An affair to remember
The 23rd Annual Museum of Polo and Hall of Fame Awards Dinner Gala has come and gone, but the memories made on this “Oscar Night” of polo will live on in polo history. Taking place on Friday, February 17th , a star-studded array of polo players and fans from around the globe gathered at the Museum to honor the new inductees into the Hall of Fame – Carlos Gracida ( Living Hall of Fame Award); James P. “Jimmy” Mills (Posthumous Hall of Fame Award); George Alexander (Living Iglehart Award); Alfred G. “Herbie” Pennell (Posthumous Iglehart Award); Chips Royal, owned by Bob Beveridge (Horses to Remember); and Brown Fern, owned by Mike Phipps (Horses to Remember).
During the Grand Reception guests were greeted with champagne, perused the silent auction gallery, and enjoyed the array of appetizer stations sponsored by Everglades Polo Club, Mark and Melissa Ganzi, Grand Champions Polo Club, International Polo Club Palm Beach, Barbara Uskup and entertainment sponsored by the Jan Pamela Polo Team. The wine and spirits for the evening were courtesy of Lipman Brothers, Inc., Brown-Forman, Bacardi USA, Fetzer Vineyards and Tito’s Handmade Vodka. An interesting side note – “Tito” is Bob Beveridge’s son and Bob’s great mare Chips Royal was honored with a Horses to Remember Award that evening.
A seated dinner followed during which former Hall of Fame Members who were present were introduced – Red Armour, Steve Gose, Guillermo “Memo” Gracida, Bennie Gutierrez, Julian Hipwood, Glen Holden, S.K. Johnston, Jr., William Sinclaire, and Charles Smith, and the Iglehart Award Winners Tony Coppola and Dave Rizzo.
With John Walsh acting as emcee for the evening, the Horses to Remember were introduced for the first round of awards. The lovely polo-playing granddaughter of Mike Phipps, Cecelia Cochran, stepped to the podium to accept the award for the gray pony with the unlikely name “Brown Fern” who had been owned by her grandfather Mike Phipps and played both by him and Stewart Iglehart in the International matches against England in 1937 and 1939, considered by the experts of the day as the best pony brought to the field by either side.
The next polo pony to be recognized was Chips Royal. Owner Bob Beveridge was unable to attend, but longtime friend and right-hand man of Bob’s, Ebby Gourley, made the trip from Texas with his family to accept the award on Bob’s behalf. It was a fitting honor since Ebby wrote the nomination letter for Chips a few years ago and he was visibly touched to be the one accepting the award. Chips was remembered for her speed, handiness, heart and “pure smarts” and won many Best Playing Pony awards in her career, most notably the Hartman Award for the BPP of the Open in 1973.
The next category of honorees to be acknowledged was for the Philip Iglehart Award for Outstanding Lifetime Contributions to the sport of polo. The award for posthumous inductee was presented to the proud family of Alfred G. “Herbie” Pennell. His son Bobby Pennell, daughter Donna Schantz and granddaughter Caron Schantz stood together as Donna delivered heartfelt thanks. Bobby Pennell reportedly had the time of his life and beaming from ear to ear he held on to the bronze Hall of Fame Award all night. Herbie was remembered as a kind and generous mentor to many polo players and aspiring polo club managers.
George Alexander was next to receive his award, striding to the podium amidst thunderous applause. His acceptance speech was peppered with some great stories of the good ol’ days in polo. George was recognized for his long and dedicated service to the USPA. He was the recipient of the Hugo Dalmar Award in 2005. He is still giving to the sport he loves by performing with his hitch of Clydesdales every Sunday during the Sarasota Polo Club Season and at the Annual Outback 40 Goal Challenge and at the USPA Open.
The posthumous Hall of Fame Award was for a mega-star of the 1930’s, James P., “Jimmy” Mills who died in 1978. He was a handsome figure in those glamorous and glorious “hey days” of polo and remembered not only for his major wins, but also for being on teams of talented youngsters who “upset” teams of the greatest players of the era. Mills was well represented by his son Jim Mills, Jr. and daughter Mimi Abel-Smith who were present to accept the award, the elegant Mimi delivering a gracious acceptance speech as her brother received the award.
The ceremony concluded with the induction of living legend Carlos Gracida. In attendance to honor Carlos were his proud mother Maria, brothers Memo and Javier, sons Carlitos and Mariano and a host of family and friends from the U.S., Mexico and around the world. Emcee John Walsh had a surprise – he started off the introduction by reaching into his jacket and pulling out a very small “Aladdin’s lamp” shaped trophy – the first one Carlos ever won. It was a kid’s tournament in Mexico in 1972 when Carlos was 12. And thus began the storied journey to international super stardom. Of course, to be inducted into the National Museum of Polo and Hall of Fame, he had to have been a major factor in polo in the United States. Of that fact, there can be no doubt. He achieved a rating of 10 goals in the U.S in 1985 and won the U.S. Open Championship nine times, the C. V. Whitney Cup three times , the Silver Cup twice, the Gold Cup and just about every other major U.S. tournament.
Carlos gave a warm and sincere acceptance holding the audience captive with his personal story of his early days in polo to his high-goal pinnacle, graciously acknowledging not only the people but also the horses that helped him along the way.
In addition to our wonderful sponsors, we also would like to thank artist Melinda Brewer for donating the Horses to Remember portraits and Alex Pacheco for donating his images for the presentations and exhibits, and volunteers Maria and Vincent Feola, Debby Meyer, Melanja Jones and Chris Vining.
The Museum of Polo and Hall of Fame is a 501 (c) 3, Not-for-Profit Organization and not affiliated with any other organization. Please support your Museum. Donations are appreciated.