As the preferred second (or third) home of many of the country’s richest people, with a proliferation of high-end retailers, a toehold in South America (where some of the best ponies are raised) and an aura of glam, Miami Beach is a natural place for a polo showdown.
Now entering its 10th year, the Miami Beach Polo World Cup has proven that the sport of kings reigns in South Florida.
The event attracts about 10,000 people for four days of men’s and women’s tournaments between professional polo players from as far away as Russia, Switzerland and Malaysia, as well as the best from this hemisphere. The event returns to the sands of South Beach (off Collins Avenue between 20th and 22nd streets) Thursday through Sunday with all the standard sideshows — fashion shows, VIP events, a retail village and even a luxury car show — to celebrate 10 years of horseplay.
Tommy Kato, a veteran polo player and captain of the Merchant Hub team, has witnessed the tourney’s growth over the past decade. “It’s evolving, visually, the way the arena is set up, the people you get coming in to watch, the legendary world-class players who come to play,” he said. “For equestrian lovers, it’s a big deal.”
The main strides that Miami Beach Polo has made, Kato says, are in the quality of the players, the staging of the arena and the way the teams are put together. Players have developed strategies for playing in beach sand, and Kato thinks this year’s roster is evenly matched. “It’s going to depend on who brings which horse,” he said. “The horses are going to make the difference.”
Thursday will start with eight women’s teams in a one-day series of round-robin matches, which will feature top-rated challengers like Maggie McNamara, Tara Lordi, Cristina Hosmer, Laura Willson, Cary Campbell and Posey Obrecht.
The men’s tournament will start Friday with six teams that include some of the world’s top-ranked players, including Miami Beach Polo’s only 10-goaler, Matias Magrini, three-time MVP John Gobin, Luis Escobar, Brandon Phillips, Juan Monteverde, Gringo Colombres and Guille Usandizaga.
Friday’s matches will also include a homage to polo legend Carlos Gracida, the Mexican-born player who died last February when he was thrown from his horse during a match at the Everglades Polo Club in Wellington. The 53-year-old was a nine-time U.S. Open Polo Championship winner and one of the sport’s most respected figures. His son Carlitos Gracida will compete in the tournament as well.
The annual fashion show by La Martina in the VIP tent will take place Saturday afternoon, and guests can enjoy Sunday’s “Brunch on the Beach” hosted by celebrity chef Michelle Bernstein, also in the VIP tent. Auto Art Miami, a curated installation of some of the world’s most luxurious automobiles, will display 50 automobiles valued at over $100 million from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday in Collins Park.
The list of VIP parties is pretty packed, but Kato is confident that the players won’t be too wiped out to indulge.
“Polo players will having the best time,” he said. “We’ll see them dancing on the tables.”