Hawai‘i Sports Of Kings

Julian Alvarez and Mariano “Nano” Gracida at the 2016 Hawaii Polo Championship MICHAEL VOORHEES PHOTO

Trivia time.

What do World War II Army Gen. George S. Patton, England’s Prince Charles and Prince Phillip, and actor Will Rogers all have in common? (If you know the answer to this, consider yourself Jeopardy material.)

They are all celebrity polo players who have played the “Sport of Kings” in Hawai‘i.

Yes, the islands have long been a favorite destination for polo players from all across the globe. But long before Gen. Patton, the princes and the humorist played a chukker on Hawaiian soil, Native Hawaiians were learning to ride the first horses that were brought to Hawai‘i as a gift to King Kamehameha the Great.

Hawaiians had an innate ability to learn quickly, and soon these tiny islands in the Pacific Ocean had earned the reputation of being home to highly skilled paniolo, or Hawaiian cowboys.

Horses improved cattle ranching and played a significant role in Hawai‘i’s transition from traditional cultural practices to a more Western lifestyle which included horse racing and polo.

Mariano “Nano” Gracida

“It was indicative of the growing influence of cattle ranching and the unlimited capabilities of Hawaiian paniolos,” says polo historian and Honolulu Polo Club’s Allen Hoe. “In terms of horsemanship and riding abilities, they functioned at a high level with their cattle, and polo was just one aspect of how they evolved to become superior horsemen.”

Polo was introduced to Hawai‘i by an Australian cowboy who was visiting from India. The first reported polo match was played on Nov. 3, 1880, at Pālama.

“The match was between British naval officers (from the HMS Gannet) against a group of O‘ahu players,” says Hoe. “The match was played three years after King (David) Kalākaua dedicated Kapi‘olani Park as a public space for a polo field and horse race track.”

Hawaiians gravitated to the high-paced sport, and soon it was being played on Maui, Hawai‘i Island and Kaua‘i.

The U.S. Army became an integral part in developing the sport even further, with parade fields at Fort Shafter, Schofield Barracks and other posts that were used for polo matches. Hawai‘i was becoming a force in the sport.

“It certainly was Hawai‘i’s golden era of polo,” says Hoe. “The horses Hawai‘i was producing were recognized internationally. When visitors from Australia, Argentina, Texas and even out west came here, they knew the horses being bred and raised at Parker Ranch were some of the best in the world, and we had the paniolos who knew how to ride them!”

Christopher Dawson, Carlitos Gracida, Mariano Gracida, Luis Escobar, Nic Roldan, Rob Yackley, Julian Alvarez and Javier Garcia at the 2016 Hawaii Polo Championship. MICHAEL VOORHEES PHOTOS

Hawai‘i’s rich horse and polo history will be showcased at Waimānalo Polo Fields when the world’s best polo players will compete in The Kāhala Hotel & Resort Hawai‘i Invitational of Polo, presented by Cartier, from Sept. 14 to 17.

“I’m proud we’re bringing this event to Hawai‘i. It’s something we’ve been working on for a long time,” says Chris Dawson, founder of Hawai‘i International Polo Association, Honolulu Polo Club and Hawai‘i Polo Life apparel brand. “We have an incredible history dating back to the 1880s and King Kalākaua, when polo was first introduced to Hawai‘i. So many people have forgotten about our history or are not aware of it. We’re privileged and blessed that the best guys in the world want to come to Hawai‘i to play.”

The four-day event will feature the highest level of polo with an all-pro, 50-goal format, unprecedented for polo in the United States.

“Usually teams are made up of one amateur and three hired pros, so a 1-to-3 ratio,” explains Dawson. “The amateur usually pays for everything and takes care of the horses, so it can get brutally expensive — that’s why they call it the ‘Sport of Kings.’ But this format will feature four pros playing against four pros, and that’s rare.”

Dawson says the 2017 Hawai‘i Invitational of Polo will showcase Hawai‘i as an elite polo destination and will be on par with other elite polo events, including The U.S. Open in Florida, The Queen’s Cup in the United Kingdom, Dubai Polo Gold Cup and the Argentine Open.

“It’s going to be a historic event because we’ve never had this level of polo in Hawai‘i,” says an excited Dawson. “You’re going to see a whole different ability and speed. Some of the players are playing in The Queen’s Cup in England and then coming straight to Waimānalo!”

“This is going to be a great educational opportunity to see these internationally renowned polo players put on an exhibition,” adds Hoe. “This is their way of giving back to Hawai‘i and the contributions Hawai‘i has given to the history of polo.”

One of those players giving back is Hawai‘i Polo Life ambassador Mariano “Nano” Gracida. He and his older brother, Carlos “Carlitos” Gracida Jr., will both play.

“I’m really excited about the format,” says Gracida, 24. “You’re going to see much more aggressive polo because when there’s an amateur on the field, the pros always back off.”

Gracida says fellow professionals have voiced their excitement about the opportunity to play the game they love in Hawai‘i.

“They’re really excited because some of them have never been to Hawai‘i before, so to be able to play in an all-pro match and to play in Hawai‘i is a dream come true,” says Gracida.

“I think it’s mentally harder (the all-pro format) because the match is faster but physically, it’s not as much work because you’re relying on your team a lot more. Having the opportunity to play with pros is really almost like playing a different sport. The games will be close and exciting!”

The Gracidas’ polo roots in Hawai‘i are very deep. Their late father, Carlos, and uncle, Memo Gracida Jr., competed at the old Honolulu Stadium (“The Termite Palace”) in Mō‘ili‘ili, which was home to legendary international arena polo matches.

“The first time I came to Hawai‘i to watch my father play, I felt this love for my entire family,” recalls Gracida. “Hawai‘i people have a real passion for the sport, and they don’t treat us like foreigners. We’re always welcomed here and always have a good vibe from everyone.”

“Nano comes from a very famous Mexican polo family dynasty,” says Dawson. “His father and uncle dominated polo for at least two decades. He’s fourth-generation polo, and the Gracida family has been coming to Hawai‘i for decades.”

Gracida says one of his biggest goals is to help promote polo to the rest of the world and he’s grateful his role as Hawai‘i Polo Life ambassador is giving him a platform to do so.

“I’m really grateful for the opportunity to represent the lifestyle that I love,” says Gracida. “It’s a blessing and a huge honor. Polo has taken me on fantastic adventures, and I’m playing more polo than ever before. I’m looking to build my own lifestyle brand someday, and this has been a great learning opportunity for me. The people of Hawai‘i are one-ofa-kind!”

Dawson believes the invitational will benefit Hawai‘i International Polo Association’s mission to celebrate polo’s history in Hawai‘i and establish an equine retirement program for polo ponies while developing Hawai‘i’s at-risk youth via horsemanship clinics.

He says by drawing international world-class polo to Hawai‘i, he expects to see more opportunities for local players and businesses.

“The economic impact will be huge,” says Dawson. “The Kāhala Hotel & Resort signed a multi-year commitment, and Cartier cancelled all of their North American events except this one. We have Tesla and Hawaiian Airlines, we’re getting an enormous amount of momentum, we’re getting the word out, and it’s going to impact Hawai‘i in a very big way. I want to ring the bell as loud as I can and get the attention of the international polo community to check out Hawai‘i’s brand of polo.”

It’s a brand that will have a definite Hawaiian flavor and flair.

“We’re celebrating the paniolo, the pa‘u riders and polo,” says Dawson. “We’re going to let everyone take part in divot stomping. When you step on the polo field, it pulls you back in time and we’re going to celebrate that and remind people about their childhood memories and hopefully take a walk with them down memory lane.

“Hawai‘i is going to fall in love with polo all over again!”

The Kahala Hotel & Resort Hawai‘i Invitational of Polo 2017, Presented by Cartier

Flagship All-Pro Match

Saturday, Sept. 16 (11 a.m.-10 p.m.) Waimanalo Polo Field, Home of Honolulu Polo Club 41-1062 Kalanianaole Hwy.

11 a.m. Gates open
3-6 p.m. Main event
6:30-10 p.m. Concert with Dionne Warwick and Friends, and after party

Enjoy a day on the polo field dressed in your best country couture. Join emcees Mahealani Richardson and Kaiki Ragragola at what has been described as, “The most exciting polo in Hawaii.” Then, dance the night away under the stars to music by Dionne Warwick and special guests Mya and Damon Elliott, along with a halftime performance by Ashley Lilinoe; and hosted by UFC ring girl Arianny Celeste.

TICKETS General Admission: $50
VIP: $250 Tickets available at