still spend
many a night drinking Veuve Clicquot at the Polo Lounge, but that's another story.

Stephane Basciera and Tex Feldman of Moet Hennessey

Stephane Basciera of Veuve Clicquot and Tex Feldman of Moet Hennessey.

Nacho Figueras is a huge star

Nacho Figueras is a huge star in the polo world, the number one player of the sport.

I happen to be an avid consumer of this particular champagne, not only because I love the sparkling fresh flavor of their bubbly (especially the Rosé), but also because this was the first French company to have a powerful woman run it successfully against the chauvinistic male clique of French business. At age 27 Madame Clicquot took over in 1805 when her husband died and, against the advice of all, ran it for many years, building it into a powerhouse spirits company. This Sunday I happened to be standing at the rail watching the thundering horses and riders next to a man who turned out to be head of Veuve Clicquot, Stéphane Baschiera, here from company headquarters in Reims, France for the event. He told me that they began their long association with polo in England (the French have two fields in Paris, he said, but are not particularly enthusiastic) with the Veuve Clicquot Gold Cup, and then came to the U.S. in 2008 for the inauguration of the New York event at Governor's Island after a lapse of 70 years. Last year was the first L.A. event and it was so successful it will become an annual one. Here were 4,000 cheering fans in the packed bleachers, along with a coterie of celebrities wearing their best period outfits. (Women were wearing hats, although I told him that in England women never wear hats to polo matches.) He said that the Will Rogers State Historical Park is facing budget cuts, and the champagne company contributes to its remaining open.

period costume on server

All the servers wore period costumes.

IMG_1988

... and this period classic car came from the Mullin Automotive Museum.

I had a brief conversation with the reigning star of the polo world, a handsome fellow named Nacho Figueras, who has become a spokesman for Ralph Lauren Polo stuff and was captain of the competing Black Watch team, which defeated the Veuve Clicquot guys 7 to 5 after six grueling, exciting chukkers. Nacho said, "Polo is one of the world's most unique sports, an amazing and exciting activity which combines great athletes with most amazing creature in the world, the horse." He said that he began playing polo at the age of nine on his family's farm in Argentina because his father was passionate about it, and by the time he was 13 he was playing professionally. At which point he left to get ready for the match, and I consumed yet another glass of Veuve Clicquot. Good stuff, that.

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