Uplifting news in Australia where Ros Packer and David Paradice will keep Ellerston tournaments alive; Cirencester Park full steam ahead with pitches to be on a par with Cowdray Park for 2016.
Rob Cudmore laments the decline in high-goal players from Australia and even New Zealand. It pains him.
Cudmore has spent decades in the UK, and is a hugely respected figure in British polo, but his heart will always lie with Australia. Cudmore was once a polo tutor to the Princes, William and Harry, but particularly the elder of the two boys. Cirencester Park is like his second home.
Ollie, the youngest son of Rob and his wife Sue, learnt his polo in England and at Longdole Polo Club under the supervision of his father, but has gone on to represent England, and is within a (very small) group of established polo professionals in this country. It has taken years of dedication.
But for Cudmore Senior, an ex-Australian international player, his pride in the green and gold colours of his homeland will never fade. He might be a committee member of the HPA’s welfare and coaching groups, but was a regular at Australia rugby matches at the Rugby World Cup in September and October.
He also agreed with your correspondent that Australia and New Zealand should have been featuring against England at polo this summer gone, just as the national cricket teams were meeting in a rivalry in the Ashes going back to 1882, with Tests having begun in 1877 between England and Australia.
“I don’t think Australia and New Zealand have got enough high goal pros anymore,” explained Cudmore, commenting overall on the state of the international series in England. “The international series is even quite tough now because people go off to Spain in August and at the end of July.”
“I believe It’s quite hard to get foreigners to commit to doing International Day,” he added. “I’m not sure that they shouldn’t be thinking about the day of the International and making it earlier in the season. The crowds are not there for the International anymore and the foreigners tend to be going away when that’s on.”
What has not helped for the Australian polo pro, reasons Cudmore, is the steady decline in James Packer’s interest in polo, and his complete withdrawal from the sport this year. Kerry Packer, his father, built a polo dynasty and raised the bar on the three continents.
“That was a big blow to Australian polo, bearing in mind Kerry Packer was always so generous,” explained Cudmore, who had rooted ties with Ellerston. “Anyone who wanted to play good polo could go there. I think that’s a real body blow for Australian polo. It’s a sad day for me because I was there playing from the beginning.”
“James Packer probably felt it was too expensive to do all the breeding, but it is a great shame. I think breeding is expensive wherever you go. The only ones who are making good with the breeding right now are the Pieres and Cambiaso. There’s not many others.”
Silver lining with Ros Packer and David Paradice keeping tournaments going at Ellerston
… But there has been a glimmer of good news in the last few weeks. I can reveal that Ros Packer, Kerry’s widow, kept a significant number of ponies, some of which she bought from son James. Moreover, Ros has teamed up with Australian businessman and polo patron David Paradice, and together they will keep polo tournaments running at Ellerston.
“Ros is carrying on the polo,” revealed Cudmore. “The production of horses will diminish hugely, but what it does mean, at least, is that people will be coming in there at Ellerston to play on the best grounds in the world. And they truly are. They are like billiard tables.”
Cirencester Park fields will be on par with Cowdray Park in 2016
2015 was an excellent season at Cirencester Park, Gloucestershire. Winter plans are well underway, and the aim of the club is to have fields as good as Cowdray Park next season.
“The crowds are up. We’re going to keep up with Guards and Cowdray by putting full irrigation in by next season. That’s all being developed now,” said Cudmore, the club’s welfare officer. “They’re about to dig the reservoir. And then what we’re trying to do is get it so that the ground is as good as Cowdray, basically, which we will do this year.”
There is some ambition at Cirencester, as I reported on at the beginning of last season. It will entail six irrigated grounds. The reservoir is being dug out, the finance has been arranged, and the club is full steam ahead in the off season.
“We’re trying to tempt a lot of the old patrons back. There’s a lot of work being done in that field,” explained Cudmore.
“The committee did a really good job getting big crowds in and tournament nominations were up. We’re getting people back who played here in the past. We’ve always been at the mercy of other clubs with their calendar, but it seems like we’ve got that pretty well sorted now and have tournaments people want to come and do that don’t clash with other tournaments at other clubs.”
Cudmore has also witnessed a rise in interest from teams wanting to play at Cirencester. “I think it’s getting stronger again. The high goal numbers were obviously down but I think it’s going to be similar next year.
Overall, with his eyes on the English game, Cudmore believes polo is headed in the right direction. “We’ve had a few tough years in polo in general with high goal teams dropping off and then the medium-low and everything. But I think things are moving in the right way.”
Losing Audi, he reckons, was a genuine body shot. “Obviously, losing the sponsorship was a blow but people are working pretty hard to find more. Sponsorship is tough, but people playing are pretty keen.”
As Cudmore assesses the current state of the game, his son Ollie is playing in the Copa De Diputados in Argentina – like Max Charlton, James Beim, Mark Tomlinson. It is a path well trod. Perhaps necessary for the development of the English pro.
“Ollie’s six in Argentina and five here. I think the young pros, obviously if they get to the high goal, they’re away. Ollie has been lucky enough to get high goal polo. It’s tough for the others, but the young pros that get themselves well mounted, as Ollie has done, are the ones in demand.”
It comes down to a market economy, he reckons. It’s pretty brutal, too.
“Basically, if you can somehow get yourself well mounted, you will get asked to play. When you get asked to play, you get the good jobs, you get more money and you get more horses. It’s a bit of a vicious circle. The good young pros are doing well. There’s probably some that struggle. The ones in the high goal, it’s rewarding for them. They can finance their winter.”
“A lot of young people want to be pros and some might not have enough ability to start with. The good guys, if they’ve got a work ethic, will shine through,” reasoned Cudmore. “I don’t think that anything’s changed much with the Hurlingham Polo Association doing much about bringing them through. It’s down to you. It’s a tough business. But it’s really always been like that.”