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The Sport of Kings Returns To Bridgehampton Polo Field

Originally Posted: July 21, 2009

Edward Callaghan

The Polo action got underway on Saturday at the Mercedes Benz Challenge at David Walentas’ Two Trees Farm in Bridgehampton, drawing plenty of spectators and players. All polo field photos by Joe Strand

Bridgehampton - Polo - the sport of kings, shahs, tribal chieftains and Long Island gentility came back on Saturday, July 18 for yet another season with the Mercedes Benz Challenge at David Walentas' sprawling Two Trees Farm in Bridgehampton.

Desiree Gruber with her husband Kyle MacLachlan and their son Callum. Photo by Rob Rich

This summer's matches, spread over six Saturdays, promises to be some of the most exciting in the sport of polo.

Several thousand spectators from the VIP tent habitues to the bleacher-sitting "real" polo fans watched one of the most exciting matches in recent years between Cinque Terre/Heatcote, sponsored by Alessandro Bazzoni and certified sponsored by Michael Borrico, and the sport's greatest athletes competing for one of polo's most treasured prizes. Returning were some of the East End's most high-profile and glittering VIPs, celebrities and media.

The exact origin of polo, the oldest team sport, is unknown - but was probably first played by nomadic warriors over 2,000 years ago. Used for training cavalry, the game was played from Constantinople to Japan in the Middle Ages.

Tamerlane's polo grounds can still be seen in Samarkand. The first recorded polo tournament was, believe it or not, in 600 B.C. when the Turkomans beat the Persians in a public match. The Persians and the Mogul conquerors of India spread the game of polo across the eastern world.

The British Colonial regiments soon adopted the sport and eventually it made its way to the Gold Coast of Long Island where it became a passion of such well-known sportsmen as Tommy Hitchcock and Jock Whitney at the tony Meadow Brook Club where the first matches were played. The Meadowbrook Polo Club was formally incorporated in 1881. Members played polo regularly on the infield of the racetrack at the Mineola Fair Grounds on Long Island.

In the tent are Liz Arismendy, Nikki Laura Cohen and Leslie Pullman. Photos by John Wegorzewski

The Meadowbrook Polo Club's first polo field was created in 1884, leading to Long Island's role as "Polo Capital of the World" during the 1920s and 1930s. The Long Island Railroad even ran special trains and it was not unusual for the stands to be filled with 40,000 eager spectators. Harry Payne Whitney took the sport from a gentlemanly canter to a high-charging, fierce game. Within 10 years; there were numerous polo clubs on Long Island. Over the next 50 years, the sport of polo achieved tremendous popularity in the United States.

Polo is played all over the East End but the Mercedes Benz matches on the Blue Star Jets Field at Two Trees Farm have become internationally famed. In 1996, publishing magnate Peter Brant and his fellow polo paying pal billionaire Neil Hirsch established the Bridgehampton Polo Club after playing with the White Birch team in Palm Beach and Greenwich. Hirsch with star polo player Nacho Figueras later created the Black Watch team which they co-own. Thus a new Hamptons tradition was born.

Cocktails on the polo field at Two Trees in Bridgehampton.

The annual event is a highlight of the social season and draws an eclectic crowd - like the Hamptons itself - from the worlds of fashion, investment and banking, TV and film and a dose of old-fashioned blue-bloods for whom the game has never lost its thrill.

John and Ally Hubbell with their children take in the matches.

This year the crowd in the always packed VIP tent (where those not rich enough to buy a private tent or lucky enough to be invited to dine in one) was a little less frantic than last year and actually was a great opportunity to catch up with the doings of old friends and make some new ones. As well, there was plenty of star gazing available with a number of celebs who eschewed the ultra-exclusive VVIP tent where a reclusive Chace Crawford was holed up all day avoiding the press almost completely.

Glad to be out in the sunshine were Project Runway producer Desiree Gruber and her husband "Desperate Housewives" star Kyle MacLachlan and their tiny son Callum were smiling their way though the mob with stops to chat with old pals; Kourtney Kardashian of the reality show "Keeping up with the Kardashians" was looking sexy and slinky as ever and a very happy Ben Silverman, Co-Chairman of NBC Entertainment & Universal Studios was glad-handing his way both in and out of the tent – maybe he got another ratings boost.

The fierce sport of polo can be as dangerous as it is exciting.

Taking a whirl around the tent, which this year featured gorgeous teak chairs, lounges, ottomans and tables to pull up to when the tootsies got weary of the constant running back and forth though the football field sized tent. Film producer and former owner of Saracen's in Wainscott Michael Tadross was holding court and proudly talking about his upcoming line-up of projects. "We're currently shooting "A Couple of Dicks" in New York with Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan - and hope to wrap location work in mid-August and release it Feb. 16, he stated. He also told us that Southamptonite Jacqueline Murphy has a featured role in the flick. His real excitement showed when he talked about another favorite project, "Sherlock Holmes" with Robert Downey, Jr. as the deerstalking capped, pipe smoking detective. "We have a got a real winner and we're opening it on Christmas Day this year," he beamed.

Moving on we ran into tall blonde beauty Alexandra Karcev, marketing director for Bloomingdale's who was on a search for another tall blonde - this blond male, Kelsey Grammer who, alas, did not make the opening day. Alexandra told us that Kelsey is starring in the re-make of "Fame" with Debbie Allen and she was hoping to catch his eye and chat about it. One of our favorite blonde activists Beth Ostrosky-Stern, a Polo regular, made the rounds quickly with kisses and smiles for all as she was dashing off to the Bay Street gala.

Baroness Sheri de Borchgrave and Ian Shapolsky.

The hot spot in the tent was the mammoth bar where skilled mixologists shook up the afternoons signature cocktails with Stoli Elit Vodka, "The Hamptonite" in three versions - orange, raspberry and blueberry. Needless to say these guys didn't take a break for one minute. Proving that good manners never go out of style, Distinct Homes broker Eric George ferried cocktails back to a number of folks too short to be seen by the bartenders and earned himself plaudits for his gentlemanly behavior from several height challenged pretty ladies, especially those who simply wanted a bit of sponsor Coca-Cola's sweet stuff.

Outside the tent was as busy as inside, with a number of prime sponsors helming elegant booths offering everything from gourmet potato chips from Pop Chips to sleek 400 foot yachts from the extraordinary design team at Riva. Jiannina Castro and a bevy of South Florida beauties Brett Keating, Kimberly Diamant and Leslie Adams were extolling the charm of Sag Harbor. Jiannina said," We took a house in Sag Harbor which is the most beautiful port on the northeast coast. We have one of our signature yachts docked there and will be hosting guests for cruises and demonstrations."

Good neighbor visitors, she told us the company had donated a yachts cruise for Russell Simmons' Art For Life gala. Jon Gruen of OPTYX fame was also on hand helping the ladies and gents try on the most fashionable frames for reading glasses and cool shades for the beach or a cruise on a Riva yacht!.

Fred and Jacquelin Stahl enjoy the day.

Of course Polo Ralph Lauren will be there for the next weeks as the exclusive apparel retailer has an on site shop at the Bridgehampton Polo matches. Evocative of the spirit and heritage of Polo, the shop overflows with items from Ralph Lauren's Black Watch collection and The World of Polo Fragrance. Spectators visiting the Ralph Lauren shop can still have a great view of the polo matches while shopping and be able to enter to win a Polo lesson with Black Watch team member Nacho Figueras. Polo Ralph Lauren became an official sponsor of the Black Watch Polo team in 2007, providing apparel created exclusively for the polo players.

The real star of the day, Figueras, the face of Polo was there himself manning the booth, signing autographs and posing for pictures - something he does a lot of these days as the man in three different men's cologne ads for Ralph Lauren - Polo Black, Blue and Green. As well as the Ralph Lauren Black Watch clothing line named for the impeccably dressed Black Watch team sponsored by Ralph Lauren. Nacho was delighted to be back in The Hamptons," My wife and child and I love our visits here - the ocean, the beach and the farms."

Asked about his recent match with Britain's Prince Harry, he said,"He is a strong player, fierce - I would love to play with him again."

Sporting large hats are Marrianne Halvorsen, Sumi Trenholme and Aleksandra Slowinska.

Strolling the display of gleaming Mercedes Benz, was a most colorful cavalcade of attendees. People on the East End dress up like peacocks for Polo - ladies in flowing garden dresses and large sun-shading straw hats and gents in boldly patterned shirts and trousers in a kaleidoscope of color and styles. Bright orange was a popular color for the ladies with philanthropist Jean Shafiroff looking oh-so sexy in a cleavage baring DVF, Sharon Bush in a fresh floral, Sheri, Baroness de Borchgrave in flowing jersey, Channel 12 's entertainment reporter Elisa Di Stefano in a summery orange print skirt and Lauren Day Roberts in a shocking pink and orange banded halter.

Nacho of course flew the Black Watch colors from Ralph Lauren; the Kezner guys Thomas Trube, Philip Silverman and Matthew Simon sported hip blazers, shorts and bow ties from the Kezner collection; Emanuel Sylvano looking like a junior member of Nacho's team was decked out in Harmont & Blaine and Gregory D'Elia was hard to miss in a bright coral colored linen blazer. Nice to see that folks shop locally!

Along the perimeter of the field on either side of the VIP tents are the very exclusive private tents which families take for the season as Andy and Kate Rodgers did again this year. With wagons pulled up all around for the kids to play in who were not interested in the game, the adults were free to sip cocktails and dine leisurely while watching the match. And this first of the season was one indeed to watch as the two teams were neck and neck until the end of the third chukker. In the last chukker more points were scored by both with the Cinque Terre/Heathcote winning with a final score of 14-10.

Cinque Terre/Heathcote wins with a final score of 14-10.

The season will continue for the next five consecutive Saturdays, ending Aug. 22. A portion of proceeds from the Mercedes-Benz Bridgehampton Polo Challenge will go to the South Fork Breast Cancer Coalition. The VIP tent will host an invitation-only cocktail reception for exclusive guests each Saturday afternoon during the tournament. Matches will take place from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Updated: July 23, 2009, 7:53 am
Appeared In: out and about >> within the hedges