Six years ago Tommy Kato watched the Miami Beach Polo World Cup, mesmerized by the athletes and horses.
Following the final match, Kato approached one of the top U.S. players — Luis Escobar — about learning how to play the sport. He had no previous experience riding a horse.
Kato hired Escobar as an instructor and bought a couple of thoroughbred horses, practicing four to five days a week for two years at Santa Clara Polo Club in Wellington. The following year, he began participating in tournaments before entering the world cup as a player in 2012.
Held on South Beach between 20th and 22nd Streets this Thursday through Sunday, La Martina Miami Beach Polo World Cup is the only polo tournament in America played on the beach. It is also the longest running in the world, entering its ninth year.
Some of the world’s top riders compete in round-robin play on six men’s and eight women’s teams for the La Martina Cup and Elegante Polo Cup, respectively.
Teams are sponsored by brands put together by patrons, or team captains.
Bruce Orosz, founder of The Polo Life that produces the Miami Beach Polo World Cup, came up with the idea while watching polo played in Europe’s snow, believing a sand tournament would make for a unique draw.
“It makes the sport much more approachable visually because the field is so small versus normal polo,” Orosz said. “There’s this common area where people can stand and not pay entry fees — just go to the beach and watch polo. It brings the sport closer to people in that it’s not as intimidating as going to a polo club.”
Danielle Sciaretta, who will play for the E! team in Thursday’s women’s tournament, joined last year when someone canceled last minute.
She enters her sixth year in the sport, having picked it up while driving past a polo club in San Diego that advertised a free first lesson. Growing up in New Jersey, she rode horses.
Polo, called the Sport of Kings because of its origins in 500 B.C. ancient Persia, finds Miami’s international flavor as the perfect location for such an event hoping to attract a new audience of younger generations.
Kato, one of the longest-running patrons in his sixth year, has the event to thank for his passion. The team Kato will field from Friday to Sunday includes him, Escobar and Jamie Morrison, England’s captain.