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Socialites swing into casual mode for polo at Albert Park and Portsea

Spectator sport: Polo ditches the formal atmosphere and ramps up the schmoozing. Photo: Mark Dadswell Spectator sport: Polo ditches the formal atmosphere and ramps up the schmoozing. Photo: Mark Dadswell
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Spectator sport: Polo ditches the formal atmosphere and ramps up the schmoozing. Photo: Mark Dadswell

Spectator sport: Polo ditches the formal atmosphere and ramps up the schmoozing. Photo: Mark Dadswell

Polo club: Nick Myer and Obsession display their skills at Albert Park. Photo: Joe Armao

If there were an investigation into how the spring racing carnival differs from the polo, exhibit A would be the midriff.

Crop tops exposing the extent of a bad fake tan on the tummy were banned by the Victoria Racing Club in members’ areas and the birdcage, but there are no flesh police at the polo. It’s when Melbourne goes all Sydney and confuses “smart casual” with a daytime disco.

Ditching the formal atmosphere and rules, there is no limping in uncomfortable stilettos but parading in stylish-yet-sensible wedges or flats when watching the people rather than the horses.

Polo in the City stampedes into Albert Park on Saturday with 3500 spectators cranking up the end-of-year schmoozing. For the wristband brigade in the Pol Roger marquee, it’s sipping bubbly from $100 Waterford crystal flutes. Land Rover’s “Polo Club” marquee has a gazebo with topiary for its garden-style picnic.

On January 10, all roads lead to Portsea when the Point Nepean National Park is overtaken by 5000 lifestylers. A privileged 400 will be guests of the “Jeep Grille” and watch MasterChef’s Matt Preston flip 400 burgers and sizzle 350 sausages. A further 400 will be in the Peroni marquee that’s styled on the Italian Riviera, with the “face” of the brand, Natalia Borges, flying in from New York. Guest lists are judiciously curated because it can cost up to $450 to wine and dine one person.

Mention “chukka” and people scratch their heads, but it means a period of play. Watching polo players command a horse and swing a mallet has been made more spectator-friendly at Albert Park by shrinking the polo field and only having two games.

Janek Gazecki, a former lawyer who founded the Albert Park event in 2005 with player Ruki Baillieu, said that when polo began 2500 years ago in Persia, it was for mounted cavalry, not the spectator.

“The big joke is nobody watches the polo,” he said. “They watch our polo.”

Cavalry is needed to set up the Portsea event, an extravaganza founded 14 years ago by Dan Vaughan, David Calvert-Jones and Josh Mantello. Jeep and Peroni have created a mini-birdcage with double-storey marquees.

However, Mr Vaughan recalled the early days: “You would pull your car up and have your picnic. Like you see at Werribee.”

It is a logistical feat building a tent city 90 kilometres from Melbourne in seven days and dismantling it in three.

“There is no power, no water, no gas.”

French-born Caroline Vosse, an image consultant at Fren’CHIC Touch, is excited about going to the polo for the first time on Saturday and watching a sport that is foreign to her.

“I’m pretty curious because we don’t have polo in France,” she said.

Polo continues to fight its elitist image given jet-setting players need four polo ponies per game and that costs more than playing football or soccer.

In some ways, the smaller-scale spectacle is more democratic than the Melbourne Cup carnival because the general public can walk up to the marquees and have a peak, whereas at Flemington, they are excluded by a maze of turnstiles.

And every woman can have a Pretty Woman moment by imagining they are Julia Roberts when stomping the divots.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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