To an outsider, it would seem the men and women were walking into a tea party, or maybe even a ball, on Saturday evening.
But no, it was an outdoor polo match — only the second of its kind to be played in Las Vegas, according to Polo America founder Randy Russell. The two-day Las Vegas Polo Classic at the Star Nursery Field next to Sam Boyd Stadium continues Sunday.
Long considered the “sport of kings,” polo is one of the oldest equestrian sports, Russell said.
In a match, two teams — each typically with four players and eight horses — compete to score the most points, using mallets to drive a wooden ball down a grass field between two goal posts. Russell said teams have more horses than players in order to substitute horses during a match.
One match consists of six “chukkers,” or periods of plays, each lasting seven minutes.
Outdoor polo is played on a field that is 300-by-160 yards, large enough to fit nine American football fields, according to Polo America.
But the horses are said to be a huge reason why people enjoy watching the sport, according to Polo America, as most outdoor polo ponies are thoroughbreds.
This weekend in Las Vegas, there were 50-some horses front and center on the field.
Meanwhile, the men in white suits and the women in wide-brimmed, feathered hats and elegant dresses transformed the edges of the 10-acre field into a place of high-end fashion.
“The hats are just as important for a polo match as they are for the opening day of the Derby,” Diane Sanchez said, referring to the Kentucky Derby, as her eyes peered out from under her large, tan straw hat. “I never wear the same thing twice if I can help it.”
For as long as she can remember, Sanchez said, she has been a die-hard fan polo. She even played for some time in her early 20s, she said, although these days she prefers to sit back and watch the game.
The San Diego, California, native has traveled as far as New York to watch polo matches hosted by Polo America, a marketing firm that specializes in the sport of polo.
On Saturday, Sanchez sat at a round table sipping on champagne with a group of friends — old and new.
“The polo family is small but close,” she said.
Last year, at the first-ever outdoor polo match in Las Vegas, she and her friend Claudia Roberts met locals Mike and Becky MacDonald, two first-timers attending the match. They’ve been friends ever since, they said.
Becky MacDonald had driven her husband crazy for weeks, trying to pick the perfect hats for the weekend match, she said, as Mike MacDonald nodded his head and laughed.
She finally settled on an intricately designed gold, wide-brimmed hat with black polka dots to match her Vegas Golden Knights sunglasses.
For Roberts, who chose a powder blue lace dress, atop her head was a nude-colored “fascinator” complete with feathers and knitted lace. A fascinator is a lightweight headpiece popular among royals.
Aside from the polo match, Russell said, “There’s something for just about everyone during the two-day classic.”
The lineup includes a fashion show during half-time, a hot-air balloon display at dusk and a hat contest, he said.
For anyone interested in attending Sunday’s polo match, Russell said tickets can still be purchased either at the gate or online at www.poloamerica.com/las-vegas-polo-classic-2.
History of polo
The sport of polo is said to be older than recorded history, although its origins can be traced back to Central Asia, where mounted nomads played a version of polo that was part-sport and part-training for war, with as many as 100 men on one team.
The game followed the nomads’ migration to Persia, or modern Iran, sometime between 600 B.C. and 100 A.D.
But polo as it is known today originated in Manipur, India, according to the organization. From there, the sport spread “as fast as its enthusiasts could travel,” appearing in Malta in 1868, England in 1869, Ireland in 1870, Argentina in 1872 and Australia in 1874.
— Source: Museum of Polo and Hall of Fame