ROME – An international, jet-set crowd mingled with Italian elite on the sidelines inside the Roma Polo Club VIP lounge Friday, May 24. The theme was distinctly Italian, with lemons and bright Adirondack chairs – both monogrammed with the St. Regis logo – and the sun shone brightly overhead after several chillier days in the Italian capitol.
To say the crowd of over 400 was chic is an injustice; the crowd was refined, while brimming with styles straight from the runway in every color of summer. At one end, a bar replete with a lemon backdrop served up specialty cocktails of Royal Salute made with hand-sawn ice cubes a la minute. Every detail had been thought through, planned and attended to. Among the first players to arrive on site was U.S. Polo Assn. Global Brand Ambassador Ashley Busch who donned a chic look that included the limited-edition Sentebale t-shirt produced by U.S. Polo Assn. as part of a capsule collection. The limited-edition line also included a Sentebale-branded cap. Season after season, U.S. Polo Assn., the official licensed brand for the sport of polo in the United States since 1890, produces collections as diverse as its worldwide audience, from colorful polos to chic accessories, donned by many of the spectators in Rome. Invite-only guests of the 2019 Sentebale ISPS Handa Polo Cup, colorful individually though they were, all shared one common connection: everyone came to watch His Royal Highness The Duke of Sussex and his Sentebale St. Regis team match up against U.S. Polo Assn. team all while raising funds for Sentebale. Sentebale is the charity of one very famous prince and his royal homologue from Lesotho: His Royal Highness Prince Seeiso Bereng Seeiso. In the last nine years, Sentebale’s flagship event – the Polo Cup – has traveled around the world raising funds and awareness of its support of young people whose lives are affected by HIV/AIDS in the extremely impoverished areas of southern Africa: Lesotho, Botswana and parts of Malawi. As the anticipation around the arrival of The Duke of Sussex rose, suddenly, there he was in front of the step-and-repeat with Nacho Figueras and Delfina Blaquier. His Royal Highness beamed next to Figueras, captain of the Sentebale St. Regis team. Figueras is an avid supporter of Sentebale and later made a charity speech that evening at the St. Regis Midnight Supper. When it came time for the teams to take the field, the smart uniforms – Sentebale St. Regis in white and black and U.S. Polo Assn. in navy with red and white accents – shone under the Italian sun. As the official apparel sponsor of the 2019 Sentebale ISPS Handa Polo Cup, U.S. Polo Assn., fresh off of its success with the $1 million inaugural Gauntlet of Polo and the globally broadcasted U.S. Open Polo Championship, balanced creativity with brand heritage in color choices, lines and trim. Under the leadership of J. Michael Prince, the brand maintains and nurtures its roots while appealing to a global market. Busch, now in her jersey and white breeches, played on the Sentebale St. Regis team last year, but in Rome, she faced off against The Duke of Sussex and his teammates: Figueras, Michael Carrazza and Sarah Siegel Magness. Busch plays exhibition polo matches around the world, but playing for charity, she says, means more. “I’ve been following Sentebale for a number of years… I was introduced to their work by Nacho,” she said. “Polo gives me a voice to share with people the sport I love so much, as well as the charitable side of our lifestyle, especially as it relates to Sentebale.” Joining Busch on the U.S. Polo Assn. team were team captain Malcolm Borwick, along with Cable Magness and Chet Lott. “Playing against His Royal Highness is a once in a lifetime experience. He’s personable, a great teammate… and on the polo field, everyone is equal,” Busch said. The match, which went point-for-point early on, tied 4-4 at half-time. The Sentebale St. Regis team pulled away in the last chukker and ended the final Sentebale St. Regis 9-6 U.S. Polo Assn. The Royal Salute Best Playing Pony was presented to Manzanera, played by Borwick. Before and during the match, VIP attendees were treated to passed hors d’oeuvres by white-gloved waiters. The same waiters made sure attendees had customized St. Regis fans and plenty of hand-embroidered St. Regis napkins. Luxury buses transported VIP guests directly from Roma Polo Club back into the city, where the St. Regis Rome was ready to shine for the evening. Weeks of decorating the ballroom paid giant dividends as crystal chandeliers and stemware shone in candlelight. Florals suspended from the ballroom’s high ceilings created a jungle effect. The tablescapes were heaped with savory fruits – reminiscent of traditional Roman feasts. The Roman “Midnight Supper” was served just before 8:00 pm with four courses, wine pairings and dessert offerings. The southern African region that includes Lesotho, Botswana and Malawi is home to the world’s largest concentration of children living with HIV/AIDS. In addition, the stigma that persists around testing and disclosing infection is still prevalent. Since the inception of Sentebale, the transmission rate in these countries has dropped significantly. Envelopes were passed and checks were written. Last year the event raised over $1 million; since its inaugural event, the Sentebale Polo Cup has raised over 6.5 million pounds sterling for charitable support. This was the second year of the ISPS Handa tournament sponsorship. Their mission, which is to inspire through the power of sports, is based on Nelson Mandela’s use of rugby to unite South Africa after apartheid officially ended. This was the first year that U.S. Polo Assn. has sponsored a team and simultaneously been the apparel provider for both teams. U.S. Polo Assn. also presented a limited edition of Sentebale merchandise in a capsule collection available only to guests in Rome and 100 percent of the sales went to Sentebale Foundation.