By Darlene Ricker
If you had walked into Comestibles in Midhurst at noontime Friday, you might have thought you had inadvertently crashed a family party—and in a sense, you’d have been right. But this “band of brothers” that commandeered the tiny luncheonette is far from the usual collection of village cousins. These guys rolled in with a smorgasbord of non-British last names (Merlos, Roldan and de Lusarreta) and the vibe of a fighter pilot.
In two days’ time they would take the field like a steamroller in the 2016 Cartier Queen’s Cup quarterfinals, squelching Sifani 16-7. But right now they are focused on sustenance. The whole La Indiana gang has taken over the eatery: players, wives, kids, the team farriers, veterinarians, grooms (respectfully referred to as “trainers”), the sports medicine staff and various and sundry others. There are literally no other customers in the restaurant—not because the food isn’t good, but because there is no room. With only three tables and a few seats at the counter, this little gem of a hideaway is the perfect cocoon for the team and their entourage.
While the heavily Argentine crowd chows down on massive platters of eggs, sausage, bacon and toast, Nic Roldan (a/k/a “the American”) picks at a simple jacket potato, known in the U.S. as a stuffed potato. One of the crewmembers shakes his head and says with an amused look, “You never know what that guy’s going to order.” Yesterday at the team’s other fave dining spot, Cowdray Farm Shop & Café, Roldan feasted on a protein shake, a ghastly looking green concoction that only someone from Florida, his native turf, could possibly consider edible, let alone a meal.
As usual, the players and staff had started the day together in the barn aisle, passing their customary communal cup of mate before an 8:30 a.m. game on their practice field at the 16,500-acre Cowdray Estate. The field’s stunningly dramatic backdrop is the Cowdray House, which is often mistaken by tourists as a castle but is actually the historic Cowdray family residence.
All in all it’s been a much easier go for La Indiana in England than many other Queen’s Cup teams. Not only have they been winning—the team stands 3-1 going into Wednesday’s semifinals—but this time they are all stabled together at Cowdray. Their home base will be particularly handy when the 2016 Jaeger-LeCoultre Gold Cup begins there June 21.
“The guys are really close,” said a member of the staff a few hours after La Indiana won the quarterfinals. “It’s a different dynamic when the whole team eats together every day and keeps their horses in the same barn.”
The horses, of course, are the core of any polo team. Roldan made a strategic decision to bring his own string this year instead of leasing horses as before. Based on La Indiana’s record so far—and the delighted grin on his face when he walks into the stable and is greeted by New York, one of his favorite ponies—it was clearly the right choice.