Eight years ago, the polo world mourned the loss of one the greatest players of the history of the sport, a true legend: the one and only Carlos Gracida. On February 25, 2014, he suffered a heavy fall while playing in Palm Beach, leaving him in a critical state due to a bad head injury. Carlos was sent to the closest medical center, but despite the doctors’ efforts, he wasn’t able to survive. He was only 53 years-old.
“I think one’s greatest legacy is how people see you as a person,” Carlos’ son, Carlitos, told to PoloLine. “And I see people remember my father as a good person. That’s the most important thing. I mean, the polo is great, a great achievement, but it is more about the person. As a player, you want to win many tournaments, but as a legacy, I think as a person is most important, how people like you. And he seemed to be very good at it. That’s what I admire the most.”
Carlos Gracida was born in Mexico on September 5, 1960, into a renowned polo family. Carlos started playing polo when he was 5 years old, while his brother, Memo, another legend of the sport, started at 10 years old. Their father, Guillermo, was a 9-goal player, and even at 65 he maintained a 5-goal handicap. Throughout his remarkable career, Gracida claimed several significant achievements. He reached 10 goals in 1985, a handicap he maintained for 15 years, and he won more tournaments than any player. He played in Argentina with two of the most remarkable and legendary lineups, La Espadaña and Ellestina. In 1994, he won the Triple Crown in Argentina, as well as the US Open and the British Open Gold Cup – the latter was claimed by Carlos no less than ten times, more than any other player in history. In addition, he won the Argentine Open five times, and he is the only non-Argentine sportsman to be awarded the prestigious Olimpia de Plata as the best polo player of the year, in 1988.
Carlitos says that what he misses most about his father is working together. “I was very involved in the horses with him,” he says. “He was very hard with us but in a good way. I mean, you played a game and asked him, ‘What do you think?’ And would say, ‘You did well if you were rated at 4 or 5, but if you want to reach 6 or 7 goals, you have to play better. I miss those comments.”
In terms of the rest of the Gracida family, Carlitos has a great relationship with all of them, mostly with his remarkable uncle, Memo, who is the best when it comes to giving polo advice. “I used to go Memo’s ranch in the summer,” says Carlitos. “I am privileged. I have a great relationship with Memo, he gives me a lot of advice, he oversees the horses, makes comments, watches the games, he’s too nice. He often says, ‘I’m sorry if I tell you the truth,’ but I say, ‘Don’t be sorry, it’s very valuable to have someone being honest and telling you the truth, and showing you what are you doing wrong.”
One of the most recognisable aspects of Carlos was his helmet – white with a colourful ribbon laid over the peak. Now his son wears the same helmet in order to follow the tradition, and perhaps, feel closer to his father. “My father wore the same helmet, the white one with these bands, which are sold in Mexico. I used to wear a black one, but honestly when I saw Adolfo and Poroto wearing the same helmets, I thought it would be great to honor my father and keep it going. The band was my father’s trademark and the drawing on the back was made by a friend of the family, Poncho Navas, the son of one of my father’s cousins. He was very kind to paint the helmet and now he is making another one, too. The painting is an eagle and a snake, the emblem of the Mexican flag. It was Poncho’s decision; he asked me, but I said, ‘you decide, you are the artist’.”
As a player, as a man, how do you feel to be a member of such a remarkable and successful polo family like the Gracidas?
I am very proud to have Memo, as well as my father and my grandfather in my life, because I love the horses and I learned a lot from them. Today I am very proud of all of my horses. It is nice to be a part of something so great. It motivates me to do well and win tournaments.
THE FULL INTERVIEW WITH CARLITOS GRACIDA (POLOLINE TV)