Chukkas and Challengers

  This year’s Hurlingham Chesterton’s Polo in the Park promises style, panache and faster thrills than ever before

Article by Rupert Watkins

The annual social and polo highlight of the London season is warming up for another year of thrills and spills. This year marks another step forward for the event as the first international match to be held at the Hurlingham Club for decades takes place on Friday June 5th. Riddle had the chance to swot up on its chukka and mallet chat at a couple of pre-events recently – a player’s dinner at M Restaurant in Threadneedle Street and the team draw at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.

As a game, Polo in the Park takes some of its rules from both full pitch and arena polo and adds some of its own. The pitch is smaller than a normal sized one and the game is played with an arena ball (about the size of a small beach ball). Unlike other polo formats, Polo in the Park’s pitch has a 45 yard “D” around each goal. Goals scored from outside this “D” will be worth double points – encouraging long-range attempts to score. The most spectacular rule change is at the start of the chukka – “the dash”. The ball is placed in the centre of the pitch as one player from each team charges from his end to get to it first, a thrilling spectacle.

Under these rules, the Hurlingham will see its first international match since before the Second World War when England play South America on the Friday afternoon. Captained by James Beim (7 goal), the England team includes Matthew Perry and Tom Morley. Both sides will be playing off a combined 18 goal team handicap.

The increasingly high profile of the event is drawing ever more medium and high goal players to the Hurlingham. Chatting with players such as George Meyrick (6) and Oscar Mancini (4), it is clear the competitive edge between the teams builds every year as rivalries from the main English season are bought to this corner of Fulham. This is clearly shown in the number of players I spoke to, now bringing their first string ponies to the event. As Louisa Dawney, one of the organisers, commented, with space at a premium, the pony lines are getting ever fuller with more feed and water needed.

Tactics are being constantly refined and though the players expect faster play than ever before, a number commented on the peculiar problems of playing with an arena ball outside. Susceptible to wind, especially when a player lifts the ball, there is sometimes a tendency for the ball to float (or even go backwards in a gust) which rather puts a damper on the team pushing forward! Keep your fingers crossed for calm as well as sunny days come the event.

Such is Polo in the Park’s popularity, this year has seen their strongest ticket sales ever and the corporate hospitality day on the Friday has been sold out. In his speech of welcome at the Mandarin Oriental, the event’s Managing Director Rory Heron commented on the number of new sponsors coming to the event – such as Cutler & Gross, new restaurant partner M Restaurant and Fentimans tonic – as well as the lure of seeing ever more, “of the world’s greatest polo players in action”. riddle_stop 2

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