Any polo tournament or series is expected to indulge our urges for luxury and glamor. It is, after all, called the Sport of Kings for a reason. From champagne toasts to afterparties that last until dawn, chef-prepared appetizers and craft cocktails under VIP tents, and the chance encounter with a polo star in the hotel lobby, we all have our “must-haves” when deciding which tournaments to follow. If you chose to attend this year’s World Series Polo in Australia, you weren’t disappointed – read on to trigger a hundred memories. If you didn’t have the chance to attend this year – read on – and pencil it in your agenda for 2018. World Series Polo, organized by the national Polo in the City management team, put on a world-class show from beginning to end of the five-week, five-city extravaganza.
Haiti Polo Team, playing for their first time Down Under, finished first runner-up in the series, notably
upsetting the home team in Brisbane, which was called “the single most-exciting polo match ever played in Australia,” by event organizers. The win thrust them in the limelight in Australia and had the Aussie fans talking about Haiti rather than against Haiti.
Far from home, Haiti Polo Team set up base first in Sydney at the Bondi QT Hotel. Squeezing in training sessions between photo shoots for World Series Polo media, the team stayed fit following the on-the-road schedule prepared by Functional Muscle Fitness coaches.
During an invitation-only welcome party aboard the super-yacht Galaxy I in Sydney Harbor, World Series Polo was officially launched with a champagne toast to the excitement ahead. It was here that players and sponsors alike mingled and relaxed before the competitive nature of the game set in. In attendance were representatives from Pol Roger Champagne, Somersby Australia, Politix Menswear, Asahi, and namesake sponsor Land Rover to name a few. While the mood was predominately in support of the home team, Australia, Somersby Australia representative Camilla Kuzon became an instant Haiti Polo Team fan, posting “Go Haiti” on her Instagram account along with a photo of Team Captain Claude-Alix Bertrand.
The media fanfare continued to follow Haiti Polo Team, comprised of Captain Bertrand, South African Johann du Preez, Argentine Juan Uranga, Ric McCarthy and Andrew Fraser-Scott. Daily press calls ranged from national ESPN and E! Network broadcasters to the largest daily newspapers and polo magazines in Australia to international press platforms. Before and after the matches, meet-and-greets with enthusiastic fans kept players busy for hours.
The up-close-and-personal relationship with fans continued during matches. The fields in Australia were purposefully smaller (460 ft x 180 ft) than regulation polo fields (990 ft x 330 ft) in order to bring the fans into that action. Thousands of fans packed the Somersby Polo Lounges each weekend, where between chukkers and matches, fans played games, sampled products, had their makeup touched up, and enjoyed cold cider. On the VIP side, sponsors erected elaborate marquee lounges and bars for companies, large groups of friends, UPA members and VIP ticket holders. The set ups were different in each of the five cities, from a glamorous black marble bar to plush furniture and red carpets with towering floral arrangements. Pol Roger Champagne, the exclusive champagne of the tournament, flowed into fans’ flutes, offering a refreshing respite from the Australian summer heat.
From Sydney, the team advanced to the second World Series Polo host city Brisbane, practicing on polo fields in Ipswich. Home base was the Mantra Richmont Hotel, near Dorrington Park, site of the Brisbane match on Saturday, Nov. 25. The 5,000+ crowd heavily favored the home team, but Haiti Polo Team wasn’t deterred. Intense stick-and-ball practices, time on horses and in the gym all were about to pay off. It was here that the combined team of Bertrand, du Preez, McCarthy and Fraser-Scott came together to defeat the home team, 4-3 in penalty shoot-outs. Fraser-Scott scored the winning penalty shot to the delight of the Australian crowd, which surged the sidelines for the penalty shots chanting “Haiti! Haiti! Haiti! Haiti!”
Hours of press and fan meet-and-greet followed the awards ceremony in Brisbane. That evening, Haiti Polo Team appeared at the afterparty to pop the first bottle of Pol Roger Champagne to the delight of party-goers. The posh atmosphere that dominated the sidelines VIP marquees and fan areas transcended to the afterparty as old and new polo enthusiasts gathered to dance the night away.
From Brisbane, the action moved on to Melbourne, where torrential rains soaked the polo grounds, making it impossible for the Melbourne tournament to be held. Following expert analysis, event coordinator Janek Gazecki made the difficult decision to cancel the Melbourne match. That didn’t mean it was time off for Haiti Polo Team, however. Practices and riding in Werribee, training in the on-site gym of the accommodations in downtown Melbourne, and continued press calls and mingling with fans kept the team members busy. The afterparty at The Vincent Hotel was converted into a day-long party. After a raucous night of partying for the fans, came a brief respite from the rain and the return of the Australian sunshine on Sunday Dec. 3, giving the team a chance to escape to Trigg Beach for a few hours of relaxation while fans nursed their hangovers on brunch in the city.
News of Haiti Polo Team’s success reached all the way to France where President of Haiti Jovenel Moise was traveling on official business. Soon the president’s office was personally involved in the press regarding the national Haitian polo team. Stories appeared in Le Nouvelliste, Haiti’s oldest daily publication; Ticket Magazine, which covers sports and culture; Loop Haiti, a Caribbean syndicate news platform; and L’Union Suite, the largest social media network for Haitian-Americans with over 3 million readers.
While all this was happening around the world, 19 time zones away, Haiti Polo Team was trying, unsuccessfully, to travel to Perth for the fourth of five weekend matches. Virgin Australia finally managed to route the team from Melbourne, back to Sydney and then to Perth, turning a four-hour flight into a day-long ordeal. The team arrived in Perth exhausted but welcomed at the Quest East Perth. The Perth match at Langley Park on Saturday, Dec. 9 was covered en masse by the newspapers and media. In a nail-biting, fight-to-the-finish showdown between Haiti Polo Team and Perth Polo Team, Haiti fell to Australia 7-6. Though it wasn’t a win, it was enough points to push them into the finals in Adelaide.
Now firmly in a position of strength and fully adjusted to the climate and time zone, Haiti Polo Team flew from Perth to Adelaide for a few days of training and preparation before the championship match on Friday, Dec. 15. Pre-empted by media calls, the team members faithfully made the media rounds, giving interviews and appearing for publicity photo shoots. They were able to mount horses and train several afternoons at Luke Rowley’s polo grounds in Mt. Barker thirty minutes outside of the city.
Prior to the championship match, His Excellency President Jovenel Moises, tweeted the team his best wishes on behalf of the Haitian people, “From the Haitian people, I wish the best of luck to Haiti Polo Team as they compete in the championship match of the World Series Polo for the title in Adelaide today.”
A change in the team roster for the Adelaide match caused Haiti Polo Team to scurry to blend the new player into the established comradery. At breakfast at the Hilton Adelaide before the match, team members chatted with fans and journalists who staked out the hotel looking for a scoop and a photo. The team took to the field at Victoria Park for the championship under perfect weather and on excellent horses. Haiti Polo Team came out strong, scoring two goals in the first 30 seconds of the first chukker. The Australian team was a well-oiled machine that came back from a deficit to win 7-5, sealing the championship for Australia; Haiti Polo Team finished first runner-up in the World Series Polo.
The excitement from the match, post-match interviews and awards ceremonies translated into the official afterparty given by Hilton Adelaide. No one at the Hilton slept early that night! Finally able to relax and enjoy the country, Haiti Polo Team members spent a few more days in Adelaide, cruised the gulf of Adelaide and dropped anchor in Brighton and flew over Western Australia in an “experimental” plane with friend and pilot Scott Bradley. Returning home before the holidays, and feeling proud of the finish in the World Series Polo, team members will return to training and reconvene at the end of January for a snow polo match to be announced.
In addition to promoting the team, Bertrand, who is also Ambassador UNESCO for Haiti, represented tourism, sports’ and humanitarian interests of Haiti while on the tour in Australia. Each weekend, the tournament hosted a silent auction to benefit Project St. Anne, an organization in Camp-Perrin, Haiti, that works with families and school children.