The Saratoga Polo Association is celebrating its 110th anniversary season at the historic Whitney polo field at Bloomfield and Denton roads in the town of Greenfield, just north of Saratoga Springs.
Match play started on the Whitney field and two other nearby fields in late June and will continue through July, August and early September.
Champion polo players from Argentina and the Dominican Republic will join high-performing local polo players in battling for such trophies as the Hector and Susan Barrantes Memorial (Aug. 1-17) and the Ylvisaker Cup (July 23-Aug. 3.)
Polo is a sport played by eight mounted players who swing long polo mallets at a white, softball-sized ball. Each team of four players tries to drive the ball into the goal of the opposing team on a huge field, three times as large as a football field.
There are six, seven-minute periods (called chukkers) in the fast-paced game. Polo players often change mounts between each chukker or two.
They call the horses used in
the sport “ponies,” but they are actually mature thoroughbred horses specially trained for the rigors
of the game.
William Collins Whitney was instrumental in the creation of the polo field at Bloomfield and Denton roads in Greenfield in 1898.
Polo has been played on this field on the outskirts of Saratoga Springs off and on since then. The local polo matches took a major hiatus from about 1940 until the mid-1970s, when the field was again groomed and the hoof thunder of polo ponies could again be heard.
Tony Coppola, the director of polo operations, said the season started June 20 with the first match of the year for the Saratoga Chamber of Commerce Cup and will continue through the end of August and into early September.
Matches start at 5:30 p.m. every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, weather permitting. The gates to the polo fields open at 4 p.m. on the days of the matches.
Some of the major, world-class matches will come in late July and in August when the teams are bolstered by the infusion of championship-level polo players from Argentina and the Dominican Republic.
“Things look good; we have some new teams, some new players,” Coppola said. The new teams include one from Austin, Texas, and two from Virginia.
Coppola, himself an accomplished player and member of the Polo Hall of Fame, said an excellent young player will be coming to Saratoga later this summer. He is a “six goal” rated player named Alan Martinez. Coppola said Alan’s father was a great player from the Dominican Republic in the 1990s who made his mark during matches in that era at the Whitney field.
Michael Bucci, a Rochester businessman, and James Rossi, a Skidmore graduate and marketing expert, purchased the polo complex in 2004 from Polo Hall of Fame player Bill Ylvisaker of West Palm Beach, Fla.
“Polo is a sport of great energy and passion,” said Rossi in a statement about the 2008 season. “When you’re watching a match, you know you are part of history — a sport that dates back about 2,500 years.
“It’s also a sport for everyone, including families, horse lovers and even the family dog,” Rossi said. Rossi, of Saratoga Springs, is managing partner of the business.
In keeping with the family theme, the Radio Disney KidZone will be at the Whitney field on July 20 and July 27 as well as Aug. 3, Aug. 10, Aug. 17 and Aug. 24. Children will be able to meet the ponies and compete in divot stomping for the “Divoteer Award,” among other kids’ activities. The program is sponsored by Radio Disney (1460-AM in Albany).
Since 2004, Bucci and Rossi have made many improvements, including a sophisticated food and beverage operation coordinated by Ronnie Farber, founder and former owner of the Dine restaurant in Saratoga Springs.
Bucci said that people coming to the clubhouse can pay one price ($25) and enjoy an unlimited supply and variety of gourmet tapas during and after the match.
The food and beverage amenities are also available when matches are played on outer fields on Skidmore College property off Denton Road because the pizza and cooking ovens are portable and can be transported by truck.
Admission to the clubhouse side of the polo field is $25 per person. Admission to the general admission, tailgate side of the field is $25 for an entire carload of people.
Bucci said a major factor in the success or failure of a polo season is the weather. Good weather makes playing conditions ideal. The good weather also brings out people who enjoy watching the “Sport of Kings” while having a tailgate party or eating tapas and sipping a cool beverage or cocktail.
Reach Gazette reporter Lee Coleman at 587-1780 or at [email protected].