The invitation was very impressive....."Lord Frederick Windsor & Sophie Winkleman Request the Pleasure of Your Company for British Polo Day, Presented by Land Rover for the Benefit of the Great Ormond Street Hospital & Homebody Industries at the Will Rogers Polo Club." My close buddies Lord Freddie Windsor, he of that British Royal family, and his lovely actress wife Sophie, a new mother, were having a party and I was invited. The invitation stated that the event begins with a Taittinger champagne reception, then lunch, followed by an auction and then the first of two polo matches....this one Eton versus Will Rogers Polo Club, followed by afternoon tea and a final match between Oxbridge vs. S. Californian Universities.
It happens that I am something of a polo fan. Last year I stirred up a lot of controversy when I wrote a Huffington suggesting to the AEG people that they forget about putting a football stadium downtown near their LA Live/Staples Center and instead build a magnificent polo stadium....a large (300 by 160 yards) grassy open field the size of nine football arenas surrounded by comfortable bleachers. I said that 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? Of course the suggestion fell upon deaf ears....but it's still not too late.
So on Saturday I showed up at Will Rogers Stadium in the Pacific Palisades section of L.A. and had a terrific afternoon of polo, charming Brits, pretty people, flowing champagne and lots of sunshine. 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 this location was the home of cowboy humorist Will Rogers. I am old enough to remember the exploits of this remarkable man....he of the winsome smile who wrote a newspaper column that 40 million people read regularly. He was a movie star and raconteur, the first Mayor of Beverly Hills, and a devoted polo player. (He once wrote: "Playing polo is like trying to play golf during an earthquake.") He would join fellow stars Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Walt Disney, David NIven, Hal Roach and Darryl Zanuck to play polo on his private field. Then they would all adjourn to the Beverly Hills Hotel bar, which is known to this day as The Polo Lounge. His family donated the park site to the State of California in 1944.
Although the ancient sport of polo began in Persia and China many centuries ago, the British reinvented the modern game in the nineteenth century as British cavalry officers traveled to the four corners of the globe and played it everywhere. Sir Winston Churchill, one of the greatest proponents of the game, once famously said: "A polo handicap is a passport to the world." Ben Vestey, the Managing Director of British Polo Day, told me that their events began in 2009 in Dubai, and since then they have done 36 such polo events in16 countries, all with a number of charities as beneficiaries. Lord Freddie Windsor then told me that Homeboy Industries, one of the receiving charities today, was a very special group, taking troubled L.A, kids and teaching them kitchen skills. Freddie and Sophie have made L.A. their home for almost five years, and were instrumental in bringing the matches here today. Freddie attended both Eton and Oxford, while Sophie is a Cambridge alumni, with players from these three institutions playing here today. They all told me that the aim of the day was to celebrate the history and heritage of the sport and to continue the tradition of playing high-quality amateur polo around the world.
Sophie Windsor asked me why I would even be excited about polo. I explained that when I was a kid growing up in the thirties in a tough New York neighborhood, my father told me about a relative who was a colonel in the small U.S. Army and played polo every weekend at Fort Hamilton in Canarsie, Brooklyn. My dad and I went to many polo matches there in the late 30s and I acquired a real taste for the sport. (Not that I would ever want to play it. My experience with horses was confined to seeing every Western movie that came down the pike, and to this day my favorite movie of all time is Red River. A high point of my life was working a a co-producer of Cinerama's "How The West Was Won.") When I did come to L.A. in the late fifties, I got to see several polo matches at this same Will Rogers field.
On Sunday, they auctioned off several nice packages for the benefit of the charities. I was thrilled to see some of Lyndon Faulkner's fabulous Pelican protective computer cases being offered, and they raised over $50,000. this day. One of the polo players for the Will Rogers team, a stout fellow named Vladimir Rivkin, told me: "Polo is one of the world's most unique sports, an amazing and exciting activity which combines great athletes with the most amazing creatures in the world, the horse." At which point he said he had to get ready for the match and I prepared for the match by consuming yet anther glass of Taittinger. Good stuff, that.
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