Nacho Figueras’ career in polo has allowed him to travel around the world, play with royals and become a top model.
All of it comes down to hard work.
“It’s incredible,” Figueras says in his thick Spanish accent. “I feel very blessed. I study all the time. Horses are a key part of the game and learning all the horses is very important.
“I learn mostly from the guys who were legendary players; the guys who came before me.”
The Ralph Lauren model will be playing in the Bentley Scottsdale Polo Championships, which is set for Saturday, November 10, and Sunday, November 11, with the Aspen Valley Polo Club, owned by Marc and Melissa Ganzi. Aspen Valley is the event’s three-time defending champion.
Figueras was lured to the event by Ashley Busch, wife of NASCAR driver Kurt Busch. Busch, who made her Scottsdale debut last year, will play for the Wales Polo Team, led by captain Ricky Cooper and one of Europe’s finest players, Pete Webb.
“Nacho is coming to the event for the first time, which is great,” Busch says. “He’s obviously a showman and a big draw for people. More importantly, he’s a friend of mine.”
Bentley Scottsdale Polo Championships founder Jason Rose echoed that sentiment.
“Nacho is the most famous pro polo player in the world,” Rose says. “He’s playing thanks to the Aspen Valley Polo Club, for whom he is going to play. He was at the royal wedding of Prince Harry. His face is on TV commercials everywhere. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing him play and the crowd really reacted to him. It’s really something.”
Last year more than 13,000 people enjoyed the weekend spectacle with food and beverage and ticket revenue surging 70 percent from the previous year.
This year will also see the Scottsdale debut of Memo Gracida, considered to be one of the top two polo players, as well as teams from Italy, Santa Ynez Wine Country, Miami and Wales. They will join the Arizona Polo Club, Polo Azteca and Work to Ride, the first all-African-American high school polo champions. The inspirational story of Work to Ride has been featured on 60 Minutes, HBO and ESPN. Their appearance in this year’s event is being made possible by a grant from Safeway/Albertsons.
“It’s the eighth year and it’s evolved into the most-attended polo event in the United States,” Rose says. “The captain of the Wales polo team said it’s the best polo event in the world.
“We’re very, very proud of that. It’s because we have terrific polo. Teams come in from around the country and the world. A polo player flew in from Rome and said, ‘I’ve heard about your event. I came to check it out myself and ask you in person if my Italy polo team can play in the event.’ Hey, if you’re flying in from Rome and you’re that courteous to ask me, you have a spot.”
Lifelong horse lover
Growing up in Argentina, Figueras has been around horses for as long as he can remember.
“If you grow up on a farm, you play polo,” he says. “I started riding and playing polo when I was 9. I decided I wanted to be a polo player around 14 or 15 years old.”
It isn’t an easy sport to learn, he says. But he has an advantage because he started young.
Like Figueras, polo has opened many doors for Busch. She is the brand ambassador for the U.S. Polo Association, which has a $1.5 billion global retail footprint. In July, she won the Sentebale ISPS Handa Polo Cup at the Royal County of Berkshire Polo Club with the Sentebale St. Regis team in England. Her teammate was Harry, Duke of Sussex—more commonly known as Prince Harry.
Figueras captained the team and Miguel Mendoza served as the fourth teammate for the Sentebale St. Regis team. The event raised funds and awareness for the duke’s charity, Sentebale, which supports the well-being of children with HIV in Lesotho and Botswana. Sentebale means “forget me not.”
The Bentley Scottsdale Polo Championships isn’t a stuffy event. Rose compares it to Spring Training or the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Saturday will have four matches with two on Sunday including the final match, The International, which will feature the best players from the weekend playing each other for the highest goal match of the event. It will be preceded by a “Battle of the Sexes” match in honor of Sunny Hale, the greatest female polo player, Rose says. Hale played in the Scottsdale event twice.
“Saturday has much more of a Phoenix Open vibe, with a party-like Spring Training atmosphere,” he says. “Sunday is traditionally a family day. It’s really an extraordinary lifestyle event. With due respect to the Arizona Diamondbacks—and I go to a lot of games—this happens one time a year and it’s a polo event like no other in the world.”
Bentley Scottsdale Polo Championships, WestWorld of Scottsdale, 16601 N. Pima Road, Scottsdale, 480.306.5845, thepoloparty.com, several tiers of ticket prices.
America’s most-attended polo event wouldn’t be what it is without the addition of key new elements each year.
In 2018 they will include:
- Performances during periods of polo play by The Phoenix Symphony (showcasing Mozart), Phoenix Theatre with some of the best Broadway musical songs, bagpipes performance by Ford Dudley, Phoenix Opera and the Phoenix Boys Choir.
- New DJ-infused party tents courtesy of the Scottsdale-based Riot Hospitality Group.
- An expanded field-side Sanderson Lincoln Black Label Lounge.
- An expanded event presence by Red Bull, which last year deployed its skydiving team prior to a match.
- The debut of The Apex Cup, courtesy of the Apex Motor Club in Maricopa. A country club for car enthusiasts, the Apex Cup will recognize the top cars on site, including collector cars from Barrett-Jackson, Ferrari Club of Arizona, Porsche Club, Scottsdale Corvette Club, Arizona Classic Thunderbird Club, AZ Lamborghini Club, Corvette Club of America, as well as cars of Apex members and dozens of other Arizona car owners.
- A second, midfield skybox on the north side of the Wells Fargo Private Bank Polo Field courtesy of Talking Stick Resort.
- A new champagne tasting in the Barrett-Jackson Champagne and Jazz Lounge.
- The new F.A.B. Tent, standing for fashion, art and beauty, featuring a pop-up art gallery by the Scottsdale-based Larsen Art Gallery and Auction, sideline manicures by the Talking Stick Resort Spa, fashion displays by Evan’s Furs and LoveOverH8, a socially conscious clothing line by local resident Cheryl Najafi and Velveteria, a Los Angeles-based museum devoted to velvet art works.
- The “Polo Party Pilsner” being brewed and debuted in coordination with an Arizona craft brewer.
- Romantic “couples cabanas” on the west side of the polo field providing a private tent for two with a complimentary bottle of champagne with a superb view of the polo action and McDowell Mountains.
- Hall Pass, the country’s most unusual pop-up sports bar will debut in 2018, allowing sports fans to enjoy football and other games on televisions throughout the day.
Don’t fret; fan favorites are returning, including the Arizona Humane Society Canine Couture: A Dog Fashion Show Like No Other; The World’s Longest Catwalk Fashion Show by Phoenix Fashion Week; tailgating; the Barrett-Jackson Champagne & Jazz Lounge; PRIME: A Luxury Tent Experience by Neiman Marcus, Steak 44 and Barrett-Jackson; the Molina Fine Jewelers VIP Tent; an unusual midfield skybox where horses enter and exit the polo field; and numerous local restaurants and food trucks including Fried & Fizzy, Arizona’s first pop-up restaurant and food truck featuring fried chicken and champagne. Anchoring Sunday’s festivities will be The Sunday Brunch: Presented by Scottsdale Maserati.