Heritage Cup polo tournament draws crowd

LAKEWOOD RANCH — As the rain began to move out on Sunday, tailgate buffets were laid out and players loped their horses around the field at the Sarasota Polo Club.

With only one more Sunday of polo left, competitors on the M&I Wealth Management and Hillcroft Teams were keen to win the United States Polo Association-sanctioned annual Robin A. Uihlein Jr. Memorial Heritage Cup. It is named for Sarasota Polo Club president Robin Uihlein III’s father, who was inducted into the Polo Hall of Fame several years ago.

“Coming out to watch polo is something you can do week in and week out and have a good time,” said Rex Jensen, president and CEO of Schroeder-Manatee Ranch. His 11-month-old son sat comfortably on his arm as he visited with friends inside the Pavilion.

“Where else can you go with the whole family, take a picnic lunch and tailgate for under twenty dollars?” he asked.

More than a polo venue, the Sarasota Polo Club is a multipurpose facility that hosts many events year round, including Manatee Community College’s Symphony Under the Stars.

“We have a Frisbee tournament, two soccer tournaments, and my personal favorite, the Sarasota Wine Festival here,” said Maggie Mitchell, the club’s manager.

The Heritage Cup, sponsored by Schroeder-Manatee Lakewood Ranch and the Lakewood Ranch Herald, offers something for every taste, from pony rides to driving demonstrations. Watching polo from the grandstand or a tailgate space is a popular way to spend a relaxing Sunday afternoon.

Before the match started, Anna Bravo, age 8, waited with other children on the sidelines for a pony ride. But just before she was lifted into the saddle, she admitted, “I like horses better because they are bigger, faster and mighty.”

“Polo matches give people a chance to walk around in a casual atmosphere and talk to their neighbors,” said John Clarke, the retired president of SMR and an avid polo fan. “It’s one of the reasons this is such a friendly community,” he said.

The Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance sponsored the annual Heritage Cup tailgate contest. The Western theme is one that everyone seems to enjoy.

Judy Mangus of Sarasota brought friends who were visiting from Boston, Chicago and Buffalo. Five out of seven wore cowboy hats. Other Western wear included cowboy boots, red bandanas, silver cowgirl earrings and large, fancy belt buckles.

“We’re serving two kinds of chili cooked by brothers, cherry tomatoes stuffed with guacamole and skillet-baked cornbread with jalapeño peppers,” said Mangus, who used to ride her bike out to watch polo when she lived nearby. Her theme was “Los Lobos,” a tribute to Texas and Mexico.

“It’s been a great year, and we have had larger crowds than ever before. People come from up and down the West Coast,” said Robin Uihlein III.

The M&I Wealth Management team won the 14-goal tournament by one goal, 13-12, defeating the Hillcroft Team of Lexington. Most valuable player was awarded to Joe Wayne Barry.

Next week several teams will play matches on Wednesday and Friday to determine who goes to the final playoff, the Ringling Cup, on Sunday, April 4th. After that the horses and players will be packing up and heading out for matches up north.