By Sharon Robb
With sweeping views of the Statue of Liberty and Manhattan skyline along the Hudson River shoreline, polo took center stage Saturday at the Veuve Clicquot Polo Classic at Liberty State Park.
On a sunny, summer day, an estimated record crowd of 10,000 watched Veuve Clicquot defeat the Liberty Comets, 9-7, in an exciting four-chukker exhibition match that went down to the final chukker.
The winning foursome of Delfina Blaquier, Lia Salvo, Nacho Figueras and Bill Ballhaus broke open a 6-6 tie in the final chukker to take the lead for good against the team of Melissa Ganzi, Ashley Van Metre Busch, Hilario Figueras and HH Sawai Maharaja Padmanabh Singh.
The tenth annual anniversary event featured female polo players in the lineup for the first time. Ganzi, USPA Florida Circuit Governor, Grand Champions Polo Club President and Flexjet patron; Blaquier, model, photographer and wife of Nacho Figueras; Busch of Altair Polo and wife of Kurt Busch; and Salvo, Argentina’s top woman player, all made their debut in one of the most well-attended and watched games around the world.
“I think it’s empowering and very important for women,” Figueras said. “They are taking over this sport. They are wonderful. We wanted to make a point because of the history of women in power and how Madame Clicquot took this brand and company to the next level.”
Figueras, who along with Veuve Clicquot, first brought the event to New York in 2008 after a 70-year absence, was named Most Valuable Player. It was the ninth time Figueras’ team has won the game. He lost to Prince Harry in 2009.
“I am very proud of what we have created in ten years,” Figueras said. “I think the event has grown a lot. We are very grateful that New York has embraced the sport of polo.”
Via Lactea, played by Hilario Figueras, and owned by Ballhaus, was selected Best Playing Pony.
Salvo scored a game-high four goals to lead scoring. Nacho Figueras had three goals and Ballhaus and Blaquier each had one. For the Liberty Comets, Ganzi and Hilario Figueras each had three goals and Singh added one.
Veuve Clicquot jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the opening chukker behind goals by Figueras and Salvo. Goals by Ganzi and Hilario Figueras made it 2-2 midway through the second chukker. Salvo and Figueras scored again for a 4-2 halftime lead followed by the ceremonial 30-minute divot stomp.
The teams tied twice, 5-5 and 6-6 in the third chukker before Veuve Clicquot pulled away 8-6 on goals by Figueras and Ballhaus. Midway through the fourth chukker Ganzi’s goal cut the lead to 8-7 but Salvo’s final goal iced the win.
The celebrity event, which has grown from 250 spectators its first year, was the official kickoff to the summer season and attracted a star-studded crowd of A-listers including Priyanka Chopra, who threw out the first ball; Nicole Kidman, Kendall Jenner, Lucy Hale, Luke Evans, Freida Pinto, Keri Russell, Nicky Hilton Rothschild, Logan Browning, Jessica Jung, Jazmin Grace Grimaldi, Kate Mara and Jordan Fisher of the Hamilton cast, who sang the National Anthem.
Figueras and several other players are familiar faces at Grand Champions Polo Club.
Figueras participates in the annual Great Futures Celebrity Polo Match that helps raise money for the Neil S. Hirsch Family Boys & Girls Club of Wellington. Hirsch was among the VIP crowd on Saturday.
Ballhaus, making his fourth Verve Clicquot Polo Classic appearance, and Hilario Figueras competed for Beverly Equestrian and Busch led Altair Polo during the winter season at the Wellington-based club.
Juan Salinas-Bentley of Wellington served as game umpire. Wellington-based Polo Gear exclusively designed and produced the team jerseys for the event.
Figueras, the face of Ralph Lauren’s line of Polo fragrances and clothing for 17 years, did his part to promote the event during the week leading up to the game. He threw out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium, witnessed the Empire State Building glow in Veuve Clicquot’s trademarked orange, appeared at Hublot’s New York City boutique to unveil a limited edition time-piece to celebrate the 10th anniversary, and granted dozens of television, magazine and newspaper interviews.
Before the game, Figueras and players waved mallets in the air to get the well-dressed crowd going and after the game did a ceremonial ride around the field high-fiving fans.
“This is a special game for me,” Figueras said. “The idea was to bring polo back to New York and back to the people because there was history of polo being played here. To play polo with the skyline and Statue of Liberty is a very strong thing. Every time I sit on a horse and look up and see that I say ‘wow,’ I am mesmerized. But it is important to say that polo is still the main event.”
Actor and comedian Neil Patrick Harris was entertaining as the emcee admitting “I’ve never played polo or even been to a polo match. They actually gave me a pronounciation guide on how to say Veuve Clicquot as if champagne isn’t my second language. I googled and watched videos of the rules so that I wasn’t really, really inept when I was talking to people.”
Fifteen-time Grammy winner Alicia Keys, dressed in a cape with the phrase “She’s The Boss,” sang a post-game three-song set opening with “Girl On Fire.”
Singh, 18, a member of India’s national polo team, is now headed to the United Kingdom. India will play England in an international test match at Chestertons Polo in the Park on Friday, June 9th. He will also be the youngest to represent India in the June 29-July 7 World Cup zone playoffs in Iran.
The VC Polo Classic event benefitted Keep A Child Alive, a non-profit organization working to support children and families affected by HIV, and also Friends of Liberty State Park, an organization dedicated to keeping the park a free, green and non-commercial urban waterfront oasis.