Best Spectacle (2006)

Miami Beach Polo Cup

All you have to do is watch an episode of The Sopranos to see how the nouveau riche have, tragically, trampled upon all that once was the province of old money from the Old World. Tony Soprano and Paulie Walnuts might chomp cigars, swig Jameson, and tote copies of the Robb Report while profanely clomping across Pine Valley Golf Club's pristine eighteen holes. Yet there is one world that so far has escaped the grubby attentions of the crass-but-moneyed masses, and that is the domain of equestrian sports. Horses are not Porsche Cayennes, and they require a rather high-octane attention span; it takes time to learn to ride, handle, curry, and bond with a flesh-and-blood ride. You can bling out a thoroughbred only so much. And riding horses -- really doing it well -- isn't easy. So steeplechasing, dressage, and quadrilles remain for the moment a very blue-blood pursuit. The queen of these human-horse sports is of course polo, which pairs extraordinary equine athleticism with equal effort from riders, who basically play a wicked form of lacrosse astride 1000-pound thoroughbreds. In April 2005, Reto Gaudenzi, the master of Casa Casuarina who is also, as luck might have it, a professional polo player, thought to bring his beloved sport here and arranged for a three-day series of matches on Miami Beach across from the Casa at Eleventh Street and Ocean Drive. Polo on the sand was a novelty, but more interesting was that the matches -- played in innings called chukkers -- were open to the public. Despite frequent downpours and blowing sands courtesy of some errant April showers, it was successful. This year -- from April 11 to 13 -- the polo matches, still hosted by Gaudenzi, moved south to the beach behind The Setai on Twentieth Street and Collins Avenue, adjacent to the public beach on 21st Street. The weather cooperated. More children were on hand -- more observers in general -- and the ponies that weren't playing were stationed where scores of little equine lovers could get close enough to inhale. Polo ponies are actually the same thoroughbreds whose cousins race in the Triple Crown, but they are gelded and generally composed of a more compact, stocky body type, similar to that of a quarter horse. Yet in their polo finery -- plaited manes, tales coaxed into pompons or sleek braids, colorful saddle blankets -- they appear majestic. And these horses can haul hindquarters, possessing both sprinting speed and endurance. They are able to spin on a hoof and not get their elegant legs entangled in the dozen others seeking the five-inch-diameter orange ball. The party behind the polo is no joke either -- beyond the expected open bar, both years' tournaments have offered snacks above the norm, from a dozen flavors of gelato to fresh salmon rolls to crabcakes and éclairs. At the end of this past April's tourney, Melissa Ganzi, the only female rider, doffed her pink helmet to a cheering crowd as her Team Kreon emerged triumphant. It was a gracious, graceful spectacle. Don't you barons and baronesses of Brickell get any ideas.


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