By Sheela Sarvananda
It's a cloudy day with a smattering of rain. A welcome respite from the sweltering heat — but at the Singapore Polo Club, there is an undeniable, palpable anxiety in the air. For this is no ordinary day. This is the finals of the Veuve Clicquot International Pro/Am Tournament, and the last leg of the season's most coveted social ticket is taking place in Singapore, with the who's who of local elite attending.
After an afternoon of early showers, play got off to strong start when the sun ceremoniously broke through the clouds, and the drizzle gave way to warmer skies. This signaled the start of the celebrations, with resounding pomp and pageantry. A marching band kicked off the event — both literally and figuratively — by gathering front and centre on the field, in front of the crowds, and going to town, to rousing cheers from VIPs and polo fans enjoying a champagne luncheon.
The highly-anticipated event is the first international tournament of the new season and featured local, amateur, professional and international players from Argentina, New Zealand and India competing for the win.
After a closely-fought three days of preliminary rounds at the beginning of the month, game day was a tense, nail-biting affair as results came down to the wire.
Australian Ross Ainsley, who's been based in New Zealand for almost 20 years as a world-class horse breeder and exporter, was a talking point in the match. His presence was a result of members bringing him in, so that he could play alongside local talent. Ainsley has competed and won in many leading competitions all over the world.
The tanned sportsman emigrated to New Zealand due to the potential he saw in the thoroughbreds there. Today, he sells purebreds to the crème de la crème of polo, including Miguel Novillo-Astrada and Adolfo Cambiaso.
He reveals, despite his success as a breeder of champion horses, his love for the game of polo takes top spot: "The sport is phenomenal, it's as good as it gets. It's got all the speed, anticipation, strategy — it's got everything! It's a very technical, tactical sport. And it's got a bit of danger if you want to play it that way, too."
Club member Stijn Welkers revealed the decision behind bringing Ainsley into the fold for the tournament.
"We wanted to do the work ourselves but learn from a professional and have him guide us. He's a very strategic player, and he gives you constructive criticism all the way through. So if we lose, we lose as a team, not because a professional didn't go from one end to the other scoring a goal."
The day's match and luxe surrounds were not all about reveling in excess while taking in the sport of kings though.
Ameer Jumabhoy, of the Jumabhoy dynasty in Singapore, spoke of the grittier side of polo, and his connection to this side of the sport.
"I think the luxury element of polo is definitely there. But I think you're walking a really fine line, between trying to juggle falling completely into that luxury trap or into this nondescript trap. So you have to balance the two. You have people here who see that luxury lifestyle. But at the same time, what they see today is not guys who are wearing Gucci, Armani or Ralph Lauren on the field. They see the guys who are really trying to play the sport to the best of their ability."
In the end, it was a show of skill and grace, with matches being won or lost by a handicap difference of half a point, as the deciding goal. Winning team Pilara were presented crystal trophies as well as a Veuve Clicquot Magnum as their spoils, by General Manager Moet Hennessy Diageo Singapore, Mr. Richard Yeomans.
During the course of the day, guests could try their hand at a game of Pétanque, played by throwing hollow metal balls as close as possible to a small wooden ball. The VIP experience continued with free-flowing premium champagne and fine foods in an extensive buffet spread. The party went on after the final, with guest DJ Jon White spinning the decks. And as the sun went down, it wasn't just about the play on the field, as the chic and stylish came out to play in droves. A good start to the polo season, to be sure.
Teams Scores Scorers
VEUVE CLICQUOT vs. KITCHEN CULTURE
3 - 2½
PILARA vs. LA SARITA
8½ - 6
WINNERS — PILARA
2ND PLACE — LA SARITA
3RD PLACE — VEUVE CLICQUOT
4TH PLACE — KITCHEN CULTURE