Amongst the top tier players attending this year are visiting Argentinian player Paco O’Dwyer, Australian Lachie Gilmore, NZ captain John-Paul Clarkin and his English wife Nina, who is the best woman polo player in the world.
Other Kiwis attending are Thomas Hunt, Jeremy Jones and Matt van den Brink, son of Auckland Polo Club president Tony, who is playing in the Open for the first time.
Hunt, 36, is described as one to watch on the day and is perhaps NZ’s most exceptional player, as well as being rather handsome.
Although he won’t be at the launch, England polo team captain James Harper will be playing in the tournament, which starts on February 13, with the Open finals on the following Sunday at the eponymous fields in Clevedon.
Aussie player Lachie Gilmore, 22, is picked to be one of the world’s up-and-coming polo greats. He is the son of Australian polo legend Glen Gilmore, ex-manager of Guards Polo Club UK, (the club of the royal family). When Gilmore Snr retired, he went on to manage the teams of one of Australia’s wealthiest families, media moguls the Packers.
The Clarkins, who split their year between NZ and the UK, have also played with the royals, as has Harper. But the player most likely to reveal some insider royal secrets at the launch party is retired professional polo player Cody Forsyth from Clevedon. Still heavily involved in polo, he’s perhaps NZ’s most well-known player throughout the world. He has played with various royal families and, we are told, in his day was quite chummy with King Charles.
The launch event will take place at DoubleTree by Hilton Karaka, a country hotel owned by one of New Zealand’s wealthiest families, the Velas, next to their New Zealand Bloodstock stables.
Executive director of the NZ Polo Open Lucy Ainsley tells Spy the hotel will be a fantastic space to launch the official draw.
Guests will be quaffing Champagne, pink polo cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. Mixing it up with the polo set will be this year’s Open ambassador Holly Estelle, fellow fashionistas Carena West and Lulu Wilcox, and Auckland Racing Club ambassador Caitlin O’Sullivan, among others.
“The launch marks the start of the tournament for the teams as they start to strategise their game plans, with six really competitive teams entered, and with the weather starting to heat up, the polo buzz will really ramp up,” says Ainsley.
She will be joined at the event by her husband Kel, a globally renowned polo pony trainer/horse whisperer.
The Open is known to bring together the “it” people of the moment who mix it up with the uber-wealthy, the horsey set and the general public, providing a thoroughly colourful day. There will be numerous spots to view the action, whether that’s from the various sponsored marquees or keeping it simple with a picnic up on the hill.
Archibald & Shorter Auckland will be putting their top car to the test against one of the polo ponies in the annual Car v Horse race. For those quick on their feet to test their own horsepower, there will be 100m dashes on the polo field with the fastest awarded for their speed.
Whispering Angel, the world’s number one luxury rosé brand, will be the drink of the event and host to the chic Whispering Angel VIP Polo Club.
NZ Polo Open has partnered with New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing / Purei Hōiho Nāti o Aotearoa in a special animal welfare and rehoming collaboration. The tournament will see more 100 thoroughbred horses on the field – each worth upwards of $100,000 – that have found their second careers in polo, and the best playing rehomed thoroughbreds will be rewarded with prize money.
Ainsley is more than excited to have the Open returning after a three-year absence.
“The teams and I have never been more ready for some great polo at Auckland’s Polo playground in Clevedon,” she says
“The 47th NZ Polo Open is going to be the one we have all been waiting for, and I cannot wait.”