For the first time, polo was on the programme of the Longines Hong Kong Masters. EEM, the founding company and organizer of the Longines Masters (Series), made a point this year by opening up the doors of the Hong Kong leg to polo, a discipline rarely seen or experienced by the general public. Booming in Asia, the sport of kings made a triumphal return through the Longines Masters of Hong Kong with the arena polo tournament, the Shanghai Tang Polo Cup, winning the public over, who came for every game.
On this occasion, EEM has called the expertise of one of the three biggest clubs in Europe, the Chantilly Polo Club, run by Philippe Perrier: “It was interesting to be part of such a prestigious show jumping as the Longines Masters. Above all, EEM has offered us the opportunity to play our games at interesting times matching the jumping and the presence of the public. We have encountered very dynamic and enthusiastic people, we loved it. It was an amazing experience, very interesting for us”.
A feeling that shares Raphael Le Masne de Chermont, CEO of the luxury brand which gave its name to the tournament: “After three years of partnership with the Longines Masters of Hong Kong, I was looking to create an event inside the event, to differentiate our brand. As a passionate polo player, I saw the opportunity to bring this sport back to Asia, I took it as a challenge, and I think it paid off. My first condition was to associate a French club to this experience, as I myself play in La Baule, and the second one was to present a real professional polo, obviously with handicap 6 players then. I naturally chose Chantilly, because they are the only one with the capability and the will to embark on such challenges, and I am thrilled with this decision. This week-end has overcame my expectations, it was extraordinary”.
Four great and talented professional players made the trip to come and defend their discipline against the international show jumping. Nico Curto (+5), deeply involved in polo in this region of Asia was of course in Hong Kong, alongside Australia’s Dirk Gould (+6), Great Britain’s Georges Meyrick (+6). But, above all, Chantilly has brought his star player, France n°1 and handicap 6, Brieuc Rigaux: “I am very proud to be able to develop our sport in Asia. To come back to Hong Kong thanks to the Longines Masters, and promote our sport, it’s really important for us, and for the future”.
Two of these professionals, Brieuc Rigaux and Nico Curto, played a game against two of the best show jumping riders, Kevin Staut and Philippe Rozier, who fiercely played against each other: “It was a nice experience, ensures Philippe Rozier. In indoor, we are closer to the public, which makes it even nicer, all the riders supported us. Of course, Kevin soundly beat me, but I learnt afterwards that he regularly trains at the Deauville Polo Club. I told him I would go more often in Chantilly to be prepared and that next time, it would not be the same! Brieuc Rigaux, who I had already met three times in Chantilly, has done everything he could to make me play, but it was not enough for this time. It’s really something to do again though, especially in indoor”. Brieuc Rigaux, his one time partner, also enjoyed this experience: “The riders, especially those of the France team who I hung around every day, are really nice people. We shared the same stables, and it was really interesting to see how they work, observe how they manage their horses, to discover new mouths. On the field, they impressed me, they played really well. To be a good rider, it just shows it helps to be a good polo player”!
The public of Hong Kong was immersed in this universe, so much different from the international show jumping, both through the Shanghai Tang Polo Cup games, and with the activities in the Prestige Village. Children and adults could participate in introductory polo sessions on wooden horses and with small foot mallets as on the other side of the arena, the professional games set the scene for the evenings. The arena of the Longines Masters also opened to local player who, after penalty shoot-out sessions qualified to play alongside the professional players: “This indoor format is excellent, because it prevents people from getting bored. To involved local players and make them participate helped the public to better understand the game, and it became playful over the weekend. Besides, the players gave everything they got, they really played their games, it was fierce, and the professionals really gave a show. It had a huge impact on the public of Hong Kong. There was a true competition, it was great to see”, appreciated Raphael Le Masne de Chermont.
After the success of this weekend, it’s now time to look into the future. The Chantilly Polo Club will start its season of polo on grass in April, and will be marked by the twentieth anniversary of the club, whose highlights will be the France-Argentina encounter on 22th May, and the French Open in September. Longines Masters’ side, Los Angeles deadline on 29th September to 2nd October is already in preparation. As to know if polo and international show jumping will mix again soon thanks to the Longines Masters (Series), we can only hope. It is certain though that the desire to carry on this sport in Asia is present in all minds, and Philippe Perrier looks with enthusiasm to the future: “In Asia, people have full of projects for polo. We could meet, exchange ideas, create contacts that will help us build something concrete. This event is only the premise of the return of polo in Asia, full of projects are being developed through this, now it’s our turn to make something of it”.