Dubbed the sport of kings, the perception polo is only for titled, trust-fund folk born with silver mallets in their hands is not entirely true.
Far from prancing about on horseback, polo is fast, furious, skillful and rough – considered to be one of the most dangerous sports in the world.
Argentine Ignacio ‘Nacho’ Figueras, a 6-goal handicap player and face of Ralph Lauren, likens polo to playing golf in an earthquake.
Labeled the ‘David Beckham of polo’, Figueras is just one of the big names coming together to deliver a day of high octane action alongside the glamour at the 2020 Pacific Fair Magic Millions Polo.
Olympic Equestrian silver medallist Zara Tindall will line up with Figueras, his wife Delfina Blaquier, Australian Polo captain Jack Archibald, his brother and former Australian captain Rob Archbold, jockeys Frankie Dettori, Hugh Bowman, rugby league stars Billy Slater, Will Zillman and one of Australia’s leading female players Phillipa Fitz-Henry from Beaudesert, Queensland.
Growing up in a polo-playing family, Phillipa has been riding for as long as she can remember.
“Dad had me on a horse when I was a few months old, in the baby carrier,” smiles Phillipa, who competed in her first polo tournament at 11. “My three brothers also play, as well as mum and dad.”
With an international ladies handicap of six goals and an open handicap of one goal, Phillipa is among the top 20 female players in the world.
“Ladies polo around the world is growing immensely strong,” says Phillipa who spends summer playing in New Zealand before heading to England during our winter to play in the three-month-long women’s circuit. “It’s hard to rival polo in terms of an exciting sport to play and watch.”
“You are sitting on an animal with its own personality and mind, and somehow it’s allowing you to run full pace, crash and bash and somehow you manage to hit this tiny ball and score a goal,” enthuses Phillipa. “I absolutely love the sport. It’s such a passion. The joy you get out of communicating, coming together, finding mutual respect and achieving a goal together with this big animal is incredible. We can’t speak the same language but somehow you manage as a team.”
That rush of excitement is just enticing for spectators.
“As a spectator, you don’t see anything else like it,” says Phillipa. “We’re going as fast as they do on the racetrack and then we’re colliding into each other like rugby players.”
“We love our animals, they’re not just machines. The horses really enjoy what they do as well. They love the sport. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t do it.”
Pacific Fair Magic Millions Polo is not just about champagne, fashion and a who’s who, it is a family-friendly and affordable event with general admission family passes starting from $50.
“Polo is for everyone and I love both sides of it. I love playing in the country, all rough and dirty and then stepping up in the big city to play, seeing people with their fancy frocks on and champagne having a flash day out, it is really special,” says Phillipa. “For those who don’t know much about polo, just come and see what it is all about. Have a fun day out with the glitz and glam and come meet the players. We’re not as fancy as we look!”
“There’s always some action happening which means you can sip your champagne tuck into your hors d’oeuvres and then get back to the side of the field and watch something absolutely thrilling.
Royalty aside, Phillipa is chuffed to be rubbing shoulders with rugby league legend Billy Slater, who is also a former trackwork rider for trainer Gai Waterhouse.
“My younger brother gave him a polo lesson in Victoria last week, so that’s pretty cool,” smiles Phillipa. “I may or may not have been bragging to my friends I’m going to play polo with Billy Slater.”
* 2020 Pacific Fair Magic Millions is on Sunday, January 5, 2020
This feature has been produced in collaboration with City of Gold Coast