That’s a wrap! Team Saudia triumph at Richard Mille AlUla Desert Polo

AlUla: The final polo match saw fierce competition in the picturesque AlUla landscape between Team Saudia and Richard Mille, the former winning 9-5 on Saturday with elite horsemanship, embodying the spirit of Richard Mille AlUla Desert Polo.

The event, a groundbreaking modern tournament, concluded on Saturday after four days of thrilling matches in its highly anticipated third edition. 

Live from Al-Fursan Equestrian Village, audiences experienced a memorable afternoon of sporting excellence, showcasing the same blend of action, elegance and skill that has made it a major event in the international equestrian calendar.

Polo legend Adolfo Cambiaso praised the exceptional conditions and tournament improvements that reflected the event’s upward trajectory. 

In partnership with the Saudi Polo Federation, the event has become a beacon of sporting excellence, helping to redefine equestrian sports since its inception.

Melissa Ganzi, Team Saudia player who won the best female player award at the winning ceremony, spoke to Arab News about her experience this year.

As the tournament featured a thrilling blend of action, elegance, and skill, she shared her insights about how a player can balance these aspects during a match, and what strategies are employed to ensure success.

She said: “The most important thing is having a balance and a great relationship with the horses.

“The equine athletes make all of this possible, and to have a good relationship with them is the most important (thing).”

She added that it was key to have good chemistry and good teammates, and to know what they were capable of, their strengths and weaknesses.

Ganzi’s highlight this year was seeing all the improvements that had been made since 2022, and seeing some of the players with whom she played last time.

The other “super exciting” thing for her was to see other female players. She said: “The first time I was here I was the only woman player, and now there were seven of us.”

She advised other aspiring female players to take a step forward, never get frustrated and to just keep going and pursue their dreams.

David Paradise, a seasoned polo player from the Richard Mille team, shed light on what sets the AlUla desert backdrop apart from other locations, saying: “There’s nothing like this place.”

He told Arab News: “It’s played on the sand and that’s beautiful. You don’t get this kind of location, this kind of terrain (in other places). It’s absolutely unique and I’ve played in a lot of places in the world and there’s nothing like it.”

With the increased number of teams and higher standards, Paradise touched on how the competition has intensified, and the challenges to the players.

He said: “A lot of us haven’t played this before and that’s the challenge in itself. It’s just learning how to play it and hopefully I’ll come back next year and as we keep on doing it, we’ll all improve.”

Promising polo player Prince Salman bin Mansour said it was quite a challenge and an honor to play with professionals this year.

He told Arab News: “Playing with the best team in the world is not very simple at all — they have been playing polo since they were 6, 7 years old. It’s a challenge, but we are up for it and we’re here for fun.”

As for challenges, the young prince said they faced “a lot of injuries for horses, but in the games, to be honest, playing with professionals, I’m not a professional yet.”

Ziad Al-Suhaibani, chief of the sports sector of the Royal Commission for AlUla, told Arab News what made the event special.

He said: “(It) has introduced something that is unique in AlUla and the polo world, which is sand polo or desert polo, that Arabian twist and AlUla touch that we always do in different events, be it sport or other events.”

The tournament boasted only four teams in its first edition. But, he added: “Now it’s double the teams and also the skilled and talented players have evolved as well.

“Now we have one of the best players or several of the best players in the world, and also the attraction of it, the technical partners and the sponsors have also evolved.”

He highlighted that the polo community appreciated the different twists and additions the organizers had done to this version.

He added: “One of the presidents of the polo federations, specifically the French Polo Federation, was here and he said ‘The future of polo is sand polo,’ and we can see Saudi Arabia and AlUla leading in that.

“So we look forward to working with such key partners to grow the sport itself, but also to grow the name of AlUla and this sport and the equestrian sector in general.”

Adolfo Cambiaso took the best goal award; the most promising player went to Prince Hamza Ibn Abbas; and the most valued player award was handed to Saudia’s Sayyu Dantata from Nigeria. The best female player awards went to Yoanna Hanbury from the Richard Mille team, and Saudia player Melissa Ganzi. 

The two best pony awards were given to Dolfina Absoleta and Dolfina Shayla.

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