Por Andrés Ugarte Larraín
March 10 1999 is a date that left a historic mark in international polo history in Argentina; a date which is linked with what’s coming up on Saturday May 6, when His Majesty King Charles III will be crowned King of the United Kingdom. Back then, 24 years ago, the then Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, played an exhibition at Hurlingham Club, during an official visit to Argentina, and inmortalised a historic moment in the club founded by members of the British community in 1888.
José “Pepe” Santamarina, Vicepresident of the Hurlingham Club and one of those who played on that historic exhibition on March 19 1999, recalls: “The club sent an invitation to the Prince to play and he accepts. The idea was to play a practice. He invites the Heguys, whom he knew them because they played for the Sultan of Brunei. The team had to be completed by a military player, Mariano Cabanillas”.
He adds: Although it was an exhibition, we decided to set a Cup to provide an even bigger framework to the whole event; we even filmed it. But I remember perfectly that Charles came up with a cup already engraved that said “The Prince of Wales Trophy”. He brought the trophy and, from then onwards, it is played at the Hurlingham Club every year, in his honour”.
The teams who participated in the exhibition on that day were Windsor Park, composed by the current King Charles III, Eduardo Heguy, Horacio Heguy Jr. and Mariano Cabanillas. Hurlingham Club was on the other side of the pitch, with Pepe Santa Marina, brothers José Ignacio and Santiago Araya and Mariano Zimmermann. The Lewis Lacey ground was packed with 1,500 spectators and special guests who watched the 5-chukka game. Who else was on the ground? “When I had to choose the umpire for the exhibition, I thought of Robert Graham, a great friend of mine, and we brought him just for the occasion”, says Pepe Santamarina.
“I remember everything perfectly. The contest was played on Wednesday March 19, and his groom came the day before, to choose the horses among those we sorted out for him. Of all the horses he tried, he choose three, one mine, one from Eduardo Heguy and one from the Arayas. The day of the game, he came in helicopter, and after he touched down, he went to change clothes in the clubhouse, in room 11, that was renamed as The Prince’s Room. Then, he went directly to the field”, Santamarina recalls.
The Hurlingham Club was founded by 1888 by the members of the British community in Argentina, and to this date, it is the venue of the Hurlingham, one of the three most important tournaments of the world. At the same time, the club is proud to say that “many members of the Royal Family have played at the Hurlingham Club: Prince David, the Prince of Wales – later King Edward VIII – in 1925; later on, came Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, who reached the final of the Hurlingham Open, in 1966. Prince Harry came in 2005, but unfortunately, he was unable to play due to a broken hand”.
Santamarina still remembers what happened on that day: “Once the game was finished, and after the awards presentation, the club hosted a cocktail, for more than 1000 guests. I remember he stayed for a long time, he had a lot of fun, he talked to the people. He was delighted, he had a great time”.
One of the highlights of that memorable day has to do with one of the horses Charles rode. “I loaned him a dapple horse, Coqueta, which he liked a lot”, recalls Santamarina. “Everytime he got on a horse, Charles asked whose was the horse, and before the chukka started, he went to thank to the owner. He played my mare in the first chukka, and he told me she was a good one; and asked to repeat in the fifth and last chukka. And after that chukka, he thanked me again. And I told him: ‘Just think that your father played a final here, and my grandfather (Ramón Santamarina) presented him with a horse, a dapple horse too’”.
The Vicepresident of the Hurlingham Club concludes: “It was a unique moment for us, for the club. And tomorrow, we will go to the British Embassy, because we played that day. We will bring the cup he donated to the club, there will be a gala dinner in honour to his Coronation”.
The British Embassy in Buenos Aires, will host an event to celebrate Coronation Day, on Saturday May 6, and everybody who played the historical exhibition have been invited.
EDUARDO HEGUY’S MEMORIES OF THE DAY HE PLAYED WITH THE KING:
“We played with him and against him in England, several times, in tournaments like the Queen’s Cup or the Gold Cup, back in the days when he was allowed to compete. I remember that Asprey, the renowned London jewllery maker, was a sponsor of both Chapa 1 & 2, asked us and Pepe Santamarina to loan him some horses. Back in those days, we used to play with the Sultan of Brunei and Prince Jefri against the then Prince of Wales team; they were friend and that was a derby they had between them.
And I remember fondly a story of that day at Hurlingham. After the awards presentation, I asked him if he would fancy to do some stick-and-ball on Palermo’s ground 1; I told him I would be in charge of everything. His eyes lighted up, and he told me: ‘that’s a lot of fun, but let me see if I am allowed to go’. But when he asked to his security, he was told no. And that means that even a Prince of a King are not always able to do what they want, because they have to follow rules and protocol. It was a pity, because it could have been a lot of fun to do some stick-and-ball with him at Palermo”.
JOSÉ IGNACIO ‘PEPE’ ARAYA, ONE OF HIS CONTENDERS:
“I remember that the invitation to play with my brother Santiago, came through Pepe Santamarina, who is a lifelong friend, and we were members of the Hurlingham Club as well. I knew the then Prince Charles, because I played with the Tomlinsons, at Beaufort. We knew that the horses we could loan to him should be good enough, because he had a little time to try them. So we contributed with some horses for him, to have fun. But he was always a horse man, so it was easy for him.
I recall some conversations we had with him at the club; we talked about Beaufort, his big friends the Tomlinsons. It was a honour for me. I played 11 at Beaufort, and I also played with his sons, William and Harry. I always remember them as very simple people. Perhaps Charles was a bit more formal, but he always had the time to came up and talk during the awards presentatios, and before and after the games”.
PHOTO CREDIT: COURTESY GENTILEZA HURLINGHAM CLUB.