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Exclusive: 3 of Polo's top stars on the Greenwich Polo Club, Fernet-Branca & more

Tomas Garcia del Rio v. Toro Ruiz / Photo: Ro Fernandez
Tomas Garcia del Rio v. Toro Ruiz / Photo: Ro Fernandez

Polo is the only professional sport where men and women compete on the same team, with each match showcasing eight players galloping on horseback across a 300-yard field at speeds of up to 35MPH to an audience of thousands of spectators.

The Greenwich Polo Club in Greenwich, Connecticut is internationally respected for its unmatched roster of legendary teams, including the all-time high-winning White Birch, professional players including Mariano Aguerre, and champion equine athletes, fondly known as polo ponies.

New this year to the iconic Grandstand of the Greenwich Polo Club is the Connecticut Cottages & Gardens Polo Pub, as done in partnership with luxury builder Apex Projects and award-winning architect Studio Bartolotta.

This area includes the Branca Bar, a VIP pop-up bar with specialty cocktails and signature giveaways by Fernet-Branca, the award-winning Italian amaro-maker.

Victorino Ruiz Jorba -- a.k.a. Toro Ruiz -- is just 21 years old and currently playing with The Island House polo team for Greenwich Polo Club’s 2019 season. He is consistently named MVP and is currently a 7-goal handicap player, considered one of the hottest rising stars in the sport. Ruiz’s uncle is former 10-goal polo player Matias Magrini.

Nicolas Ezequiel Roldan -- a.k.a. Nic Roldan -- was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He is an American polo player with an 8-goal handicap rating, considered to by many to be the “face of American polo." He is the youngest ever polo player to win the U.S. Polo Open, as done with the Escue Team at the age of 15, and is based in Wellington, Florida.

Tomas Garcia del Rio is a third generation polo player from Argentina with a current 8-goal handicap.

Known both for his defense and frequent scoring, Garcia del Rio’s career highlights include three tournament titles in Greenwich Polo Club’s 2018 season, as well as the 2019 Joe Barry Cup, 2018 Metropolitan Cup, 2016 East Coast Open Semi-final (Prince of Wales Trophy), 2015 Camara de Diputados Cup Final, the Municipalidad del Pilar Cup three times, Mercedes-Benz Polo Challenge and Hamptons Cup in Bridgehampton.

While polo is recently most closely associated with Argentinean culture, the United States also has a rich history in the sport, with popularity piquing in the 1920s and 1930s before advancing technologies led to a significant decline in the country’s equine population.

This month at the Greenwich Polo Club, a brand new tournament called The American Cup will debut. The event will include a ceremony to honor iconic American polo bastion and businessman Peter Busch Orthwein.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Ruiz, Roldan, and Garcia del Rio -- three of the Greenwich Polo Club's top players -- and highlights from those July 2019 interviews are given below, while more on the Greenwich Polo Club and its events can be found online.

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Who or what first got you into polo?

Nic Roldan: As a fourth generation polo player, I grew up in Wellington, Florida surrounded by the sport, but I was never forced into it. It’s been my passion for as long as I can remember.

I probably held my first polo mallet when I was around two years old and started playing by age five. By age 15, I was on the Escue team and we won the U.S. Open Polo Championship.

Tomas Garcia del Rio: My family owns a farm in Argentina where I’ve been riding horses as long as I can remember. I started playing polo around age five. My grandfather and father played polo, and so do my two brothers.

Toro Ruiz: Growing up in Argentina, I was inspired to play polo by my uncle Matias Magrini, who’s one of the top players in the game. I was six years old when I first started and by age ten, I was traveling to clubs in the U.S. like New Bridge Polo & Country Club in Aiken, South Carolina.

I also got into polo because of the horses. I think they are incredible animals. To play this sport, you have to love them and you have to be a good rider.

To you, how does the Greenwich Polo Club compare to other polo clubs?

Nic Roldan: I always love coming to Greenwich Polo Club — it’s one of the top polo clubs in the world, with incredible facilities and mature fields, which are preferable for games. This club has always taken such great care of the property and it shows.

This season at Greenwich Polo Club, we have so many top teams and players competing. It’s been tough and really competitive so far, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Greenwich Polo Club is also the only polo club I know with a dedicated Fernet-Branca bar, a.k.a. the “Branca Bar." I love to stop by when I’m not competing.

Tomas Garcia del Rio: Greenwich Polo Club is one of the prettiest clubs in the U.S. It is always so beautiful in the summer and there is a great crowd.

Toro Ruiz: I love to play in Greenwich Polo Club – it’s one of the best venues in the U.S. The grounds are beautiful and the people are so nice. I also like how close it is to New York City because I love to visit.

Is there a career accomplishment related to polo which you are most proud of?

Nic Roldan: Most recently, winning the Cartier Queen’s Cup in 2018 with the La Indiana team. Also, I’m proud to be one of few Americans to play Field 1 in the world’s leading polo tournament, the Argentine Open. My great grandfather won twice; it’s been my dream as long as I can remember.

Tomas Garcia del Rio: Not yet. No, I’m joking. Something I am very proud of is when I get to play the horses I bred and trained. It’s amazing to see their progress. I’m also proud of last season at Greenwich Polo Club, where I played with the Huntsman team and won the Shreve, Crump & Low Cup, Monty Waterbury Cup and Silver Cup.

Toro Ruiz: Yes! Winning the East Coast Open at Greenwich Polo Club in 2017 on a team called GSA with my uncle Matias Magrini and cousin Santino Magrini. It was such an amazing moment to share with my family and friends.

What do you wish more people knew about polo?

Nic Roldan: I think there’s this misconception about polo that it’s a lavish lifestyle, a big party all the time. It’s not like that at all. Polo is an extreme sport and we are putting our lives on the line every time we step onto the field. None of what we do is possible without hard work, dedication, determination, drive and fearlessness.

You can’t really compare polo to any sport, but if I had to pick the one it’s closest to, I would say ice hockey because you’re constantly moving and there are no set positions. Except imagine it’s three times as fast and the players had to switch into ice skates with differing personalities at least six times throughout the game.

Tomas Garcia del Rio: I wish people knew polo is more accessible than they think. You just have to learn a bit about the sport and the players. The best way to familiarize yourself is to attend a match, so definitely check one out at Greenwich Polo Club this season!

Toro Ruiz: Not many people know it’s the only sport where a good amateur or lower handicap player gets to play and learn alongside the best, highest handicap professionals in the world.

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Are there any sports or teams you follow?

Nic Roldan: I love sports -- football, golf, hockey -- it’s all I did growing up. I follow the [New England] Patriots and golfers like Tiger Woods.

Tomas Garcia del Rio: I follow golf quite a bit, and also soccer in Argentina.

Toro Ruiz: I love soccer — River Plate in Argentina is my favorite team. If I weren’t a polo player, I would be a soccer player. I also love tennis and golf.

What was the last live sporting event you attended?

Nic Roldan: I went to a Yankees game a couple weeks ago, and before that the [PGA] Masters Tournament.

Tomas Garcia del Rio: Last live sporting match I attended was in Argentina for my favorite team, River Plate – it was a great game.

Toro Ruiz: I went to the U.S. Open to see Rafael Nadal. I would love to go again.

Greenwich Polo Club outings aside, what is coming up for you career-wise?

Nic Roldan: Next up is the prestigious USPA Silver Cup at Aspen Valley Polo Club.

Tomas Garcia del Rio: Next is the Hamptons, then Argentina for the fall, then Wellington through the winter.

Toro Ruiz: The season at Greenwich Polo Club finishes in mid-September, then I will go back to Argentina, where the season goes from September to December. The Argentinean season is exciting because you have the most important tournament in the sport, the Argentine Palermo Open.

Finally, any last words for the kids?

Nic Roldan: It’s important to know that polo is a family-oriented sport. There are numerous clubs where kids can learn to play, teaching them valuable lessons far beyond the polo field, but it requires real dedication and a true love for horses.

Tomas Garcia del Rio: There are great polo clubs all around the country with 40 in the Northeast alone including Yale Equestrian Center and Bethpage Polo Club with year-round programs. So if you are interested in the sport, try it out!

Toro Ruiz: Come to Greenwich Polo Club this season! We have public matches on Sundays where people can experience all the excitement of high-goal polo firsthand.

Edited by Arvind Sriram
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