Triple Crown of Polo reviewed.

What you're watching.
April 25 2006 6:01 PM

Mild Mild Horses

ESPN2's soothing presentation of polo.

ESPN2 now features polo. Click image to expand.
ESPN2 now features polo

David McLane is the mastermind of GLOW: Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (which you may fondly remember from the 1980s), something called Pro Beach Hockey (which I cannot fathom), and sundry other entertainments involving glistening female wrestlers and innovative bastardizations of hockey (but, curiously, never both at once). McLane intends his latest venture, the Triple Crown of Polo, as something grander and more momentous, telling Reuters he has aimed to found a league "similar to NASCAR." ESPN2—which aired a match from Sarasota, Fla., over the weekend and will follow with broadcasts from Dallas (July 15) and Santa Barbara, Calif., (Sept. 17)—sought to accommodate him for obvious reasons. "Polo traditionally attracts affluent sports fans," a PR person told New York, "and that would be of interest to the ad-sales department." Who competed for the eyes of the rich during commercial breaks? Home Depot, Ruby Tuesday, and Art Instruction Schools.

This is one of several ways in which the Triple Crown oozed forth its soothing mediocrity. The hour was largely pleasant. The sprinting horses were almost as beautiful as the luxuriant hair on the Argentine studs riding them, and there were occasional thrills to be had in appreciating the dangers of the game. While the announcers did a capable and noncondescending job of elucidating the sport's niceties—let's call it four-on-four soccer on horseback, with mallets, without goalies, and played in a space the size of nine football fields—the producers shot the action such that it was much easier to follow than an ice hockey match. It was better than bass fishing, just not by much.

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The press release had promised that the show would lavish attention on the "envious lifestyles" of the players, fans, and horses. Set aside the matter of the word "envious" being employed where "enviable" is desired, and also the question of how many viewers might, in fact, be covetous of the way these horses roll. If we start in with the Triple Crown's crimes against language, we'll be here all night. The point is that I had steeled myself for some high-grade nouveau riche nonsense. Reliable sources say that the fanciest polo transpires in Greenwich, Conn., and the more obnoxious precincts of Long Island; therefore, I had hoped not merely for a bonfire of pretentious vulgarity from those assembled in Sarasota but for a second-rate bonfire of pretentious vulgarity, something that would make Paris Hilton look like a Hepburn. Imagine my disappointment at discovering, on the sidelines, only suburban families wearing pleasant smiles and comfortable pants.

To be fair, there were a few glimmers of hope on this front. When the "priceless" custom-designed Tiffany trophy made its entrance, it did so in a Brinks truck that we spied from the sky, as if this were an L.A. car chase. (Unveiled, it looked like a shiny little merry-go-round.) There was a tribute to LeRoy Neiman, who ranks as the greatest bad painter in America if you don't count Julian Schnabel. At one point, a gentleman discoursed on the attractions of the planned community that housed the polo field and showed us around some gaudy foyers, fostering the impression that the program's closest analog is one of those promotional tapes for real-estate developments. A reporter on the sidelines squeaked the day's most amazing line. Pointing her mike at the mouth of a trainer, she asked, "How important are the horses?"

Troy Patterson is Slate's writer at large and writes the Gentleman Scholar column.