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Team London, red, takes on Team Moscow, green, at Hurlingham Park in London, where polo's new format was first tried out in 2009. Zak Hussein / PA Archive
Team London, red, takes on Team Moscow, green, at Hurlingham Park in London, where polo's new format was first tried out in 2009. Zak Hussein / PA Archive

Polo is coming to Emirates Palace

The Life: Since the start of this year, City Events has been working with the Emirates Palace to wow the swashbuckling international polo crowd and local equestrian enthusiasts.

As the sun drops over Abu Dhabi, the sprinklers on the expansive grounds of the Emirates Palace send jets of water dancing over the lawns. The balcony abutting the palace's VIP reception has a commanding view. To the left is the sweep of the Corniche, ahead the Three Sails Tower, and to the right is the lawn that is being painstakingly transformed into a polo field for the newest addition to Abu Dhabi's social calendar: Coutts Polo at the Palace.

Since the start of this year, the organiser City Events has been working with the palace to wow the swashbuckling international polo crowd and local equestrian enthusiasts. The host of challenges include creating the perfect turf and mounting high definition screens

"From local celebrities to royalty there will be a wide array of people that will be interested," says the Emirates Palace manager Alexander Schneider.

The sport of kings, as polo is known, dates to the fifth century but has been given a modern makeover to bring it to the metropolis.

In 2009, City Events tried a new format of polo in London at Hurlingham Park. The format's popularity established, the company then approached Emirates Palace about fielding a similar event in Abu Dhabi. Since the start of the year, all those involved have been working flat out to make it "the best polo event in the Middle East," says Mr Schneider.

Palace Polo rules differ from traditional polo. The aim is to make the game faster and bring it closer to spectators.

Each team has three rather than four members, increasing the need for teamwork, skill, speed and tactics. In a dramatic start to play dubbed the suicide dash, two players from opposing teams gallop at full speed from opposite ends of the field to reach the ball first.

A line beyond which scoring doubles encourages players to make breathtaking long shots, and teams change ends only after each quarter rather than after each chukka, or spurt of play. The reduced pitch size - 180 metres in length, compared to 275m, and 75m width (145m) - means spectators are close to the action.

With such proximity, safety is the priority, says Richard Kirtley, City Events' director of operations.

Getting the grass right is another one. "The quality of grass on lawn [is very important] because the animals are moving quickly and there are massive changes in direction," says Mr Kirtley. "If the grass does not have correct root length and is not deep enough it becomes unsafe quite quickly."

Fortunately, he found the Palace's grass to be of good quality. He also provided the groundsman with a mix of ryegrass, meadow grass and two types of red fescue to complement what is already there.

As well as hosting the polo, Emirates Palace is planning other events for the weekend of November 23 and 24, including a Damien Hirst art exhibition and a Stella McCartney fashion show.

"Polo will mainly take place in afternoon hours so that gives us unique opportunities for after-play events," Mr Schneider says. "One of these things will be the Stella McCartney show. Since polo is a very male sport, I think it's great to have a female fashion designer - it just brings a good balance."

Because this is the first year, organisers plan to keep the event exclusive: only 1,000 tickets will be available each day.

"We have serious heavyweight brands - Coutts, Maserati - on board [as sponsors] and an amazing venue that lay the bar for quality," Mr Kirtley says. "It's really important for me that we really deliver a beautiful looking event and the level of finish is of absolute premium quality."

For more information, including tickets: www.citypoloseries.com.

lgutcher@thenational.ae

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