10-year-old gray off-the-track thoroughbred Sydney is a standout on the field delivering amazing plays and scoring opportunities for American 7-goaler Jesse Bray*. Purchased as an unraced yearling and trained by his father, Graham Bray, Sydney began playing competitively when she was 5 years old, traveling to Indio, San Diego and Santa Barbara, California, to jumpstart her career. Sydney’s light mouth and eagerness to play made her a clear prospect and as a 6-year-old, Sydney won Best Playing Pony honors under Graham in the 12-goal Rossmore Cup at Eldorado Polo Club (Indio, California). Recognizing her talent and knack for the game, Jesse seized the reins that summer in 2018, proudly claiming her for his high-goal string.
“She’s been one of my best since the day I got her,” shared Jesse, recalling Sydney’s innate talent in the sport from a young age. “When I was watching my dad play her as a five-year-old, I kept saying, ‘if you’re playing her, she’s ready for me!’” Now a key component in his string, Jesse’s patience to wait for Sydney to mature has paid off, as she proves time and time again to be an unstoppable force in even the most demanding matches.
Maturing over the years, Sydney’s coat has developed from a steel dappled gray to a lighter, freckled and spotted gray. ©David Lominska
Alongside Sydney’s growth, the Brays have been building their breeding and training operation over the past several years. Based out of Indio, California, the Bray family have six broodmares, with twenty head as a result ranging from newborn foals to 6-year-olds. “We quit getting thoroughbreds once we started breeding,” Jesse said. “You’ll being seeing a lot of our kiwi brand coming up soon!”
What age do you and your father typically start bringing horses into your strings?
“People sometimes play their good prospects at 3 years old, but this is our living, so we need horses to last 10 years, not three years. If I had played her as a 5-year-old, I would have had her one year earlier, but her career might have only lasted five years instead of ten. That’s kind of how we’ve always done things. We wait until they’re six or seven to really start pushing them in tournament polo so both their mind and body are more mature.
I remember stick-and-balling Sydney and she felt ready to go play high-goal at three years old. I probably could have. She was super nice, and quiet-minded with an amazing mouth.”
Sydney has been a standout in Bray’s string since her first season with him as a 6-year-old. ©David Lominska
How has Sydney grown over the years in terms of her physique and coat?
“When I started playing her, she was six, but she didn’t really fill out until she was probably seven or eight. Plus, in 2018, she was a steel dappled gray, now, she’s a much lighter freckled and spotted gray.”
What is the highest level of polo that Sydney has played?
“She played the 22-goal in the U.S. Open Polo Championship this year. That was her first Open. She’s also been playing the 16-goal in the summer at Santa Barbara for four years. The better the polo, the better she plays for sure. She’s a mare that needs to play better polo. She’s that style of horse; she’s powerful and needs to run. She’s a physical mare too, she’s not going to shy away from any bumps, she enjoys a tough bump, definitely one I win ride offs on. But that’s her attitude; she’s mean. She doesn’t like to lose, so she’s a lot of fun to play.”
What is Sydney like off the field?
“She’s not the easiest to deal with in the barn, she’s definitely got an attitude, which I think is what makes her better, honestly. You can’t walk by her without her popping out and trying to take a piece out of you. You have to show her on the ground that you’re the boss. Then she relaxes and lets you do your thing. But if she thinks she can bully you, she’s going to take advantage for sure.
The shoers know her now. If she’s having a bad day, I just tell them to come back tomorrow and try again. There’s no point fighting with her. I’ve also lost a couple chukkers over the years because of her kicking other mares in sets the day before. When she does that, she has to make up the extra minutes during the game!”
What chukker do you typically play Sydney?
“I like to play her in the beginning and at the end. So, some point in the first or second chukker, and then again in the fifth or sixth. The ones I play in the first come back again in the fifth and the ones I play in the second I will play again in the sixth chukker. So usually, I’ll put her in one of those chukkers. It just depends on the game. Our second game of the Silver Cup was the first game I played her this season, I’ve been saving her for the Pacific Coast Open.”
What makes Sydney unique?
“She’s on the bigger side for sure and she runs a little tall too. Actually, she runs really weird, especially at the slower speeds. She pushes off both of her back legs at the same time, so it’s almost like she pops forward. It doesn’t flow—I don’t know how to describe it. I’ve never had a horse that did that, but it works for her.”
Patagones’ Jesse Bray reaching for an offside tap shot against Slava Polo’s Michel Dorignac in the 2022 Wellington Polo Tour (WPT). ©Global Polo Entertainment
What type of bridle and bit do you play her in?
“She plays in an eggbutt gag. My dad gave her to me in a really small, little snaffle. And I played her in that for a few years. But when I started taking her to Florida and to bigger fields, I wanted a little bit more brakes on her. So I put her into the eggbutt gag and I play her in that now.”
Would you ever sell Sydney?
“A few people have asked me about trying her, but I’ve always said she’s not for sale. I find it hard enough to mount myself, so selling one of my best horses would be pretty difficult.”
Full of competitive spirit, Sydney has become a crucial partner in Bray’s success as a 7-goaler. ©David Lominska
Why do you love playing Sydney?
“She’s a mare that I win games on. She’s the one I try to get on in the important moments. I get on her in the sixth chukker when I really need a play or a goal. There was a game this winter in the 16-goal in Florida that we were winning by a bunch early, but then they started to come back, and they ended up tying it. In the last chukker, I scored a nice goal on her to win the game. She’s just that horse that makes me play well. She’s my style, she runs, she stops—she just suits me. I have three or four horses that any given day can be a little better than the other, but Sydney’s the one that I always want to play in one of the last two chukkers.”
*Jesse Bray is Team USPA alumnus. Team USPA is a USPA program designed to enhance and grow the sport of polo in the United States by identifying young, talented American players and providing mentored training and playing opportunities leading to a pool of higher rated amateur and pro players and the resultant giveback to the sport of polo.