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Horse Racing: Great Meadow Club wins Family House match

Sunday, September 09, 2001

By Pohla Smith, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

There was a best team, a best player and a best horse.

The 18th annual Family House Polo Match at Hartwood Acres yesterday was an odd but highly successful charitable affair: part sporting event, part party and part concert by David Clayton-Thomas and Blood, Sweat & Tears. Together, they served to generate what was estimated at more than $200,000 for the three Family House facilities, which provide affordable, temporary housing for out-of-towners having long-term medical treatment in Pittsburgh.

Great Meadow Polo Club, a three-man, five-goal handicap team from The Plains, Va., defeated the Maryland-based Potomac Polo Club, a four-goal team, 9-5. Though the arena-style game is designed to produce a lot of scoring, this match was pretty much a defensive contest.

The most valuable player was Gary Leonard, heart and captain of Great Meadow, who scored at least four goals (scorekeeping was casual and very unofficial). Three of them were in the third of six chukkers (periods).

Best playing pony was Linda, a black, 9-year-old thoroughbred mare and former racehorse. She served as the mount for Potomac captain Joe Muldoon III in the first and fifth chukkers.

"She's very handy, very maneuverable and very fast," said Muldoon, who made some pretty nifty tight turns and changes of direction on Linda. "She's quiet, she's got a good attitude and she's very strong. Nobody moves me off the ball when I'm on her."

For her efforts, Linda ("I named her that because it's Spanish for pretty," Muldoon said) got a huge basket of greens, fruit and carrots. MVP Leonard got a medal, and all six players got silver julep cups. The winning team got a huge silver cup trophy filled with champagne, and both winners and losers imbibed.

Since polo is a fairly unfamiliar sport to most Pittsburghers, here are some of the tidbits passed on by the players and public address announcer David Andrews, the longtime voice of prestigious Palm Beach Polo.

The majority of polo ponies are mares. The reason, Andrews told the crowd, is because they seem to be a little more amenable to the training. It should be noted that Leonard did most of his scoring while riding Whistle, a 13-year-old gelding. Whistle once raced under the name Whistle Diver.

The reason for the low-scoring game was a rock-hard field, which was slippery for the horses in their steel shoes and a little too fast for hard, aggressive shots. Accuracy was a problem for players on both sides in the early going, and the ponies were slipping when their riders ordered abrupt stops or changes of direction.

"We missed so many more opportunities early," Leonard said. "We were hitting the ball too hard, so we slowed it down."

Andrews told the crowd that polo is 70 percent horse.

"The players won't disagree with me saying that, because they told me so," he said.

Argentinean pro Tomas Palacios, a member of the Great Meadow team who sat out the action yesterday, provided a good explanation of what a good polo pony is.

"They must be very good to handle, quiet like a lamb because they have to stay calm when players are swinging the mallet everywhere," he said. "And the horse must go where the player wants to go.

"They also have to have a big heart, so that they can be rude and go into another horse when they have to."

The high-goal polo played at Hartwood is called arena polo rather than regulation. That's because Hartwood's field (167 yards by 120 yards) is only about one-third of a regulation field, which is 300 yard long by 200 yards wide. In regulation polo, four players comprise a team, and the ball is smaller.

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