LAKEWOOD RANCH — The 2012-13 season at the Sarasota Polo Club will bring a new electronic scoreboard and fresh talent from Wyoming, Ohio and even the United Kingdom.
Spanning Dec. 16 to April 7, during two-to-three tournaments per week, six-to-eight teams will compete for a chance to be one of two to play on Sundays at the championship field.
The Bank of Montreal will sponsor the championship field this year. The sponsorship allowed the club to purchase an electronic scoreboard to replace a rickety wooden one that has been there since 1991, when the club opened.
Admission for Sunday matches is $12 per adult, while children under 12 can attend free.
Polo Operations Manager Rebecca Gutierrez said she expects about 2,000 people to come out every Sunday.
“It’s really just an awesome way to spend an afternoon,” Gutierrez said. “The sport can be complex, but to just sit and watch it is easy to spectate. You don’t need to know anything about polo to watch.”
During the last few weeks, Sarasota Polo Club professionals have filed in from their summer training spots.
A young player from England whose father, a retired polo player, just moved to Lakewood Ranch, brought a group of European competitors with him.
Gutierrez says that 85% to 90% of the club’s members come from somewhere other than Florida.
Florida becomes a hot spot for the sport during the winter, especially for those coming from the East Coast. Gutierrez says only California can provide similar grassy fields and warm weather during that time.
The club provides stables to keep the horses — most competitors bring at least 10 of their own — but players must find a place to live (most rent in the area) and hire employees to care for the animals.
Francisco Llosa considers the winter polo season at the Sarasota Polo Club an investment.
Originally from Argentina, Llosa, a 39-year-old three-goal polo player, and his sponsor filled two trailers with 23 horses for a 27-hour, three-day trek from Kansas to Sarasota.
Llosa and his sponsor hired two caretakers to groom his horses. Before competing, the caretakers will spend nearly two hours trimming each horse’s mane.
Out of his 23 horses, Llosa says only 13 are ready to compete now.
That’s because he staggers them, preparing each at different times to shield against potential injury or sickness.
Llosa’s favorite horse, a 7-year-old female named Easy, will spend the next month-and-a-half getting into game shape, practicing two times a day, six days a week.
“Easy never has an off day,” Llosa said. “I always have great expectations. It always depends on the horses, though. If the horse is better, I perform better. But I only bring proven horses to Florida.”
Contact Josh Siegel at [email protected].
IF YOU GO
Polo matches are held at 1 p.m. Sunday, at the Sarasota Polo Club. Tailgating starts at 11 a.m. Admission is $12 for adults.
Dec. 16 — St. Stephen’s Episcopal School Cup. Tailgate theme is “Toys for Tots Drive.” Bring an unwrapped toy to receive up to two complimentary tickets per vehicle.
Dec. 23 — Holiday Exhibition Match
Dec. 30 — New Year Celebration Cup
Jan. 6 — West Coast Florida Cup
Jan. 13 — Band Weintraub Cup
Jan. 20 — Spirit of America Cup
Jan. 27 — Premier Sotheby’s International Realty Cup
Feb. 3 — MGA Insurance Group Super Bowl Cup
Feb. 10 — Suncoast Porsche Cup
Feb. 17 — Sarasota Magazine Cup
Feb. 24 — Observer Group Cup
March 3 — Bright House Networks/Bay News 9 Presents the Wayne Brown Finals
March 10 — BMO Private Bank Cup
March 17 — MGA Insurance Group Cup
March 24 — Schroeder-Manatee Ranch Presents the Robert A. Uihlein Jr. Memorial Cup
March 31 — All Children’s Hospital Guild Cup
April 7 — Maduro Cigar & Diamond Vault Cup