2013-09-05 / Front Page

Sport of Kings and Tailgaters

By Esther Trneny

Horses charge by spectators at Glen Farm. (Photo by Jack Kelly) Horses charge by spectators at Glen Farm. (Photo by Jack Kelly) Listening to the roar of the crowd and smelling the hotdogs and hamburgers from the grills set up near vehicles ringing the field, a passerby might be forgiven for not realizing what kind of sporting event was actually taking place in Portsmouth last weekend. After all, one doesn’t usually associate tailgating with the "sport of kings."

Agnes Keating is happy to see the tailgaters, and welcomes them just as warmly as those who occupy the box seats under the huge white pavilion at the Newport Polo Club grounds at Portsmouth’s historic Glen Farm.

Every summer for the last 21 years, Agnes’ husband, Dan Keating, has been hosting polo players from the U.S. and overseas at the beautiful grounds and barns he refurbished during the early 1990s. An avid polo player and renovator, Dan had been looking for a place to keep and train horses, and the formerly derelict farm that had just been purchased by the Town of Portsmouth fit the bill nicely.

“It was abandoned and needed somebody to revitalize it. Dan was an old building renovator, so it was perfect for his needs,” said Agnes.

Agnes and Dan met in August of 1998. While Agnes isn’t much of a horse rider, she is fond of polo, as she hails from a well-established polo community in St. Louis, Missouri. While visiting New England that summer, she saw a sign on East Main Road reading "Polo Today," and stopped in. After the game, she was introduced to Dan and lightning struck. Now the two work together to continue a tradition that originally began in Newport over a century ago.

America’s first polo club, the Westchester Polo Club, was formed in 1876 in Westchester County, New York. Most of the club members spent their summer holidays in Newport where they established their summer headquarters. The original club remained active until 1929, and after being revived by Dan in 1992, the Newport Polo Club remains registered with the United States Polo Association under the historic Westchester name.

Last Saturday’s match was a friendly but intense rivalry between Dan's Newport team and New York’s Shamrock Polo Team, headed up by John Walsh, host of "America’s Most Wanted." Although the Shamrock team is based in Florida where Walsh and his family reside during the winter months, they spend July and August at their summer home in New York. They traveled to Portsmouth for Saturday’s exhibition match, bringing along two trainers and 24 horses.

Walsh said he most enjoyed the family aspect of the game, as well as the excitement inherent in the sport.

“It’s the fastest, most high adrenaline, dangerous sport around,” enthused Walsh.

Watching the skill of the players and horses, one begins to appreciate Walsh’s words more fully, as players jostled and raced to hit the ball with long-handled wooden mallets through the goal posts.

Almost halfway through Saturday’s game, Newport’s Carlos Maldonado suffered a groin injury and was replaced by Rory Torrey. Torrey learned to play polo from Dan Keating, and is now a professional polo player and manager on the East Coast.

As Torrey suited up during the break between the third and fourth chukkas (there are six chukkas in a polo match, each lasting up to 7 ½ minutes), spectators swarmed onto the field to step on the divots created by the horses’ hooves, a much-enjoyed tradition providing an opportunity for spectators from all walks of life to socialize further.

Such opportunities are among the reasons that Agnes Keating enjoys the International Polo Series that the club hosts every year. No longer just the sport of kings, Agnes said she’s delighted that everyone has the chance to enjoy the sport now, and is proud that it is accessible to families and fans from every community.

“We’re growing every year. New groups of people are discovering polo for its accessibility and entertainment value,” said Agnes.

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