We now have a fine choice of polo stallions in the UK., these finely bred horses exude class, magnitude, and substance, each of them with strong individual characteristics which make them stand out above their contemporaries. They are chosen meticulously by their owners because of their breeding, conformation, temperament and ability.
Originally, in the early 1900s, as polo took off across the Americas the thoroughbred was used to add speed to the South American Criollo breed and to the North American Quarter Horse and to a lesser degree Paints. (It was the Spanish Conquistadors who introduced the Criollo and Quarter Horses to the Americas). Today the game has changed from much close quarter play and dribbling to long hitting and searing runs down the length of the pitch, which now demands an emphasis on more speed and stamina and hence the requirement for a greater influence of thoroughbred qualities at the highest level.
Polo players have tended to get their horses wherever they could find them. Many polo ponies are pure thoroughbreds, often horses that started their careers on the racetrack and moved to polo after failing to make the grade. These horses are re-schooled, retrained and then brought into the game. The process of getting a horse to their first match usually takes a year or more, and horses are not considered finished or "made" until they have played for at least two full seasons. Some horses take to polo more quickly than others, and some never take to it at all. Even a horse that is superb at the lower levels of polo can come unraveled after making the move to high goal. Equine polo superstars do emerge from the racetracks, but it can take a larger percentage of horses bought to succeed compared with well selected purposely bred horses. The cost of breeding and keeping a home bred is higher but this balances out overall with the success ratio and the knowledge of the dam and sire's performance as well as basic soundness and handling techniques. It can take years before polo trainers really know what they have with a thoroughbred bought from the ring, and often the wear and tear of the racetrack as a youngster becomes evident as the horse is proving itself, whereas with a homebred many of the required attributes are already installed with careful breeding. Even a horse that is superb at the lower levels of polo can come unraveled after making the move to high goal. With the expansion of the polo season, top players need more good horses than ever before and this is possible by using highly selective breeding breeding techniques.
Breeders are therefore breeding horses specifically for polo, coming up with animals uniquely suited to the game and there is a growing movement to use the latest breeding technologies to help propagate desirable bloodlines and create swifter, handier, sounder and more trainable polo ponies. Arguably some of the top breeders in the world, Jim Gilmore of Ellerston in Australia, Gonzalo Pieres of Ellerstina and the Heguy family in Argentina have bred over 5000 polo ponies between them and are satisfied that they are now producing as close to the ultimate horse for the job, as is possible, but always striving to improve the bloodlines. It is no coincidence that every single horse that was played by Gonzalito and Facundo Pieres in last year's winning Gold cup team was bred by embryo transfer through use of selecting their top stallions and mares. Best playing pony; Shannon was bred by Jim Gilmore.
A middle distance pedigree seems to be a pre-requisite to most top class stallions directly or indirectly. Riverman who was grandsire to the prolific Argentinean Sire River Slaney (Irish River x Chancy Prospect) and Blushing Groom who is the Grandsire of the prolific polo stallion Rainbow Corner (Rainbow Quest x Kingscote) are stamped with middle distance pedigrees and crop up frequently in many top polo pony pedigrees, especially in Argentina. Alan Kent's The Catisfield Kid (Comedy Star x Pure Gold) and All Gold (The Catisfield Kid x High Court Action) along with Andrew Seavill's Portage (Comedy Star x Common Knowledge) and Boy Boy (Portage x Small Person) are all related through the middle distance performer Comedy Star. River Slaney and The Catisfield kid are related further back through Nearco in their lines. Nearco was the grandsire of arguably the greatest thoroughbred stallion of the modern era Northern Dancer and great grandsire of Sadlers Wells... .oh and Nearco was the great grandsire of Blushing Groom and Riverman! Trippets Farm have some superb stallions including the speedier bred Personal Escort (Mr Prospector) who has Nearco on both sides of his pedigree if you look far enough back. They also have the magnificent Clark (Night Opera x Claret) Claret being one of Jim Gilmore's all time favourite mares. Margeret Routledges Crafty Politician also has Nearco heavily featured further back in the pedigree. JP Clarkin's Dance Night (Danehill Dancer x Tiger Wings) actually has Tom Fool (Sire of Comedy Star) and Nearco in his pedigree. Aurora Eastwood's Kalankari came from Andrew Balding and also has lines going back to Nearco on both sides of the pedigree, her other stallion Dandy Constancio is an argentine bred stallion by Dandy Beam (Also has Nearco further back) and so it goes on.
Claire Tomlinson has been successfully breeding polo ponies for many years and now has stallions to include the sprint bred Mister Superb (Superlative x Kiveton Comet) and homebred stallion Casanova (Chess x Cabasita II) Chess was brought over from Argentina being by prolific Argentine polo stallion Top Secret, again related to Nearco. Cassanova has great bone and all the qualities needed in a playing pony and was last year played in the winning team of the Queens cup final as one of Mark Tomlinson's star playing ponies. Chess is also the sire of Emma Tomlinson's young stallion Valentino. Mister Superb was given to Claire by the Queen's racehorse trainer and son of England's last 10 goal polo player Ian Balding as he had all the attributes needed for a potential polo pony. He is perhaps an ideal matchmaker for a stamina laden mare, although Claire reliably informs me he is producing foals who play out chukkas to the full. Interestingly Superlative also has lines going back to Nearco.
It is wonderful that the youthful Charlie Hanbury is extremely keen on his breeding and is bringing over potential star stallion Dijon (America x Burgundy) from Ellerston, Australia to stand for duty in the UK and compliment his Argentine based stallion Atlantic (Revenue x Noumea) also purchased from Ellerston. America is a son of the legendary Ellerston polo sire Norman Pentaquod out of Suva and Burgundy is a daughter by Monty out of Pinky... a very exciting prospect indeed.
Gonzalo Pieres sent over a potential superstar stallion in 2009... Open Maestro (Sportivo x Grappa Ilustrada) last year who is doing extremely well and has already covered a lot of mares. His sire, Sportivo, is a leading Argentine polo stallion who also that sired Dolfina Toro, who won the best playing pony in the 2008 Argentine Open. Grappa Ilustrada is part of Facundo Pieres' Open string as are her half sisters: Grappa Ilusionista (Sol x Ilusion); Fina Ilusionada (Sol x Ilusion); and Ellerstina Ilusionada (Rainbow Corner x Ilusion). Her dam Ilusion has a total of 6 daughters currently playing The Open & her sire, Ellerstina Picaro is by the famous Pucara. Open Maestro is owned by Gonzalo Pieres, Fernando Riera and Emma Tomlinson and will be standing at Beaufort Embryo Transfer.