The Saratoga Polo Association is hosting its final weekend of regular matches starting today and continuing Sunday, capping a successful season that started back in early July.
“For the last three years in a row our attendance has grown close to 20 percent each year,” said Jim Rossi, managing partner of Saratoga Polo.
“The last three matches have been the largest three crowds we have ever had,” Rossi said. The polo field is at Denton and Bloomfield Roads in the town of Greenfield, just north of Saratoga Springs.
The SPA Anniversary Cup Tournament starts at 5 p.m. today and continues on Sunday, Sept. 2. The gates open at 4 p.m. with matches starting at 5:30 p.m. today and Sunday.
“Part of it is the weather but we have also gotten more people involved,” Rossi said about the successful season.
“We are open to the general public and people can come out and enjoy themselves,” he said.
Two of those people are Mark and Valerie Doane of Clifton Park, who have had a reserved parking space on the general admission side (north side) of the polo field for the past eight years.
“It’s a great spot, a wonderful evening,” said Valerie.
“We are members of the Saratoga Polo Association and could sit on the other side [of the field],” she added. The other, or south side, of the field is where the 4,000-square-foot air conditioned clubhouse and large event tent are located.
“We enjoy watching the sport so much and can enjoy the sport a little more [on the general admission side],” Valerie said.
Cars park along the general admission side of the polo field and often have tailgate parties. “Sometimes we bring our grill,” said Valerie. “We’ve gotten to know a lot of people,” she said.
Polo is played on a 300-by-160-yard field. Four players on horses on each team swing long mallets at a white plastic ball the size of a softball, trying to smack it through goals at each end of the huge field.
The sport focuses on the athleticism of both the polo pony and rider. The ponies, many of them retired thoroughbred race horses, reach speeds of up to 30 miles per hour as their riders swing their mallets at the white ball and aim it toward the goal.
Earlier this season, the annual Veuve Cliquot Women’s Challenge was played at the polo fields, attracting some of the best female players in the sport, including Sunny Hale, the world’s highest-rated woman player, and Tiffany Busch, 22, a young star. The tournament was one of the largest women’s polo tournaments in the United States, said Alan Edstrom, the association’s events and sponsorship manager.
Saratoga Polo hosted teams from around the world, including Mexico, Central and South America, South Africa, The Netherlands, Great Britain, New Zealand, Europe, and Pakistan.
Sponsors included the U.S. Polo Association, Jordache Enterprises and their new Saratoga Polo Association apparel line, Zappone Chrysler, hosting the Ram Polo Hall of Fame Challenge Cup, and RBC Wealth Management, hosting the Barrantes Cup.
Rossi, a Skidmore College graduate and marketing expert, and his business partner, Michael Bucci, a Rochester businessman with a home in Saratoga Springs, bought Saratoga Polo in 2004.
Soon after they purchased the property, they started planning an ambitious polo retreat complex.
Rossi said the proposal for a $70 million Saratoga Polo Retreat at the 42-acre site in Greenfield — which was approved in 2008 but never started — is still very much alive.
The retreat is a mixed-use project that includes a conference center, a banquet hall, a health spa, and residential apartments.
“Conditions are much more favorable now,” Rossi said about the project, which will be built around the Whitney Field.
The retreat was put on hold during the sluggish economy, but Rossi and Bucci indicated they are committed to the plan. Engineering plans and details are being refined, but there is still no date set for a groundbreaking, Rossi said.
Clubhouse admission is $25 per person with premium seating available for $40 per person. The clubhouse features a polo hospitality pavilion and premium, on-site food service.
General admission is $25 per carload with premium tailgating reserved locations at $40 per car.