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Wood Working: So divine to indulge the sporting life of bluebloods

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opinion River Falls, 54022
River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

I guess I've always had polo in my blood. No, not Marco.

I'm talking about the 'Sport of Kings,' where eight well-born guys ride around on eight well-born horses that cost about $40,000 each and swat at a little ball with clubs that look like elongated croquet mallets, on a 300-yard long turf trying to get the little bugger between two uprights.

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Of course I've never played polo.

I'm not quite in the right class of people, people like Prince Charles of England and the late Porfirio Rubirosa, the Dominican Republic dandy.

Charles can afford those $40,000 ponies (you need six of them per match) and so could Porfirio because he was married to Doris Duke, the tobacco heiress.

No, I have to be content just to watch from the sidelines, this magnificent sport for the ultra-rich.

I first saw a polo match when I was seven years old -- 70 years ago.

It took place in Blair, home of the idle rich, near Slette's hatchery. Prince Charles wasn't on deck because he wasn't even on Elizabeth II's deck. Porfirio Rubirosa wasn't there either.

So who was there?

Just the Hansons, the Johnsons, the Nehrings, the Bergs, the Osgoods, the Halversens, all farmers who lived along Highway 53 and in coulees like Tuft and Vosse.

These fellows wouldn't think of missing Blair's justly famous egg festival every fall, where folks gathered to ride the merry-go-round, see how many raw eggs they could eat and watch a daredevil leap off a 25-foot pole into a small washtub of water.

The year was 1943. These farmers wanted to contribute something new and fresh to the festivities, something, well, aristocratic.

They didn't bring polo ponies.

Instead they rode in on huge Percheron and Belgian draft horses.

Each fellow had a croquet mallet from their family's game collection. The judge came with a volleyball.

The first chukker, or set, began with the farmers, riding bareback, struggling to knock the volleyball to the goal by the Blair Press.

The dust flew and some farmers who had spent too long at Kokum's Bar ("Walter's Beer, the Beer that is Beer') flew off their horses.

I don't recall which side scored the most goals, but a good time was had by all, as reported the following Wednesday in the Blair Press.

I never saw polo again, except in newsreels and boring PBS documentaries about the British royal family.

Never, that is, until we motored recently to Sarasota, Fla. The buzz at our resort was that we just had to go to the Sunday polo match at Lakewood Ranch outside Sarasota.

So Jane and Larry Harred and my high-born wife Ruth and I drove out to this magnificent field.

We paid $12 for bleacher seats on the peasant side of the immaculate green turf that separated us from the polo club members who sat in a pavilion in the shade.

As we munched on hot dogs we wondered what the horse owners were eating across the field.

Perhaps baked marrow bones and Dom Perignon champagne?

The first of six chukkers began.

There were no Halvorsens or Bergs on the field, only guys with names like Nicolai Delgado, for whom we rooted. The polo ponies probably couldn't pull a plow but could they ever gallop and turn and stop on a dime.

The six chukkers over, the score was tied, so the game went into overtime and finally "our" team, the Sarasota Seahawks, won in the seventh chukker and as usual, a good time was had by all.

I mentioned that there were no Halvorsens or Bergs on the field.

When we returned to the resort, I read the glossy program we were given when we entered the arena.

One of the Seahawk star players was a fellow named Kyle Gilbertson. He hailed from Minnetonka, Minn., which also sports a nationally recognized polo club.

Perhaps Minnesota should rethink its mantra of "No New Taxes."

P.S. Back in 1943, the Blair polo clubs had no players named "Kyle," but lots named Olaf and Lars.

Dave would like to hear from you. Phone him at 715-426-9554.

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