Polo The Sport of Princes
Mike McNamee and friends go to see how the other half live.
Three Societies members attended the Coutts International tournament held at the famous Chester Race course, the Roodee. It was a glittering occasion, attended by around 5,000 people, most of whom were up for a party, dressed in their finest summer frocks and hats. Champagne was much in evidence. Polo is not a sport for those of limited means. At this level, the ponies are worth around £10,000 each and each rider brings at least four with them and probably has a few more back at base. This equates to almost a quarter of a million pounds per team! For the writer, the ponies were the stars of the show. Quick, agile and intelligent they went about their business with obvious relish, none of your prima donna thoroughbred histrionics here! Prince William played the day before we were there, Harry is also a keen player, as was their father.
Polo is played on a ground 300 yards by 160 yards with an additional 10 yard turning area outside the boards and a further 10 yards of safety margin for the spectators. The distance problems of photographing the game are thus immediately obvious – things can be a long way away! Each team consists of four ponies and riders. The ponies are changed at the end of each seven-minute chukka, such is the pace that they run around at. When the ball is being chased it is normal to reach around 35mph, the ball itself travels at up to 70mph and can be hit over 100 yards with a good strike. Ends are changed after each goal. The goal is eight yards across. For a match of four chukkas the shooting time is just 28 minutes, so you need to maximise your opportunities while play is underway.
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