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Polo Benefit: Prince Harry Plays Four Chukkers For The Cause

Originally Posted: June 01, 2009

Douglas MacKaye Harrington

HRH Prince Harry captained the Sentebale team at the Veuve Clicquot Manhattan Polo Classic. Photo by Florian Kogler

New York City - Thoroughbred racing may be called the Sport of Kings, but Polo, at least one sunny afternoon on Governor's Island off Manhattan, could best be described as the Sport of Princes. As part of his royal visit to New York City, HRH Prince Henry of Wales took to the ponies to raise funds for children in need in Africa, as their prince and Harry's friend, HRH Prince Seeiso of Lesotho, cheered him on.

Musician and actor L.L. Cool J at his first polo match. Photo by Douglas Harrington

This year's Veuve Clicquot Manhattan Polo Classic was in support of American Friends of Sentebale, a U.S. based charity that supports at-risk children in Lesotho, Africa. Sentebale was co-founded by the princes in memory of their mothers, Diana, Princess of Wales and Queen Mamohato of Lesotho. In Lesotho the word Sentebale means "forget me not," which is the plea of the estimated 400,000 orphaned and vulnerable children in this land-locked African country that battles extreme poverty and the world's third highest rate of HIV/AIDS.

Prior to the match, Prince Harry reiterated the pleas of these desperate children as he addressed the attendees in the VIP tent, who paid $50,000 a table to support this noble cause. "I won't bore you with statistics, but please believe me when I say that Lesotho is a mere microcosm of what is so wonderful, but also so tragic about Africa today. This beautiful kingdom has been ravaged by HIV/AIDS and poverty, leaving thousands of children without their parents."

Although VIPs like Matt Lauer, Madonna, Kilian Hennessy, Donna Karan, Mark Jacobs, Chloe Sevigny, Countess LuAnn de Lesseps and Kate Hudson, to name but a few, paid five figures per table, for $500 a head one could picnic on the lawn adjacent to the tent with a complimentary gourmet lunch and Veuve Clicquot champagne as well. Do not, however, assume this event was available only to those of fame and privilege, as one side of the field was free to the public. Close to a 1,000 spectators spread blankets with picnic lunches, filled the bleachers, and supported the event in their own way by purchasing glasses of champagne and luncheon specialties. Their altruism was no less noble in proportion to their wealthy neighbors across the field of play, as all proceeds of the event, thanks to the sponsor Veuve Clicquot, supported Sentebale.

Polo crowd favorite, Nachos Figueras, the new "face" of Ralph Lauren. Photo by Florian Kogler

While strolling the spectator side of the field I came across a trio (Joseph and Teresa Soltis and Tom Nelson) that created, purely for their own pleasure, a self-contained classic polo environment that was as toney as the VIP tent itself. They are true lovers of the sport with the best of intentions. "We try to get to as many polo matches as we can, the charity polo matches are usually our favorite. As they offer other things to see in addition to the regular polo match. We are pure spectators that try to always support a good cause." The altruistic spirit, so familiar to us and in which we in the Hamptons take so much pride, was not lost on the notables that walked the red carpet on Governor's Island. Those I spoke to at the event did not let, thankfully, the purpose of the event be lost in the hype of the event itself. One of the most eloquent expressions of the afternoon came from Cornelia Guest, "It is so important now, for those that have the means in this difficult economy to do so, to support events like this. It is a global struggle, we are all part of it, we that can, must help."

Fancy hatted ladies enjoy lunch in the VIP tent prior to the match. Photos by Douglas Harrington

Prince Seeiso spoke of the challenges of the children and the women in his country, "We are facing these problems because of the [past] civil war, the famine. It is the kids and the mothers, the women are the ones that are bearing the brunt. Now, in this context, it is the women that are the mothers of a nation. This is where, I think that Sentebale, in the next phase, needs to concentrate on. To make sure their child is educated in every respect so that they can be mothers. So that they can be the mothers that have no more orphans."

Prince Seeiso of Lesotho explaining the plight of his country's children.

While we were stamping down hoof divots on the field during halftime, a tradition for the spectators at polo matches, LL Cool J expressed his reasons for attending. "It is extremely important to me. HIV and AIDS has devastated a lot of people around the world and if you can lend your name, your energy, and your time to a cause like this, it is a good thing. Initially, that is what drew me to the event. I didn't know anything about polo. It turned out to be a really great, important event. It was a lot of fun." I asked the obviously athletic hip-hop artist if he was considering buying a horse and trying the sport himself. "I don't know, being athletic and swinging a mallet while riding a horse are two different things. I think I'll leave that to the professionals."

As far as polo professionals go, there is none more noted or familiar to Hamptonians than Mercedes Benz Summer Challenge rider Argentinian Nachos Figueras, the face and model of Ralph Lauren's Polo fragrances. "This event is very important and one of my missions in life was to bring more attention to the sport. To accomplish both in the same day is fantastic."

Although most attendees were donned in summer suits and dazzling hats and dresses, I tracked down a polo fan and amateur player, Peter Lydon (Development Director for the American Ballet Theater), wearing a Figuras number "2" Black Watch jersey and asked him to define what makes polo the special sport it is. "I think it is the true athletic of the sport. You are not just going 40 miles an hour on a horse down a field, your hitting a ball with a mallet while battling other players. The pure achievement of that activity makes the sport so exciting."

Author/actress/socialite Cornelia Guest once again lends her support to a notable cause.

The sponsor Veuve Clicquot, along with the St. Regis Hotel New York, who created and donated the event's cuisine, and Piaget, who served as the official timekeeper for the match and presented the winning team with their new Polo Forty-Five $11,900 timepieces, should all be heralded for their support of this outstanding event and extraordinary charity. As Aisha Thompson, Veuve Clicquot's U.S. Senior Brand Manager, sharing divot stamping duties with Cool J and I, explained, "Veuve Clicquot looks to get involved on a community level, on a country level, with organizations that are making a difference. Partnering with Prince Harry and Prince Seeiso was a natural fit for us."

On this day the Black Watch team lead by Figuras was outscored 6-5 by the Sentebale team captained by Prince Harry, but, in truth, no one lost. Not the players, either side, not the fans, famous or otherwise, and most importantly, not the children of Lesotho.

To lend your support to American Friends of Sentebale go to www.sentebale.org.

Frequently mistaken for the "Most Interesting Man in the World" from the Dos Equis commercials and the iconic gray-bearded Sean Connery, DMH is the Senior Contributing Editor at Hamptons.com. www.hamptons.com Hamptons HamptonsOnline HamptonsOnline


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