August in Saratoga, N.Y means three things, Thoroughbred racing, Polo and crowds. The crowds were much in evidence over the weekend, the first of the racing season in Saratoga. Downtown was absolutely hopping Saturday night with multiple bands in various street venues and people galore. Somehow, I managed to find a parking spot and had another fine meal at Max London's. I didn't make it to the track that day – in fact I tend to go at most only once or twice a year and then mostly for the spectacle. I did, however, make it to my first ever Polo match at the Saratoga Polo Association fields.
My wife and I had been meaning to get to a polo match for quite some time, but for various reasons had never got around to it. This past Saturday evening, however, the stars aligned for me (but alas, not my wife, who was away for the weekend) to finally attend a match. A friend had mentioned earlier in the week on Twitter that this past weekend would feature all female polo players including some of the very best in the world. In addition, earlier in the day at The Saratoga Farmers Market,I had run into Jim Rossi, the owner of the Polo Club, who reiterated the same. With no other obligations for the evening, I decided to take the plunge, especially as it was a rare beautiful day of late. That the match would be held at all that Saturday evening was also a stroke of luck for me, as it was originally scheduled for the prior night, but it had been rained out – I did say the sunny days were rare this summer!
I trucked on over to the fields and paid $20 for entry, arriving a half hour after the scheduled start. There were a number of people and their cars lined up on one side of the field looking into the sun with a match already underway by the time I arrived. While the size of the crowd appeared decent to me, I was told that it was smaller than usual given the rescheduling from the night before. In addition, though most of the matches are held in front of the Polo Club's clubhouse along with it's food service, this evening the matches were held on alternate fields given the waterlogged nature of the regular fields.
Given that the sport is an expensive one to participate in and has a reputation of elitism, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. What I discovered was a varied crowd that was quite relaxed in appearance and dress doing a lot of tailgating and picnicking. Though I had no particular rooting interest, I found watching the matches to be fascinating. The sport is full of fury and grace, with thundering hooves nearby and extreme athleticism from the horse/human team. It was as much watching art as it was watching sport. While initially looking into the sun was distracting, as the evening wore on and the sun rode down the sky, the light softened and the back lit setting added an additional element of beauty.
Though the sport was new to me, it clearly was not to the majority of attendees, who were out between the chukkahs "stomping divots" and garnering autographs from these world class athletes.Whether one's interest in the sport is serious or casual, a day at the polo matches is one that is relaxing, diverting and surprisingly accessible.