Ivy Cup for Alumni Polo Players

In less than three weeks, about 400 ritzy New Yorkers will board a private six-car train in Grand Central Station and sip wine as they rumble through the blooming spring countryside.

After about an hour, a squad of school buses will pick them up and shuttle them to the elite Greenwich Polo Club, where they will enjoy a champagne reception and a buffet lunch.

Around 4 p.m., they will take to the open grounds and situate themselves for an afternoon of laid-back Ivy League polo.

There will be almost 70 ponies. But no college kids to ride them. That’s the whole point of the Ivy Cup Charity Polo Match, scheduled for Saturday, May 20th. It will pit alumni teams from Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Cornell against one another in the spirit of old school altruism and good-natured competition.

The annual tournament is in its fifth year, although this is the first time Princeton and Cornell are participating. Previously, it was just an outlet for the Harvard-Yale rivalry, according to organizers.

You don’t have to be an Ivy grad to attend, as long as you can pay the price of admission, which ranges from $145 to $250.

In past years, the upscale charity event has just broken even, but organizers hope to do better this year.

HORSE LEISURE

When they’re not watching the ball, the spectators will tailgate in elegance. The men will come in jackets and ties; the ladies in cocktail garden party attire.

“They’ll bring lovely picnic baskets and set up their lunch and eat on the grass,” says Kirsten Lewis, manager of the Polo Club. “People get very enthralled in these matches. There’s cheering, and there’s a lot of hoopla. But it will not be a violent event.”

Indeed, the competitive spirit does not appear to be running too high. “It’s really more about getting out and enjoying a beautiful day,” says event co-founder Brett Johnson ’81-’82. “No one gets too hardcore about the polo.”

“I’m sure Princeton won’t win,” says Princeton captain Agatha Herrero. “I heard the Yale team is pretty strong.”

Harvard captain Bruce Colley, who graduated from the Business School in 1991, is slightly more pugnacious, but even so, he graciously admits that Yale’s going to put up a tough fight.

“They’re all local players and they all play with their own horses,” he says. “We’ve got a disadvantage because we’ve got a much more international team, and everyone plays with borrowed or leased horses. Except for me.”

What are his horses’ names? Baja, Maggie, Davis, Petra, and Negro.

And who are his players? All Harvard grads. Marco Elser from Rome, Hanni Habbas ’86 from London, James McBride from South Africa, and Rhett J. Drugge ’81, who co-founded the Ivy Cup with Johnson back in 2002.

The Harvard squad, it seems, is more pure-blooded than the rest: most of the Yale and Princeton players are apparently ringers brought in because there were not enough alumni polo-players in the area. According to Lewis, the Yale team has only one alum playing for them, and Herrero says she recruited friends of hers for the Princeton team because she couldn’t find any willing alums.

HORSE MONEY

Proceeds from the Ivy Cup will go to the Charity Network of New York (CNNY), an organization which helps small charities gain exposure and capital by throwing big fundraisers and cocktail parties for them at little or no cost.

Usually, the money they make from their events goes to those charities. But according to Johnson, who founded the organization, CNNY has its own bills to pay, and the proceeds from the Ivy League polo match are set aside for the organization itself.

That was the plan anyway, when Johnson started the Ivy Cup in collaboration with Drugge, the captain of the now-extinct undergraduate Crimson polo team. So far, it hasn’t worked. Every year, CNNY has poured between $80,000 and $100,000 into the polo match, and as Johnson says, “there weren’t really any proceeds.”

He has high hopes for this year—he expects between 600 and 700 guests—but his voice sounds weary as he lists all the burdensome expenses involved in putting on the event. The polo game’s not a cheap one, after all.

As Lewis, the Greenwich polo club manager, puts it, “part of the allure of polo is that anyone can play if they have enough money and talent.”

The after-party, incidentally, will be held at a Manhattan nightclub. Johnson and Drugge have not decided which one yet.

—Staff writer Leon Neyfakh can be reached at neyfakh@fas.harvard.edu.