Gareth A Davies with the latest in world polo, including lawyers flying the flag, England’s victory over Ireland
The Royal Family have been instrumental in making English polo what it is, Guards Polo Club CEO Neil Hobday has told Telegraph Sport in an exclusive interview, as the prestige club housed in Windsor Great Park celebrates its 60th anniversary.
“Polo is a sport that has been through many ups and downs since the second world war,” Hobday, who joined Guards having worked for IMG and Donald Trump, told me, as the club plans a special season. There are also major announcements due to be made in the coming week.
“To have a club enjoying its 60th anniversary in this sport and this business is an extraordinary achievement.
Everybody at the club is hugely excited about this year because of that and the fact that our president will be part of our celebrations, kicking off with a cocktail party at Windsor Castle, which he’s generously hosting. It’s very highly subscribed already.
“Later in the year we’ll be having a huge summer ball, dinner dance with a unique polo match to begin with. The feel and style will be the 50s because that’s when we were formed.
“There are one or two other surprise events that will occur through the season to really mark an extraordinary anniversary and an extraordinary achievement made possible by all of the members, the army, the president, his family, professionals from all over the world and particular sponsors, without whom this club certainly wouldn’t be in the financial position it is in. The members and sponsors combined make this a great club.”
With the Royal patronage, Hobday believes English polo would not be in the healthy position it enjoys in 2015.
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“I think it’s undeniable, from Lord Mountbatten to the Duke of Edinburgh to the Prince of Wales to the Duke of Cambridge,” he said. “All of them have been incredibly enthusiastic polo players and very supportive of the sport and the development of the sport in this country.
“I think English polo is extremely fortunate to have that involvement over many generations.
“I think it made a difference because they certainly attracted a great deal of media interest. They attracted sponsors, huge crowds to events they were playing in, they were able to raise money for important charities, so I think they have played a very significant role in the sustainability and growth of the sport.”
Like many within the sport, Hobday would delight in seeing the Princes play more. “I think everyone who knows their public and work commitments knows why they can’t play more but would like to see them play more. I think they’d like to play more. If they could, they probably would. They just have to manage it with all their other duties,” he explained.
England back to winning ways in Arena Polo
England defeated Ireland to win the International Arena Polo Test Match at Hickstead last Saturday, beating Ireland 18-13, to claim the Bryan Morrison Trophy, but will be without their captain Chris Hyde in the United States this weekend.
Hyde has not been able to gain his visa in time to lead the side against the Americans.
But at Hickstead, with the two highest-goal teams in the fixture’s history lining up for the match, Hyde showed why is one of the world’s very finest indoor players.
At half time the score was 9-5 in Ireland’s favour, the second half saw England fight their way back into the lead, and with just two goals separating the teams with the final 2min 30sec left on the clock, England showed their class: Hyde (9-goals), Jamie Le Hardy (7) and Jonny Good (8) increased their lead to five goals.
After chukkas, Hyde explained that a dominant second half had been part of their game plan. “It was part of our team play. We had used our weaker horses by the end of the second chukka, knowing we’d need a strong third chukka and then would have the wind for the last chukka,” he said.
Hyde was pleased to be on the winning side once again, after the USA ended England’s unbroken winning streak in last year’s Test Match. The 9-goal player, who is Europe’s highest rated Arena player, gave credit to his team and to everyone who provided ponies for the match.
“Jamie and Jonny haven’t played a competitive match for months and got this big call up. When you get players of the quality of Jamie and Jonny on a team together they’re going to be tough to beat, and they were.”
Jamie Le Hardy won the Most Valuable Player award, while Irish team player Richard Le Poer’s ride Dig Deep was the Best Playing Pony. Richard’s Ireland team mates were Sebastian Dawnay and Ryan Pemble, both 8-goal players
In the Hickstead 12-Goal Challenge, which preceded the Test Match, the Irish team (Richard Fagan, Niall Donnelly and Michael Henderson) won 20-9 against Wales (Ricky Cooper, Roddy Matthews and Roddy Williams), ending the Welsh side’s three-year winning streak.