After years without racing in the Calgary area, horses are back on the track. Century Downs Casino is so fresh the slots aren’t even sticky yet. And this weekend, it was opening day for the reason behind their existence (aka the help in securing their liquor license): the racetrack. Conveniently located beside Cross Iron Mills outlet mall. I fully supported the opening parade’s emphasis on horse style. In this case, it was zebra-striped everything — even girth straps.The fashion sense continued with the drivers. Standardbred silks just seem to have a certain Evel Knievel super-coolness.No scissors here. This is how ribbon-cutting rolls at the racetrack.I found most of the high-fashion hats inside at a private reception, where the peeps were not only VIP, they were smart, since it was ridiculously cold outside. Hazel Bennett of Borders Racing Stable wore a lovely feathered hat originally worn by her mother in the 1940s. Dr. David Chalack stuck with his ten-gallon, but what would you expect from the man who is not only the Chair of the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency, but a board member of the Canadian Dairy Network and past president of the Calgary Stampede?Sandra Rexilius paired her beautiful brown velvet chapeau with her actual riding jacket. Bien sur!While Premier Jim Prentice stuck to his lawyerly go-to duds, albeit weekend casual with the button down shirt sans tie, it looks like he might have picked up a little fashion advice — and a big belt buckle — from Max Gibb, vice-chairman of the United Horsemen of Alberta and Century Downs.Although he seemed to charm the harness drivers without cowboying up.Finally, the wait was over and the first official race at Century Downs began. The photo finish ended up being a few short feet between new guard and wise guard: 22-year-old Travis Cullen (ladies, he lives in Airdrie) and 60-year old Rod Hennessy.My fave outfit of the day could be winner Rod Hennessy’s lucky orange and blue silks, but my favorite expression is definitely that manure-eating grin on Waitin Ona River’s face. Congratulations, you two! For more on Opening Day, please check my article in the Calgary Herald.
Blue Besos Goes to Sayulita!Playa Escondida is a secluded beach 18 miles north of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. It’s also the name of the muy romantico boutique resort here, tucked into the lush jungle hillside overlooking the Pacific.If, for some loco reason you didn’t realize it when you made your reservation, when you arrive at the resort’s office (to do that, I recommend booking the hotel’s driver, who will greet you at the airport with a giant Suburban and make sure you have enough cervezas for the 40-minute ride, purchased from the liquor store conveniently located in the PVR parking lot) it hits you: this is not a Four Seasons. Or a Hyatt. Or a Hilton. Or any other hotel brand with a global marketing initiative. And, as a globally recognized woman tends to say… it’s a good thing.This is what a hallway looks here. Overflowing with foliage, Playa Escondida feels like a hipper version of the Swiss Family Robinson’s house, minus the ladders. The very things that make this resort so wonderful also make it tricky to photograph. On the right, you’ll find the entrance to the fine dining restaurant. The steps up to the lounge are hidden on the left. Follow the path to the end… … and you’ll arrive here. Don’t feel compelled to choose the hammock because that lounger looks a little too hard. Someone will be right out with cushions to get it just right, Goldilocks.Even when it’s booked solid, the small number of rooms at the resort limits guest numbers, keeping the beach muy tranquillo. It’s not the best for swimming with these rocks scattered along the shoreline, but if you walk south for, oh, about five minutes, with Monkey Mountain in the distance, you’ll find a long stretch of sand. Perfect for body surfing. Even during major holidays, the beaches south and north of the resort are deserted, probably because there are no other hotels along this stretch of the Nayarit coast.Or you can get there on horseback, via a jungle trail. The hotel has its own horses, so if you book a ride, it’s just you and the gaucho. Speedy is playing it cool, but I look a little bedraggled because we’ve just been cantering up and down the beach having the ride of my dreams, splashing through the waves. Check out Speedy’s one-eared bridle! Her Mexican saddle is totally different than Simon’s Argentine polo saddle, but once I settled into it, it was vaquera time.The owner, who has no other hotels, started with a couple of thatch-roofed casitas ten years ago. Now up to almost 30 rooms and villas, two thirds are either right on the beach, like these ones above, or have an ocean view.After outdoor yoga, offered free every morning on a terrace overlooking the ocean (claro) I finally tried a coffee at the restaurant, also overlooking the ocean, although my photo doesn’t really show it. Being in vacation mode, I have to admit that My Usually Ultra-Excellent Photography Skills were in slacker mode.Every other day I had my coffee at the room, brewing it myself with the maker provided. Can you see why I had vacation brain? Look at this view! Deets on the Love Nest later. (I’m not kidding — that was the name of my room). Meanwhile, I highly recommend David Sedaris’ latest: Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls. His hilarious essays were the perfect length for my reduced mental alacrity. Playa Escondida is one of those rare hotels where the reality is actually much, much more beautiful than the website photos. Which is saying a ton, because their website is great. I was so agog, I almost forgot to blog.
So I’ll leave you with the video that instantly cemented my decision to come here. It’s like no promo I’ve ever seen, and instantly filled me with amor for my as-yet un-met amigos at the resort. Meanwhile, that’s not all! Blue Besos Goes To Sayulita continues all week.
John Anderson is smiling for a reason.With the inaugural Royal West (on right now!) John has brought international show jumping back to the heart of Calgary — for the first time in 30 years. Held at the new Agrium Western Event Centre on the Stampede Grounds, the hat of choice for the next week will be black velvet, not white Stetson.
It’s a cloudy day here in Calgary today, with thunderstorms looming. I’m worried that polo might be postponed this evening, but for the most part, it’s been an incredible summer, weather-wise and polo-wise. In fact, Calgary has a long history of amazing polo. I’m standing with a piece of it in this photo — my horse, Simon, has been playing in the area for decades. For those of you who missed it in this month’s edition of Calgary Polo Style, here’s my article on our local Sport of Kings:
Deep Roots in the Old West
Calgary polo had its beginnings as the sport of cowboys
Polo is known as the sport of kings, but in Calgary it would be more accurate to call it the sport of cattle ranchers. Long before organized rodeo blazed a trail through the Canadian West, polo was a cowboy sport.
Formed in 1890, the Calgary Polo Club is the arguably the oldest in North America with consecutive annual play. Thanks to Southern Alberta’s passion for horses, the club not only survived two world wars and the Great Depression, it flourished. Even though the local equestrian community kept the sport alive in typical low-key cowboy style, there have been plenty of bold-faced names along the way.
Alfred Ernest (A.E.) Cross, best known for being one of the “Big Four” cattlemen who founded the Calgary Stampede in 1912, was a polo lover first. He established the Calgary Polo Club in 1890, along with several friends from the exclusive Ranchmen’s Club. Although his A7 Ranche is said to be the oldest ranch in Canada still in the hands of its original owners, Montreal-born Cross was more than a cattleman. His professional pursuits included the brewing business, the film industry and politics.
Not to be outdone, Henry Bruen Alexander, the first president of the Calgary Polo Club, built some of downtown Calgary’s most impressive sandstone buildings. His real estate legacy includes the Alexander Block, which still stands on Stephen Avenue.
Calgary polo was also buoyed by many of the remittance men who came to Wild Rose Country to expand their fortunes. Originally from England, Colin Ross was one of those “drawn to the profit potential in western Canada’s burgeoning cattle kingdom,” according to the Historical Society of Alberta. After using family money to invest in property in the foothills, his obsession with polo led him to be known as a millionaire polo player. In 1907, the Los Angeles Times raved about his unbeaten Calgary team, which traveled across North America to meet rivals’ challenges.
All of these men most likely played at Owen’s Race Track, in today’s Elbow Park. It was rented by the Ranchmen’s Club for polo games and “manly sports,” duly noted in the Minutes of Ranchmen’s Club Committee in August, 1895. Also in the minutes, and true to polo-party form, gaining approval for a license to sell beer was a top priority. And despite the official written record, the manly sport of polo wasn’t limited to men. As early as the 1920s, a women’s team organized in both Kamloops and Calgary traveled to the first international women’s tournament in New York.
As the city of Calgary grew and developed, the Polo Club hopscotched through several pieces of real estate, including fields in Hillhurst and Chinook Park. In 1959, Jim Cross (son of A.E.) helped the club put down its final roots by providing land in Okotoks.
As the club settled into its new surroundings, the aggressive sport of polo continued to attract aggressive business leaders. Mr. Charles Hetherington, President and CEO of Panarctic Oils Ltd,received his USPA rating in Calgary in 1959, eventually serving as Canadian governor for the association. Playing into his 70s, his enthusiasm still infuses every game played at the Hetherington Field at Calgary Polo Club.
Meanwhile, history marched on — so much so that it alarmed Fred Mannix Sr., an avid player since 1957. Mannix commissioned author Tony Rees to write a book about the history of polo in Calgary. Interviews with “old-timers,” as Mannix fondly calls them, not only led to lost trophies, but a wealth of material that couldn’t be limited to Calgary. The book, now proudly displayed on many a coffee table, became a much larger project, ultimately titled Polo, The Galloping Game: An illustrated history of polo in the Canadian West.
Some of the players featured in Rees’s book are still on the field. With its 10-player dynasty, the Roenisch family is particularly noteworthy. Clinton “Kink” Roenisch started playing in 1933, at age 44, instilling a passion for the game throughout his clan, continuing to the fourth generation with Daniel, who plays as a 3-goal professional at the Calgary Polo Club today. Daniel benefits from double Southern Alberta polo DNA: not only was his dad, Rob, a 5-goal professional at his peak, his mother Julie was the top-rated female player in Canada with a two-goal handicap and the first woman ever to play in the U.S. Open. She also helped to bring serious women’s polo back to the club for the first time in half a century.
Besides ensuring past history was duly noted,Fred Mannix has helped power the future of Calgary polo, by passing his love of the sport to his sons, Fred Junior and Julian.
The brothers compete in the World Polo Tour with their team, Alegria. 22-year old Julian, rated four goals, wears Alegria’s maple-emblazoned team jersey for North American competitions, leading the team to victory in the US Open this spring.
Fred Junior takes over for matches played in the mecca of polo — Argentina. A rare combination of patron and pro, 29-year-old Fred is one of the world’s best players, rated six goals in North America and nine goals internationally. Perhaps, after making Team Canada when he was just sweet sixteen, the stage was set for this Calgarian to make history. In a sport that only a few hundred Canadians play, he’s the first in 76 years to compete for the coveted Argentine Triple Crown. He’s the second Canadian in 120 years to compete in the Argentine Open. This summer he’s back on home turf, training for the forty-goal polo waiting for him this fall in Argentina.
Besides the local ranchers, pros and CEOs, the Calgary Polo Club has had no shortage of visiting VIPs. Actors Tommy Lee Jones (Men In Black, The Fugitive) and William Devane (Knots Landing, 24) have played in club tournaments. Flames goalie Mike Vernon traded his hockey stick for a mallet a few times. Jetting in from England, Prince Charles took time out from Stampede to take in a match and the professional head of the British Army, Charles Guthrie, stick and balled at the club. Lady Patricia Mountbatten Brabourne has also been a recurring field-side fan.
As the historic Calgary Polo Club plays its 2014 summer season, those bold-faced names, along with all the unsung heroes of the sport and the club, continue to write and rewrite the story of polo in Calgary.
To read the full issue of Calgary Polo Style, look for it at the Glencoe Club, Ranchmen’s Club, Bankers Hall Club, Silver Springs Golf & Country Club, Eau Claire YMCA, Calgary Winter Club and Bearspaw Country Club.
I’ve always said that polo is a stylish sport, but now you don’t have to take my word for it — Calgary Polo Style makes it official.The launch of the new magazine (brought to you by the folks behind Avenue) took place at the Calgary Polo Club, natch, with cocktails and the Canadian Open. Anders Knudsen of Red Point Media offered up an athletic bowl-in for the 20-goal game.His brogues were made for bowl-ins.Not many people in Calgary realize that polo is played here all summer long, just half an hour south of the city. Seven fields are just waiting for folks to roll up backwards in good ol’ gas guzzling SUVs and tailgate while taking in a game, like those watching Fred Mannix in jersey number 4 trying to keep an eye on the action behind him, without getting steamrollered in the process.Fred Junior and the other players were motivated by Rich Roenisch’s beautiful bronze trophies.The Ranch House had plenty of seating on its grand balcony overlooking the field, but I found it easier to avoid wardrobe malfunction by standing. Shoulders back!Those in the know, like Miles Durrie, Editor of Polo Style, always seem to end up on the berm, where the height offers fabulous viewing … and great acoustics for all those swear words in Espanol. The berm is also where The Men Of Polo tend to hang out if they’re not playing… … with their eagle eyes on Julian Mannix, keeping his focus despite the pressure from the opposing team.Back to footwear. It’s important to make the right choice for a night that includes a divot stomp. Wedges work wonders for the ladies, especially when they’re Tory Burch.The divot stomp is really just a jaunty half-time opportunity for a fashion show on the field.This Calgary Polo Style reader shows his support in style.Calgary Polo Club President Anne Evamy talks speech strategy with Anders. They’ve got both the verticals and the horizontals covered.Besides cataloguing the good life surrounding my favorite sport, Calgary Polo Style puts players in the spotlight. Not only did I make the official roster (yes, you’re reading that right, I’m a minus one — and I’m in good company)……I may have written an article or two for the magazine. Now that I’m a writer, instead of a television journalist, I spend a lot less time on my hair.
If you didn’t receive a copy in the mail or with your Globe & Mail newspaper, check out the free stands at the Glencoe Club, Ranchmen’s Club, Bankers Hall Club, Silver Springs Golf & Country Club, Eau Claire YMCA, Calgary Winter Club and Bearspaw Country Club. Congrats on the launch, Polo Style!
Captain Kirk, Denny Crane, Bill — whatever you call him, the 2014 Stampede Parade Marshal has arrived in Calgary. Note those suspenders he’s wearing, because they’re a style statement.Facing the media today before he faces the throngs along the parade route tomorrow, William Shatner took all questions. Including my urgent fashion query.
ME: “What will you be wearing tomorrow?”
This isn’t William Shatner’s first rodeo. He’s won a few buckles in his day, breeds horses and has ridden just about every style imaginable. Of course, I had to ask him if he ever played polo. Nope. “I like my knees,” he says, telling me he has a few friends who have taken a beating playing the sport. But he’s ridden polo ponies. “They’re indefatigable. They never stop. They just keep going.” My horse Simon says Bill is right.Bill charmed us all. Even us hardened media types. See you at the parade!
O, Canada! Where else would you want to spend Canada Day? The Calgary Polo Club celebrated our country’s birthday in style, with two polo games and tailgating to the max.The 20-goal game, Alegria vs Hawks, was a fast-paced match and thrilling to watch. Nice reach, Fred.But it was tough to concentrate on the game, with a record crowd partying in grand Canada Day style, along the edge of Palmer Field.Former event planner (and American!) Heather Lilly took Canadian color-coordination to a whole new level with her multi-tiered treats. Spectators competed in a foot mallet competition between games, discovering that hitting those balls can be a little tricky. Back to the real game. It’s always nice when there’s a throw-in right in front of your tailgate. But in this instance, may I suggest utilizing the zoom function?Luckily, the play moved away from the sidelines, and Mr. One was ok. Happy Canada Day!
The first game of Calgary Polo Club’s 2014 season was the perfect time to debut the official team jerseys of… wait for it… Team Blue Besos! In Club League, we’re assigned new team members each week: three regular players and a professional. Even though these guys may be my mortal enemies next week, last night they were the best teammates a girl could have. That’s super-pro four-goaler Big Joe Henderson, from South Africa, on the left. Moi and Simon, next. Doug Byblow playing his inaugural Calgary game. And Francesco Galdon, whose Argentinian heritage means he has polo in his DNA.Simon can barely contain his excitement about our new shirts.Just look at them! Kudos to Cal-Crests Ltd. The Calgary custom apparel company did a stylish, speedy job.The same Blue Besos dream team plays again this Saturday at 11am, in a Club League round robin: 6 chukkers of fantasticness. For fans of either polo or tailgating: come out and enjoy both at the Calgary Polo Club. Gracias for the superb team photos, Heather Lilly!