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The Love Issue: AlUla Desert Polo

In a picturesque setting, Saudia won the highly anticipated championship final of the Richard Mille AlUla Desert Polo Tournament Saturday at Al-Fursan Equestrian Village.



Saudia (Melissa Ganzi, Sayyu Dantata, Adolfo Cambiaso) defeated Richard Mille (Yoanna Hanbury, David Paradice, Pablo MacDonough), 9-5, in front of a packed house of dignitaries, celebrities and fans.

Following their victory, Saudia celebrated with the prestigious Desert Polo trophy presented to them by Abeer Al Akel, Acting CEO, Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) and Amr Zidan, Chairman, Saudi Polo Federation (SPF). 

Ganzi, who made history in 2022 as the first international woman to compete in the tournament, became the first woman to win the prestigious tournament. She was also named Top Female Player. “Being the first woman to play here in 2022 was special but it was even more special to be the first woman to win.

“It was amazing to play with Adolfo. It was special. He is such a great teammate as is Sayyu Dantata. This was an incredible magical spectacular tournament. I was honored to be invited to play.”

In addition to Ganzi’s honor, other post-final awards were Dantata (Men’s Best Player) and Cambiaso (Top Scorer). There were also awards for Pablo MacDonough (Best Goal), HRH Prince Hamza bin Abbas (Most Promising Player) and Yohanna Hanbury (Sportsmanship). The Best Playing Pony awards went to Dolfina Absoleta and Dolfina Shayla.

In the opening round, Saudia defeated SAB, 8-5 and in the semifinals, Dadan 8-4. 

Ganzi’s husband Marc surprised his wife flying in for the final.

“It’s a great moment for her, she works really hard at not only being a polo player, but being an ambassador for the sport on a global basis,” Ganzi said. “She has introduced so many people to polo and making it accessible to women and children. So for her this is her passion. When someone’s passion is executed it’s a beautiful thing to see. So I’m real happy for her.”

The third edition of the Richard Mille AlUla Desert Polo, the one-of-its-kind organized polo tournament played in a desert, featured a star-studded lineup. Eight teams, double the number from 2022, featured some of the world’s top players including the 26-goal World Polo League’s Pablo MacDonough and Juan Martin Nero, was held in a purpose-built desert arena in the Equestrian Village. 

The eight teams, featuring a record 24 players from 12 countries, were AlUla, Richard Mille, Saudia, SAB, Bentley, Dadan, Kaybar and Tayma. AlUla finished third and Tayma was fourth.

Top women’s players Nina Clarkin of Great Britain and Lia Salvo of Argentina gave a ladies polo clinic to promote polo for women in Saudi Arabia. In 2022, Ganzi was the only woman playing in the tournament. This year there were seven.

The four-day desert tournament was a collaboration between the Saudi Polo Federation, Royal Commission for AlUla, title sponsor and tournament timekeeper Richard Mille and La Dolfina Polo Team. The tournament is a part of the commission’s commitment to promote the country’s heritage, culture and arts in addition to its equestrian commitment to reinforce Saudi Arabia’s historic ties to its horsemanship heritage. The tournament was also held in 2020 and 2022.

“We are incredibly proud to have hosted the third edition of Richard Mille AlUla Desert Polo, it was a brilliant occasion for everyone connected,” said Ziad AlSuhaibani, Chief Sports Officer, Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU). “The on-field competition was magnificent and players, visitors, and media alike really enjoyed a unique experience, one exclusive to AlUla that can’t be found elsewhere on the international polo circuit.

“We are working towards Richard Mille AlUla Desert Polo being a world-class competition that people travel to from all over the world.  It’s true that we’re in the early stages of this endeavor. However, we’ve reached our development targets to date.

“Improvements were made to the competition, arena, and entire set-up this time around, and we have big ambitions for the future. We are committed to bringing more of the best players and teams to compete while increasing interest, attendance, media coverage and international exposure. We are growing the sport in AlUla and this competition is central to our efforts and progress.”

Throughout the tournament, luxury hospitality and live entertainment with local musicians honored Arabian culture and heritage for the complete desert polo experience.

Faisal Bin Dowees, CEO of SPF, said the strong audience attendance was instrumental to the tournament’s success, pointing out the local community’s enduring relationship with equestrian sports dating back thousands of years.

“Polo has remained firmly embedded in the hearts and minds of the Saudi population,” he said. “Interest in the sport is as high as ever and we are looking forward to presenting more opportunities four our people to participate and compete in the near future.”

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