Thoroughbred racing in Del Mar gets a lot of attention at this time of year, but a lower-profile horsey spectacle also unfolds just down the road from the racetrack. In all our years of nosing into San Diego stuff, we’d never gotten around to watching one of the matches at the San Diego Polo Club. Sunday we made up for lost time.
The action starts at 1:30 most Sunday afternoons. We showed up around 2:45 and found no hint of any traffic tie-ups. We drove into the gate on El Camino Drive (just south of Via de la Valle), wound our way to the wise-cracking guy collecting money ($10 per adult and $5 for parking), then hopped on a golf cart that whisked us to the spectator area adjoining the club’s enormous manicured grassy expanse (nine football fields worth of it). Certain sections are reserved for those paying for the lavish buffet, but we soon found shaded seats on the low rail that separates the spectators from the playing field.
The main match of the day began at 3, and it was easy to follow, once we got our heads around the fact that each team didn’t have its own goal post; instead either of the 4-person teams could score a goal at either end of the field at any moment. The local club has an announcer who talks non-stop, laying out the basics and commenting on the finer points of ball-whacking and position-jockeying. We couldn’t summon up much interest in the latter, and too many time-outs interrupted the action. But whenever one of the players sent the ball flying and the whole pack (the 8 team members and 2 referees) tore after it, horses snorting and hooves rumbling, it made us gasp. These animals aren’t like racehorses who only have to run fast. The polo ponies accelerate with breathtaking speed, then turn and reverse course and stop short and plunge into brutal equestrian traffic jams. No one fell or got hurt this afternoon, but if there’s a scarier spectator sport involving animals being practiced in the world today, we couldn’t think of it.
We also enjoyed the perspective of our companion, a 17-year-old houseguest from Paris, who, as chance would have it, has seen a match or two at the polo field in the Bois de Boulogne. There the hoi polloi can’t simply plunk down their euros and barge in. According to Annabelle, the Parisian match-attendees don’t pay much attention to the actual games. Instead the club is a tres chic setting for elite socializing. Annabelle also noted that the French club’s dress code is much more understated than Rancho Santa Fe’s, where the women’s shoes and bling alone looked like they could be ransomed for more than a few stables of polo ponies.
Still we were dressed in humble San Diego Casual, and no one made us feel we deserved to be ejected. Meanwhile the summer spectator schedule continues. Some of the bigger upcoming events include Spreckels Cup matches August 17 and 24 (named after the man who in 1906 founded the Coronado Polo Club, predecessor the the current club) and the Triple Crown of Polo Match September 21.