The third edition of the All Asia Cup took place during the first two weeks of January at VR Sports Club in Bangkok, Thailand. Without a doubt, the club gained increased attention thanks to the titles won by King Power during the 2015 English high-goal. While South East Asia seems to be an exotic destination for polo, it is a region bursting with activity and huge polo potential. In this part of the world, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha’s club plays a fundamental role in the development and practice of the sport and he opens the doors to PoloLine to show it to the world.
In polo terms, the VR Sports Club (together with Siam Polo Park, in Pattaya) has eighty employees; between them professional players (about ten Argentines), grooms (around sixty), and vets (one Argentine and two Thai locals), among others. “The season in the club runs from the first week of November through to beginnings of April, but we start walking the horses on September 1 so they are fit in time for the first tournament and the patrons can enjoy them as much as possible,” tells Lucas Luján, VR Sports Club Polo Manager. “We play polo four times a week in total. We always host tournaments with patrons who bring their team; they come from the Philippines, China, Malaysia. There are also many foreigners that make up half a team and patrons with less of an infrastructure who get together with another patron and make a team.”
The club is forty minutes from the center of Bangkok, and only fifteen minutes from Suvarnabhumi International Airport, the biggest airport in the country. The club boasts the following installations:
-Two fields. One is the main field of the club and the other is Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha’s private ground, which has flood lighting so that polo can be played at night. While the field is private, it is used as the main stage in every tournament. It is adjacent to the club house, so spectators can enjoy the games from the stands. The other ground was made for members. There will be another field ready by next season.
-One arena. Three years ago the club carried out a school program, and an International Polo School was established with the objective of encouraging children to play polo and generate a group of Thai players. Forty children take part in the program and attend polo lessons during eight months of the year, from November to July. While many employees head to England once the season finishes in April, students continue with their lessons thanks to a separate string of horses and a group of Argentine professionals that stay at the VR Sports Club.
-Golf course, basketball and tennis courts.
-140 boxes. By next season there will be 60-80 additional boxes.
-Fully furnished rooms for grooms (they all live at the club).
-King Power warehouses.
-Houses for polo professionals (two per house).
“The role Vichai and his children play in the development of polo in Asia is very important,” confirmed Luján. “Vichai always looked to give people and patrons the possibility of playing polo. We work hard to offer patrons the best horses possible. Eight teams played the All Asia Cup and they were delighted with the horses. Last year we played an 18-goal tournament with the same horses. We focus on bringing the best horses for both patrons and players. We put a lot of effort into the service. Each patron who plays has two grooms and a professional to help him with everything he needs, and another person who hands him a towel and a drink between chukkers; that is very important for us. Everyone who has come to play here has returned. You come to a place where you are well looked after, where playing polo does not come at a high cost, where you can play on good fields, even at night, where people assist you in everything, and the horses are good. And Thailand is an incredible destination; we are near Bangkok and we have a beach only an hour away. Everything is available.”
The club has certainly gained recognition since it began to host important polo events, such as the All Asia Cup or the King’s Cup. There is more movement each year, as more people return to play. Patrons in the club enquire about taking their organisation over and many patrons with a smaller infrastructure, 10-12 horses, have everything organised there. And while the level of organisation is very high, the sporting level is also noteworthy. Brothers Top and Tal, both members of the Thai Polo Team, demonstrated of high level of polo during last year’s English high-goal season, where they played well and showed their polo knowledge.
Speaking about Top and Tal, Luján states: “The guys are incredible, respectful and educated. We get on well. And Vichai is a great person; he is always moving forward and doing stuff well, just like the boys. They do things on a big scale. They like being in the loop about everything related to polo. They like playing important tournaments, for example, and they decide whether they need to bring over big name professionals.”
This area is certain to keep growing, and when it comes to planning the future, the club has big plans: “We dream about doing something like Dubai. In three years time, we want to have 10 or 12 strong patrons, along with the others. We want to be able to pay medium goal, 16 or 18-goals, at a constant level and continue to promote polo here.”