By NICHOLAS PYKE in Moscow

A red plastic ball was whacked with a mallet and history was made. Polo has returned to Russia with the first chukka since 1917, when the revolution put an end to the sport and most other aristocratic indulgences.

But yesterday's match in Gorky, an area of exclusive dachas west of Moscow, was more than an exercise in reminiscence. It was also the inauguration of a new Moscow Polo Club, and big money is at stake.

This demonstration game featured 10 of the world's top professionals - including the England captain - riding 25 Argentinian ponies flown in at huge cost.

It is an expensive business, but the financiers behind this attempt to revive the sport believe even more money can be made from a game Russians associate with the heights of Western wealth and sophistication.

Polo was favoured by 19th century Russian royalty, their elite guards and cavalry officers in St Petersburg. Yesterday's match was attended by 500 leading bankers, financiers and friends of financiers, Russia's new aristocracy.



Those behind the scheme are convinced that the polo lifestyle as much as the horsey discipline will swing it their way. From the luxury cars on sale at the entrance, to the mountains of food, the foreign polo guests will have felt completely at home.

The Moscow Polo Club and yesterday's event have been led by a Peruvian-born financier, Victor Huaco, and Gregory Berezkin.

Both are with the Russian finance group ESN, and they are planning an $83 million golf and polo complex on the edge of the city. Moscow has just one full-sized golf course, and joining costs about$40,000.

- INDEPENDENT