Polo's Big Day

Polo's Big Day

The America's Cup of Polo returns to Loudoun.

It must be a daunting task to try to top a overwhelmingly successful inaugural event, but the people, players and countries involved in the second Land Rover America�s Cup of Polo event, taking place May 9 and 10, at Morven Park Equestrian Center in Leesburg, are more than stepping up to the challenge. Last year�s event, which occurred to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the settlement of Virginia, was the first challenge for the America�s Cup and drew huge crowds and many first-time polo fans who saw the British team beat the U.S. and take home the America�s Cup. This year the U.S. team is hoping to bring it home by winning its match against Italy, but more importantly the organizers of the event are trying to make it bigger and better than last year's.

"We�re making it that much better than last year. We want the experience to be even grander than last year and we want people saying �Wow, this is an amazing event.� We want to blow people�s minds away," said Tareq Salahi, the U.S. team captain and the founder of the America�s Polo Cup along with his wife, Michaele Salahi.

TO ACCOMPLISH THIS, the cup has been expanded into a two-day event featuring challenges between the Italy and U.S. not only in polo but also in food, fashion and music. The Italian Embassy has been working closely with cup organizers to bring in famous chefs, fashion designers, musicians and of course top polo players.

"The people at the Italian Embassy are very, very excited about this and we�ve had a few promotional events where they just keep joking around that they�re going to kick our butts," said Shannon Gorman, one of the event's coordinators.

The main event is the match between Italy and the U.S., but surrounding that will be a fashion show and cook-off on Friday night, fly over by the U.S. military on Saturday, parachute drops by the elite Black Water team and a concert with fireworks featuring Italian pop sensation Vittorio Grigolo and Huey Lewis and the News. The event is designed to draw families for a day of events that they will all enjoy and hopefully introduce people to the sport of polo.

"It�s going to be a very competitive match, we�re very evenly lined up and it�s going to be very competitive. The U.S. team has been preparing because of last year�s upset and we�re looking forward to brining the cup back to the U.S.," said Salahi.

While the sport of polo has always been fairly elite thanks to the high cost of playing, it is opening up to the general public more and more said Salahi. To this end, the America�s Cup is open to all who want to attend and while the big hats and dressier clothes that are traditionally associated with polo events are encouraged, the event won�t turn anyone away. Reaching out to the public is a major part of what the event is about.

"We found last year that 95 percent of people had never seen a polo match before, so we we�re really trying to reach out even more this year. We�re trying to make it more of a full experience to attract people that may be in this mindset that polo isn�t for them," said Gorman.

Charlie Muldoon, the director of development at Morven Park, who played polo professional for 15 years sees it as one of the greatest sports out there and believes that the cup gives people in the area a chance to experience a sport they may never get the chance to see.

"The greatest aspect about the game is that it�s not only the oldest team sport known to man, it�s the element of the horse. Trying to go 30 miles an hour and hit a ball as accurately as a golfer is challenging. It�s a very physical fast and wild game that is played," he said

THE AMERICA�S CUP, which Salahi likens to the Stanley Cup in hockey or tennis� U.S. Open in its importance in the world of polo, isn�t all about the match though. The festivities the night before will celebrate both Italian and American culture with a high-end fashion show and food being prepared by five-star chefs, who will also be doing the concessions on the day of the event.

"This year the Italians have asked to challenge us in food and fashion. They�re bringing over Renato Balestra, one of the most famous Italian couture women�s dress designers from Italy. He will personally be there and challenging the American designer who we are keeping a surprise," said Salahi.

To compliment the fashion show, which is being hosted by Paul Wharton and put on by top models from around the world. The chefs' food, which will all be there for sampling, will be judged by both an American and Italian culinary expert.

"The Italian Embassy has really pulled together some of the top Italian chefs," said Gorman, "Of course, we have got a fantastic team of six U.S. chefs, too.

Friday night will also feature music from live bands and is fashionably chic or black-tie optional.

ASIDE FROM the match on Saturday, the crowds will get to see and participate in a whole host of events including the halftime divot stomp and a celebrity polo match before the main event.

"We have a gentleman performing a song about how much he loves Loudoun County. Black Water will be doing a parachute jump with the U.S. and Italian flags and on the main stage we�ll have both national anthems performed," said Gorman. "At halftime of the polo match, the Coast Guard helicopter will come down and land on the center field and of course we have the divot stomp, which is what everyone remembers from �Pretty Woman� and asks about."

After the match, the concert will begin and the field will be opened up for seating. The fireworks will run later and Gorman says they will be even bigger and more awe inspiring than the ones on the National Mall on the Fourth of July.

"We�re also going to be doing a second jump at night with Black Water and they�ll be coming out of the sky right as the sunsets and they�re going to have fireworks coming out of the parachute and out of their legs. It�s going to be absolutely amazing. It�ll be spectacular for the kids," said Salahi.

THE FUTURE also looks bright for the event with a long list of countries lining up to play in years to come. It seems Loudoun might be the host of the event for those years, too, as Morven Park is planning on completely renovating its polo field to make it even a better place to watch the America�s Cup and to bring in even more polo events throughout the year.

"We�re getting ready to construct a whole new playing field on the property. After the event we�ll shut it down and reconstruct a very nice polo field there so we can get more games," said Muldoon. "When we do the grand reopening in fall of '09 we�ll be doing some fun stuff with the community. What we really want to do is create a really fun thing where we can have charity matches with area charities being supported."

In fact the America�s Cup is already doing this with much of the proceeds going toward the Journey for the Cure Foundation. This foundation gives research grants to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and the MS Society and money raised can only be used for research.

"I am looking forward to the U.S. taking the America�s Cup home, so that final score is going to be nice," said Gorman.