On a sultry evening the stars of polo gathered at the Museum of Polo and Hall of Fame to pay tribute to the latest inductees to the Hall of Fame. Honored for their epic parts of polo history were, Sunny Hale, Ruben Gracida, Jimmy Newman, Roy L. Barry and horses Ruifino and Lovely Sage.
Considered the “Academy Awards of Polo”, guests walked the red carpet and were greeted for the Grand Reception with flutes of bubbly from the Korbel Bubbles bar, an array of passed hors d’oeuvres and other wines and spirits courtesy of Lipman Brothers LLC, Brown Forman, Bacardi USA, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, Korbel, and new sponsor Line 39 Wine.
The evening is always a very special time for getting reacquainted with old friends and making new ones while exploring the Museum and its many new exhibits. One of the highlights of the recently unveiled exhibits was “Partners in Polo, Notable Horses and Artists of the 20th and 21st Centuries”. This exhibit is a retrospective highlighting not only the achievements of our noble equine partners, but explores their special relationships to the people who loved them and the artists who portrayed them.
Following the reception guests were ushered into the outdoor pavilion and treated to a lavish seated dinner sponsored by Marc and Melissa Ganzi and Grand Champions Polo Club. The evening’s entertainment was sponsored by Wayne and Pamela Garrison. The Museum also gave to each attendee a very special gift, a book called PoloArt by Melinda Brewer. The book featured a collection of photos and artwork celebrating the great ponies of our sport during the past season. Published by the Museum, and given as a gift with donation after the dinner, this project was sponsored by Central New York Community Foundation, Maureen Brennan and the Brennan Family Foundation with additional sponsorship support from Gillian Johnston and the Tucker Foundation.
After dinner the awards ceremony began, during which six inductees were welcomed to the Hall of Fame. Conducted by Master of Ceremonies and Museum Chairman Marty Cregg and with Museum President, Melissa Ganzi presenting, the awards started off with the great gray mare Ruifino. The award was accepted via message from the grandson of Ruifino’s owner John Hay “Jock” Whitney, Peter Bonaventura. The letter, read by Museum Chairman Marty Cregg described how proud the family was of the honor and how important this mare was as a member of the famed string of Greentree team ponies in the 1930’s.
Having flown in from Hawaii, Ronnie Tongg was on hand to accept the award for the great pony owned by his father Ruddy, and played often by Ronnie, the beautiful mare Lovely Sage. Lovely Sage was the first winner of the Willis L. Hartman Award for Best Playing Pony of the U.S. Open tournament in 1965. Chairman Cregg quipped Ronnie also got the award for coming the longest distance of the night. .
Hall of Famer “Little” Roy Matthews Barry came to town with a whole Texas contingent of family and friends to accept the award for his father Roy Lawson Barry who received the honor for Posthumous Iglehart Award. Roy shared many memories he had of his father and their lively gang of polo-playing friends and the Barry clan, most of whom are Hall of Fame notables themselves.
Jimmy Newman, in full Texas-formal including black cowboy hat, was on hand to accept his award. The storytelling tradition continued with Jimmy sharing many wonderful and laughter-generating “yarns” and also noted how pleased he was to be inducted at the same time as his good friends and people he admired so much – Roy, Sunny, and Ruben.
The mood then turned solemn and the crowd went silent as the presentation started to honor the late champion of polo, Sunny Hale. It was difficult to summarize in a short introduction the magnitude of what Sunny Hale accomplished in her life. To accept the award on behalf of Sunny were her friends Joanne, Dale and Tiana Smicklas. The moving words from Dale describing the essence of who Sunny was and what she meant to those who knew her took its emotional toll on him as it did on all who had gathered in tribute to Sunny. There were many tears that turned into an eruption of applause and a standing ovation.
It was a hard act for Ruben Gracida to follow but he was able to successfully cap off the night with some self-effacing humor and an off-the-cuff speech that he kept blaming on out of order papers and the fact that it was all in Spanish. He told of the many opportunities for which he was grateful and it was a charming moment when he called his children Sophie and Weston up to stand beside him.
Video of this year’s Gala will be viewable soon and others from past years dating to 2004 can be seen on the Museum’s website at www.polomuseum.com.
The Hall of Fame Dinner is the largest fundraiser for the Museum each year and we thank the polo community for its support and wish to again express our gratitude to all of the afore-mentioned sponsors and also to Alex Pacheco for his photographic support for the exhibits and the dinner, to Melinda Brewer for the portraits of the Horses to Remember, Frederic Roy for promoting the Museum and the dinner in the Morning Line, Krystal Zaskey Photography for additional photographic support for the evening, to Chukker TV for their exhibit support and to all the great volunteers who help make this wonderful event possible.