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Reeves Charity Polo Classic looks to build on inaugural success

PLANT CITY

Organizers started by persuading America's Most Wanted host John Walsh to play in the match and the Golf Channel's Lauren Thompson to serve as host.

Then they took to social networks to tout the event. On Monday and Tuesday, they went a step further by taking horses into television studios to enhance the promotional effort.

They invited more reporters to Plant City's DI Polo Club for a special preview this morning.

The group of young professionals have flexed their marketing muscles in the hopes of making Saturday's Reeves Charity Polo Classic even more successful than last year's inaugural event. It's a tall task given that last year's event drew more than 350 and 45 organizations.

Yet Chris Gannon, a former international polo player who helped craft the idea of a charity match, spoke confidently about surpassing those marks this week.

"Last year, we started planning it three months in advance and we didn't even know if we would break even," said Gannon, 29. "Now we're looking at doubling revenue and decreasing the costs."

The committee's youthful energy certainly helps, and the event's beneficiaries — the Children's Cancer Center, Wheels of Success and Starting Right, Now — bring an added level of support and attention.

However, it's polo's unique combination of exhilarating sport and elegant fashion that make up the core of the classic's expected success. The opportunity to witness galloping horsemen chasing after a ball proves rare in Tampa Bay, and the chance to attend such an event in "appropriate attire" — seersucker suits, sundresses and eye-popping hats like Pippa Middleton's famed fascinator — adds to the charm.

"It's not something we have the opportunity to do in Tampa," said committee member Erin McKinnon. "I can't think of an event where you can wear one of the most stylish hats and compete to have the best-looking hat. We know from Gasparilla that people in Tampa love to dress up for themed parties.

"This is a chance to dress up for a different kind of themed party."

While the classic will focus on the so-called "sport of kings," the event won't miss the opportunity to underscore the posh ambiance.

Title sponsor Reeves Import Motorcars will fill the lot with dazzling high-end cars. Attendees will be greeted with a glass of champagne and a photographer will snap their photo as they arrive on the red carpet.

Before the match, a patient from the Children's Cancer Center will sing the national anthem, fans will witness a dressage exhibition and parachutists will bring in the nation's flag.

At halftime, attendees will participate in the traditional champagne divot stomp.

On top of all of that, there will be a gourmet lunch, complimentary wine and beer, specialty drinks and oyster shooters.

It's almost enough to make you forget about the polo match.

Gannon, however, said that the action often proves irresistible.

"The horses will reach speeds of up to 35 miles per hour," Gannon said. "There's going to be people hitting the ball, bumping and hooking. It's going to be fun and fast-paced."

Added McKinnon: "We weren't sure how people would take to polo, but last year they were standing around the field, watching and really enjoying the match."

Times staff writer Ernest Hooper can be reached at ehooper@tampabay.com.

. if you go

Reeves Charity Polo Classic

When: Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Where: DI Polo Grounds, 1003 Cowart Road, Plant City.

Admission: $150, $250 per couple, $1,000 for a group of eight.

Special guests: America's Most Wanted host John Walsh will play, Golf Channel's Lauren Thompson will host.

For information: Call (813) 833-1644 or go to charitypoloclassic.com or facebook.com/charitypoloclassic.

. Fast facts

A polo primer

A polo field is nine times the size of a football field — almost 10 acres in all — but spectators still remain close to the action.

• There are four players to a team. Each player is assigned a position, designated by the numbers 1 through 4.

• The No. 3 position usually goes to the highest-rated player and team captain.

• Men and women can play in the same game and are treated as equals, as indicated by their handicaps alone.

• A typical polo match is composed of six chukkers, or periods of playing time, each lasting about seven and a half minutes.

• The ball is typically clocked at over 90 mph.

• If the ball breaks during the play, players may continue playing the largest piece.

• Even left-handed players must play right-handed.

• Although they are called ponies, polo horses are full-sized horses (often thoroughbreds) and contribute up to 80 percent of the rider's ability to make plays.

• Especially in higher goal matches, most of the horses are mature females (mares).

Source: U.S. Polo Association

Reeves Charity Polo Classic looks to build on inaugural success 02/21/13 [Last modified: Friday, February 22, 2013 11:51am]
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