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Andrea Fischman

Pony Up

In Saratoga, the highbrow and hoi polloi both are drawn to the sport of kings.

By Susan Mehalick

Picture this: Une femme d’un certain age sporting a towering, elegant chapeau lifts a glass goblet to her lips with a gloved hand, while just feet away a gaggle of casually clad spectators slake their thirst by swigging beer from long-neck bottles.

What has brought these seemingly disparate parties into such close proximity on a steamy afternoon in Saratoga Springs? Why, the thoroughbreds, of course. However, not the ones that race at the flat track, but rather those that thunder up and down the field at the Saratoga Polo Club. (Most polo ponies, while not necessarily ponies, are thoroughbreds.)

To the uninitiated (that’s me—previous polo experience limited to one indoor match at Cornell when my former college roomie, an avid horsewoman, was at vet school there and ogling pictures in People magazine of Princess Di greeting her royal ex post-game) the scene at the polo grounds is a bit unexpected.

Andrea Fischman

On this day, a fieldside benefit for an area charity has brought out the fancy-hat crowd, distinguished most visibly by a passel of ladies bedecked in attire suitable for a late-morning wedding in June—or, evidently, a polo match. They are the exception, however, and stand out like bright, exotic flowers amid the few hundred spectators gathered for a match between Airstream/Statewide and Wildcat, two of the six teams competing in the 2002 high-goal tournament season in Saratoga. Oh, and there are also a few dogs on hand, and even some kids running around—several among them toting appropriately downsized polo mallets, just as you might see a youngster at a baseball game wearing a glove.

Polo may be called the sport of kings, but there’s practically an egalitarian air about this place. Never mind that the general admission crowd is seated clear across the field from the Players Club pavillion in folding chairs next to open-ended SUVs, station wagons and other vehicles that have been backed up to the field for tailgate parties—a long-held pre-game polo tradition. To be fair, those who can’t tolerate the cheap seats ($5 per person/$15 per carload), can rub elbows with the jet set for a small price: Twenty bucks a head gains those so inclined access to a tent and lawn chairs of the non-folding variety lining the field on the club side.

While a certain amount of schmoozing and people-watching help to make the scene (not to mention lend to its documentation on the society page, even when timely coverage is lacking from the sports page), there’s no question that this is a sporting event. The American flag that’s paraded to center field by a rider atop a trusty steed for the pre-game singing of The Star Spangled Banner is a good indicator. So is the booming, jovial voice of the game’s announcer. But when riders—four per team—scramble to gain position after the first ball is thrown into play, it becomes clear that for most in attendance the main attraction is on the field.

The play is fast and furious as players whack the ball with their mallets and send it careening downfield only to lay chase at breakneck speeds, racing against their opponents to get the next shot at the ball and perhaps send it sailing into the goal. It’s like hockey on horseback (an observation I am not the first to make). And in short, it’s thrilling when the horses, nostrils flaring, charge past in hot pursuit of the ball and each other.

It’s enough to make a fan of even the most reluctant spectator. That’s why I’ve already made plans to go back again. Well, that and the halftime proceedings, the great equalizer, that turn the highbrow and hoi polloi alike into ad hoc groundskeepers in the ritual replacing of the divots. There’s something odd and enthralling about the sight of fans from either side of the field flocking en masse onto the pitch to stomp patches of upturned turf back into place, as the announcer offers the friendly reminder: “As always, green side up.”

Even the aforementioned grande dame wearing the crown-like lid leaves her perch on the clubhouse terrace to step over the side-line ropes and boards to do her part. After spotting a clump of loose grass and dirt, she maneuvers it back into place with her toe then rolls the ball of her foot over it before moving onto the next, ever mindful not to get her heels stuck as she makes her way.


This Week in Saratoga

Thursday, Aug. 1

Borders Books and Music, 395 Broadway, Saratoga Springs. 583-1200. 6-9 PM. Reception for The Dance of Life, an exhibit of photographs by Bruce Harding.

The Comedy of Errors, Saratoga Shakespeare Company, Congress Park, Saratoga Springs. 6 PM. Shakespeare’s classic comedy will be performed. Free. 884-4947.

Gallery 100, 445 Broadway, Saratoga Springs. 580-0818. 6-8 PM. Adirondack Arts reception, featuring the sculpture of John Van Alstine with works by John Dyer, Chuck Hawley, Melanie Printup Hope, Clarence King, Betsy Krebs, Annoel Krider, Harry Orlyk, Nadia Rymanowski and Don Wynn.

The Gallery at Wesley, 131 Lawrence St., Saratoga Springs. 587-3600. 3-4 PM. Reception for Mary Insogna exhibit of oil paintings and more. 3-4 PM.

Saratoga County Arts Council, Member Exhibition Hall, 320 Broadway, Saratoga Springs. 584-4132. 6-9 PM. Win—Place—Show, annual juried equine exhibition reception. 6-9 PM.

Saratoga Performing Arts Center, 320 Broadway, Saratoga Springs. 7 PM: Pre- performance talk. 8:15 PM: The Philadelphia Orchestra with conductor Charles Dutoit and violinist Sarah Chang present A Hero’s Life with pieces by Brahms and Strauss. 218-0504 or 584-4132.

Saratoga Springs Public Library, 49 Henry St., Saratoga Springs. 584-7860. 6-9 PM. Reception for Pat Goodale’s exhibit of recent works in watercolor and a variety of media.

Schenectady Symphony Orchestra will sponsor a summer gala at the Hall of Springs preceding a concert by the Philadelphia Orchestra at Saratoga Performing Arts Center at 5:30 PM. Tickets for the SSO/SPAC gala which includes a champagne reception, gourmet dinner and concert seats are $110. 372-2500.

Uncommon Grounds, 402 Broadway, Saratoga Springs. 581-0656. 6-9 PM. Paintings by Walford Williams and ceramics by Darren Prodger and Douglas Klein reception.

Friday, Aug. 2

The Comedy of Errors, Congress Park. 6 PM. Shakespeare’s classic comedy. Free. 884-4947.

Saratoga Performing Arts Center, 320 Broadway, Saratoga Springs. 7 PM: Pre- performance talk. 8:15 PM: The Philadelphia Orchestra with conductor Charles Dutoit and soprano Kathleen Battle will perform Bel Canto with Kathleen Battle, including arias by Bellini, Rossini and others. 218-0504 or 584-4132.

Saturday, Aug. 3

The Comedy of Errors, Congress Park. Shakespeare’s classic comedy. 6 PM. Free. 884-4947.

Gallery 100. 445 Broadway, Saratoga Springs. 580-0818. 6-8 PM. Adirondack Arts reception, featuring the sculpture of John Van Alstine with works by John Dyer, Chuck Hawley, Melanie Printup Hope, Clarence King, Betsy Krebs, Annoel Krider, Harry Orlyk, Nadia Rymanowski and Don Wynn.

Saratoga Performing Arts Center. 7 PM: Pre-performance talk. 8:15 PM: The Philadelphia Orchestra with conductor Charles Dutoit and pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet present an All-French Program with pieces by Debussy, Saint-Saëns and Berlioz. 218-0504 or 584-4132.

Saratoga Springs Farmers Market. High Rock Park, High Rock Avenue. 9 AM-1 PM.

Sunday, Aug. 4

AIDS Council of Northeastern New York will hold a benefit at the National Museum of Dance in Saratoga from 6-8:30 PM. There will be dancing, a silent auction, cocktails and a gourmet buffet reception. Tickets are $125. 434-4686 ext. 217.

The Comedy of Errors, Congress Park. 5 PM. Shakespeare’s classic comedy. Free. 884-4947.

Old Saratoga Farmers Market. Saratoga Apple, Route 29, Schuylerville. 1-4 PM.

Saratoga Performing Arts Center. 9:30 AM: Classical breakfast presented by the Schenectady Symphony Orchestra. $10, $7 children under 13. 218-0504 or 584-4132. 7:30 PM: Bonnie Raitt and Lyle Lovett will perform. 476-1000.

Monday, Aug. 5

The Comedy of Errors, Congress Park, Saratoga Springs. 6 PM. Shakespeare’s classic comedy. Free. 884-4947.

Saratoga Performing Arts Center. 8:15 PM: Saratoga Chamber Music Festival featuring songs with Kathleen Battle and Jean-Yves Thibaudet. 218-0504 or 584-4132.

Tuesday, Aug. 6

The Comedy of Errors, Congress Park. 6 PM. Shakespeare’s classic comedy. Free. 884-4947.

Lyrical Ballad, 7-9 Phila St., Saratoga Springs. 6-8:30 PM: My Racing Heart author Nan Mooney will be appearing for a signing. For more information call 584-8779.

Saratoga Performing Arts Center. 7:30 PM: Pavilion-only show with Mary J. Blige and Wyclef Jean. 476-1000.

Wednesday, Aug.7

The Comedy of Errors, Congress Park, Saratoga Springs. 6 PM. Shakespeare’s classic comedy. Free. 884-4947.

National Museum of Horse Racing, 191 Union Ave., Saratoga. 10 AM–noon: My Racing Heart author Nan Mooney will be appearing for a signing. For more information call 584-0400 ext. 117.

Ponytales, Saratoga Race Course, Union Ave., Saratoga. 1-3 PM: My Racing Heart author Nan Mooney will be appearing for a signing. For more information call 587-2963.

Saratoga Performing Arts Center. 7 PM: Pre-performance talk. 8:15 PM: The Philadelphia Orchestra with conductor Charles Dutoit and violinist Gil Shaham will perform Violin Concerto Symphony #5. 218-0504 or 584-4132.

Saratoga Springs Farmers Market. High Rock Park, High Rock Avenue. 3-6 PM.

Saratoga Race Course

134th Season

Open daily through Sept. 3, except Tuesdays.

Location Union Avenue, Saratoga Springs, 584-6200

Admission $5 grandstand, $8 clubhouse, children under 12 free.

Parking $7 per car at the main gate and across Union Avenue at the Oklahoma Training Track.

Racing At least nine races a day; pari-mutuel wagering on every race.

First Race Post Time 1 PM (except Travers Day, Aug. 24, when its 12:30 PM).

Major Stakes Races Alabama Stakes (Aug. 17); Travers Stakes (Aug. 24); Spinaway Stakes (Aug. 30); Hopeful Stakes (Sept. 1).

Promotional Item Giveaways T-shirt (Aug. 4 and Sept. 1); baseball cap (Aug. 11); 12-pack cooler (Aug. 18).



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