Thursday, April 30, 2009

Aiken's Polo Ponies Can Run

Polo Ponies Race

For the first time in its 67 year history, the Aiken Trials included a race for polo ponies. The horses took off from a standing start and ran 300 yards, the length of a polo field. Before the race, riders and horses put on a short polo demonstration on the track. Riders were dressed in their polo gear and looked ready for a match.

There were six entries, all of them piloted by players who can be found competing in local matches during the season. Starter Peter Krebs lined the horses up on the track. He dropped his red flag, and everyone was off.

The first horse to get away was Eli Yale, a 6-year-old Thoroughbred gelding, owned, ridden and conditioned by Pam Gleason, the editor and publisher of The Aiken Horse. Eli broke so fast, he was soon several lengths ahead of the field. Although Aztec, also owned by The Aiken Horse and ridden by Salvatore Torres, made up some ground in the final yards of the race, the outcome was never really in doubt. By the time Eli galloped past the paddock, his ears were pricked forward and he seemed to be coasting. Aztec finished second, while Elegant Matter, a 7-year-old gelding owned, ridden and trained by Ben Gregoncza was third.

Eli Yale, who was acquired at the Aiken Polo Pony sale in the fall of 2007, is in his second year of tournament polo. Before polo, he had a short career on the racetrack, where he ran in good turf company, but never won a race before Aiken Trials day. Perhaps his handlers should have entered him in shorter sprints: his time of 17 seconds set an Aiken Training Track record and was off the world record for that distance by a little over two seconds.

Riders and spectators agreed that the polo race was a great addition to the Trials. Polo players who were watching suddenly wished that they had entered a horse themselves, and many are already planning their entries for next year. Other members of Aiken's horse community commented that the inclusion of the polo race made them feel like they were a part of the festivities, rather than just spectators.

The race was called the Post Trophy and was sponsored by The Aiken Horse. The name is a fitting one. Fred and William Post were a father-and-son team of polo trainers and breeders who came to Aiken in the second decade of the 1900s. Their polo field was inside today's Aiken Training Track, which they built in 1941 to train and conditioned their flat racers.

The winner received a silver plate and registration in the American Polo Horse Association.

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