Santa María Polo Club is home to the summer tournament. :: J-LANZA
At around seven in the evening, when the heat eases off, a steady flow of cars can be seen making their way along the normally quiet streets that lead to the Santa María Polo Club in Sotogrande. It’s time for the day’s polo, which is more than just a sport; it is the focal point of social life in Sotogrande.
In Spain, to say that polo is a minority sport would be an understatement; however it is in this corner of the Andalusian coastline that the world’s most important tournament of the summer season takes place.
In countries with a great polo tradition, such as Argentina, fans follow the results of the Sotogrande games with enthusiasm. There is even a mobile phone application that provides immediate information about developments on the field in this Land Rover-sponsored tournament that came to an end last weekend.
Twelve high-handicap teams compete in the Santa María Polo Club’s International Tournament, a level of participation that no other club achieves. Among them are six of the world’s top ten players.
One of them, considered the best player in history, is Argentinian Adolfo Cambiaso, of the Valiente club (eventual tournament winners), who is married to model María Vázquez. Together they make the celebrity couple that generates the most media interest in their country - they have even been called Argentina’s answer to the Beckhams.
However one of best-loved players in this tournament is Uruguayan-born David Stirling, the only ten-goal player (the highest handicap) who isn’t from Argentina. He plays for the Ayala Polo Team, considered the local side in Spain along with Dos Lunas. Playing under the British flag in the high-handicap category are two teams, Halcyon Gallery and La Indiana.
Each team has an average of 45 horses as each player needs at least a different horse for each of the six periods of play (chukkers), one of the reasons why this is among the most expensive sports in the world. Owning a polo team, especially one of high-handicap, is only within reach of the holders of the world’s greatest fortunes.
Magnates or wealthy heirs choose this sport, not only as spectators but also as players. And so it is common to see the patrons (owners) competing on the field.
This is the case of Víctor Vargas, known in Spain for being the father-in-law of Spanish aristocrat Luis Alfonso de Borbón, and is the owner of the team Lechuza Caracas.
Also at the head of a team (King Power) is T. Srivaddhannaprabha of Thailand whose father, Vichai Srivaddhannaprabha is one of the richest men in his country.
Other patrons include James Packer (Ellerston), whose current partner is Miranda Kerr, as well as illustrious Spanish and foreign surnames such as Domecq, Sainz de Vicuña, Hanbury and Stirling, the latter being descendants of the Hispano-Filipino family responsible for founding Sotogrande and importing polo to Spain.
It’s no surprise therefore that the prize in this prestigious tournament is not cash but the great honour of lifting one of the most important cups in the world of polo.
The Bulgari Gold Cup was presented to the winning team, Valiente, after the final on Saturday, by Jordi Mollá, ambassador for the Save The Children-Bulgari Project, and Princess Béatrice d'Orléons.