White Birch Advances In USPA Opener at Greenwich Polo Club
By Liz Leamy
Last Sunday, temperatures soared to more than 85 degrees, but the heat did anything but deter the Argentinian polo superstar, Mariano Aguerre, from leading his team, the renowned White Birch Farm, to an 11-8 victory over K.I.G. at Conyers Farm in the first round of the U.S. Polo Association Butler Handicap Cup series.
Asked if the heat had presented a challenge, Aguerre, whose last name fittingly means “war,” responded with a resonant “No,” adding that it was great to be out on the field playing high-goal polo.
“It was a good match and the other team played well,” said Aguerre, a nine-goaler out of a maximum 10, making the White Birch veteran one of the top ten high-goal polo players in the world.
Aguerre, along with his teammates Peter Brant, the White Birch patron who founded the Greenwich Polo Club in 1981, Hilario Ulloa, an Argentinian nine-goaler, and Santino Magrini, an up-and-coming high-goaler, did anything but disappoint the 2,500 spectators as they maneuvered their ponies and the ball around the field with the finesse and attack of world-class athletes.
Aguerre, in true fighting form, provided the highlight of the afternoon when he flew down the entire length of the field on his charge, BPP Jazzita in the final minutes of the match and knocked the ball through the goal posts.
According to members of K.I.G., White Birch’s superior play has only served as a motivate improvement in their own game.
Joaquin Panelo, a 21-year-old Argentinian four-goaler for K.I.G. who was named Most Valuable Player of the match, said he likes going up against White Birch because they help inspire him to be better, smarter and stronger in terms of his game.
“It’s amazing how fast they are—they’re all just very smart with their horses and the ball,” said Panelo, who is said to be one of the sport’s rising stars. “They are organized and aggressive, and if you give them the ball for one second, they’ll run away with it.”
According to Brant, the eforce behind the Greenwich Polo Club, much of the success of White Birch and the entire club owes to the commitment and dedication of the players, in addition to so many other people who have been involved with the club over the years.
“It’s been nearly 35 years [that we’ve been here], and it only keeps getting better and better,” he said.
Benefit Luncheon at Polo
During Sunday’s match, there was also a benefit luncheon and silent auction held to help benefit Pathways, Inc., which provides housing for people with chronic mental illness; Laurel House, which provides opportunities and services for people suffering from mental illness; and the Transportation Association of Greenwich, which specializes in transportation services for the elderly and the disabled.
The luncheon drew several hundred attendees, who could be seen sitting at round tables covered with white tablecloths laughing, socializing and catching up with one another as they watched the match.
“Everyone seems happy to be here to help support these [organizations]. It’s just great weather and a great crowd,” said James Boutelle, executive director of TAG. “There are so many wonderful things about being here at this venue. It’s a reasonable ticket for what you get and where you’re at, that’s for sure.”
Darran Brown, president and chief executive officer of Go Charity in Brooklyn, who helped manage the luncheon’s auction, agreed.
“It’s nice to see people having a great time and helping to support these [organizations],” he said. “It’s also cool because this is a spot that offers people an opportunity to experience something very unique.”
Polo Popularity Rises
Over the past few years the popularity of the Greenwich Polo Club has soared to a new level.
In addition of the high quality matches at the club that has spread through the media, the Greenwich Polo Club attracted worldwide media attention in 2013, when Prince Harry of Wales played in the Sentebale Royal Salute Cup there.
And at long last television has taken notice. NBC Sports has decided to broadcast several matches to be held later this summer, a major coup for the club.
“An equine sport such as polo is so unique,” said Aguerre. “It is such a great sport in such a unique environment.”
The environment is nothing less than idyllic. On many summer Sundays, the Greenwich Polo Club, located on North Street, attracts hundreds of visitors from all over the New York metropolitan area, including New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts, as well as Connecticut.
During the matches, there is always a great deal of activity and excitement along the sidelines. Spectators fill the massive wood grandstand and expansive lawn, often wearing fashionable or unusual summer clothing that makes for exceptional people watching.
Alongside the grandstand, half a dozen or so high-end vendors show and sell their wares, right near five gourmet food trucks.
“It’s a very nice setting with a great crowd, atmosphere and food,” said Dimitry Francois, a Greenwich-based physician who was attending the match with his wife, Leila, who is also a physician. “This is a perfect way to spend a Sunday.