After a successful inaugural sellout event, the Philadelphia Polo Classic returns with a title sponsor and impressive lineup of polo players Sept. 23 at historic Fairmount Park’s Edgely Field.
By Sharon Robb
The St. James, the first title sponsor for the Work To Ride fundraiser, is a luxury residential skyscraper in Washington Square West. The 498-feet, 45-story high rise stands along Walnut Street and Washington Square. It is the 15th tallest building in Philadelphia.
Nic Roldan, the second highest ranked American polo player at eight goals, Argentine great Nacho Figueras, Grant Ganzi and Kareem Rosser head the lineups that also feature Work To Ride alum and current players for the polo doubleheader at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Gates open 10 a.m.
In the featured game at 2 p.m., Mount Gordon (Melissa Ganzi/Riley Ganzi, Kareem Rosser, Nic Roldan, Brandon Rease) takes on Mars Equestrian (Shariah Harris, Nacho Figueras, Grant Ganzi, Daymar Rosser). Kareem Rosser and Figueras will serve as team captains for the second year in a row.
In the Johnson & Johnson vs. Goshen Hill matchup at 11 a.m., Work To Ride alum and current players will take turns playing four chukkers.
Johnson & Johnson will feature in Chukker 1 (Peter Stanish, Marc Harley, Alyssa Perren, Kenzie Brinkley); Chukker 2 (Peter Stanish, Mo Gravesande, Julian Penados, Kevin Jones); Chukker 3: Jordyn Williams, Marc Harley, Alyssa Perren, Kenzie Brinkley); and Chukker 4: (Peter Stanish, Mo Gravesande, Julian Penados, Kevin Jones).
Goshen Hill will feature in Chukker 1 (Jordyn Floyd, Crosby Woods, Marc Harris, Esteban Penados); Chukker 2 (Richard Prather, Crosby Woods, Marc Harris, Kaela Prescott); Chukker 3: (Richard Prather, Crosby Woods, Tajee McLaughlin, Esteban Penados); and Chukker 4: (Richard Prather, Crosby Woods, Marc Harris, Kaela Prescott).
Organizers are hoping for a record crowd of 5,000 this year. In addition to polo, a full day of family-friendly activities are planned including an inaugural Polo Line Dance, Pony Stick Races for kids and adults, the Philly Goat Project will have goats on site, Philadelphia Eagles cheerleaders performance, Carriage Parade, Eagles Drumline Performance, doggie divot stop, best ladies and men’s hat contest and ensemble and divot dance-offs. There will be more food vendors, a merchandise tent and mascots this year.
In addition to The St. James, other sponsors include Ariat, B&D Builders, Merrill Bank of America, Visit Philadelphia, Johnson & Johnson, Cashman & Associates, Interstate Outdoor Advertising, Goshen Hill, Love Tito’s, Archer & Buchanan Architecture, Mars Equestrian, Nothing Bundt Cakes, U.S. Polo Assn., Mount Gordon Farm, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Philadelphia Eagles, National Convenience Distributors and Philadelphia Parks & Recreation.
The non-profit Work To Ride program was founded by Lezlie Hiner at Fairmount Park’s Chamounix Equestrian Center in 1994. The executive director’s vision 30 years ago was to empower young people through horsemanship, equine sports, and educational programs. She has attracted participants, ages eight to 18 from communities of concentrated poverty.
Last year the Work To Ride fundraiser, not only attracted new diverse fans to the sport, but raised $1.1 million to help build a new indoor arena and raise an endowment to cover future operational program costs. The event raised $600,000 and another $500,000 in matching funds came from an anonymous donor. This year’s event is trying to raise another $2 million.
“Last year it was a huge success and we had a sellout of 3,000. It was the first polo event that I have ever been to that was incredibly diverse,” said Philly native Kareem Rosser, a Work To Ride alum. “It was nice to see people from all walks of life show up and support the event.”
The new arena, which Hiner calls “a huge shining star for polo and the community,” will enable Work To Ride to increase its’ youth participation, expand programming year-round, build co-operative partnerships with local institutions and host local, regional and national polo matches.
In last year’s Philadelphia Polo Classic, Goshen Hill (Melissa Ganzi, Shariah Harris, Daymar Rosser, Nacho Figueras) and Mount Gordon Farm (Mosiah Gravesande, Grant Ganzi, Kareem Rosser, Nic Roldan) played to an exciting 8-8 tie. Work To Ride’s Mosiah Gravesande, 17, a minus-one player, scored three goals and was named Most Valuable Player.
“It’s all coming together this year,” Hiner said. “It’s going to be really nice. We learned a whole lot last year especially how freaking crazy Philadelphia is about polo. The people that attended were so excited to be here. Never in all my years of polo have I experienced a crowd that has been so invested in the game and so utterly enthralled by it. It was really magical.”
Melissa Ganzi, Grand Champions Polo Club President and owner who grew up in Philadelphia and graduated from Penn’s Hahnemann Medical College (now Drexel University) co-chairs the committee to raise money for building the center.
“A lot of blood and sweat goes into the planning,” Hiner said. “We are so happy about our title sponsor. We are loaded down with merchandise thanks to our sponsors. We are tickled pink the Ganzis are coming back with their crew. We couldn’t do this without them.”
All of Work To Ride’s programs are free to the students. It’s funded primarily by paid lessons offered from April to December, and through donations from the public. Students enrolled in the program work to maintain the stables and care for the horses in exchange for lessons in equine sports.
Most students tend to navigate toward polo but the program also offers English riding lessons with show jumping and fox hunting as well as amateur steeplechase and pony racing. Most participants stay for eight to 10 years on average.
Tickets remain on sale for locals and those interested in flying in for the day. Tickets range from $35 general admission to $5,000 for the VIP Experience ticket package for 10 fans.
The games will be streamed locally and worldwide by ChukkerTV (CTV Sports) with Dale Schwetz calling the action. It was one of the most watched programs in ChukkerTV history.
Grand Champions, the nation’s largest polo club celebrating its 17th anniversary, and Santa Rita Polo Farm is the largest and most unique private 102-acre polo facility in Wellington with 212 stalls in nine self-contained barns, two tracks, five climate-controlled tack rooms, vet room, staff quarters, guest house and four polo fields with state-of-the-art underground irrigation and short work arena. The club has 11 fields.
The upcoming fall season, which gets under way October 3-8 with the Fall Classic, will be live-streamed by Wellington-based ChukkerTV (CTV Sports). Grand Champions is the only USPA club that is live streaming all its games.
Grand Champions and Santa Rita Polo Farm hosts polo tournaments ranging from six to 26-goal in addition to special events. Admission is free and open to the public.
Grand Champions Polo Club caters to men, women and youth polo players at all levels. Its’ expert staff can customize a complete playing experience including horses, pros and certified umpires in addition to lessons and practice sessions as part of its’ Polo On Demand program.
The Polo School, now located at the former Pony Express facility, operates in Wellington January through May and September through November. The stand-alone USPA-sanctioned polo club, is thriving. It is dedicated to teaching polo to all ages, particularly grass roots youth. Its mission is to provide individuals opportunities in polo at every economic and ability level. November. The Polo School has nurtured several junior, men and women polo players now playing in the pro and amateur ranks since its inception.
For more information on leagues or Polo School contact Director of Operations Juan Bollini at 561-346-1099 or General Manager Cale Newman at 561-876-2930.