The 2018 King’s Cup Elephant Polo tournament combined four action packed days of fun, with players flying in from around the world. There were all kinds of participants. The most famed were perhaps the former New Zealand All Blacks rugby players, who on Saturday performed their famous Hakka prior to one of their matches. The team would eventually reach the final, where they met the Mekhong team. Who would win? It would be a close call.
Festivities kicked off on Thursday March 8th on the polo pitch located on the banks of Bangkok’s River of Kings, the mighty Chao Phraya. The early morning proceedings began with a traditional blessing ceremony with monks placing sacred garlands over the necks of the stars of the event, the ex-street elephants taking part. Thailand’s last elephant spirit men (Kru Ba Yai), who possess spiritual control over all of Thailand’s elephants, also presided over the early morning rituals.
The opening day was attended by players and media from all over the world along with over 600 school children who were treated to a day of educational activities relating to Thailand’s national animal. The children were almost as delighted as the elephants during the much loved elephant breakfast buffet and many hands fed them bananas, sugar cane and pumpkin ahead of the first game.
The match of the day was between Johnnie Walker Blue Label captained by Thailand’s Elephant Polo President, Christopher Stafford and King’s Cup debutants, ‘Challenge Everything’ from New York, captained by David Partridge. The first chukka ended with Challenge Everything ahead by a nail biting 3-0. By the end of the second chukka, seasoned veterans Johnnie Walker Blue Label made a stunning comeback due to the outstanding prowess of player Bjorn Richardson, scoring five goals in a row, securing a victory of 5-3.
The weather Gods must not have gotten the memo because Friday morning saw a massive rain storm roll thru Bangkok, striking down on the purpose-built polo pitch near the Anantara Riverside Hotel. Although the storm did not last long, it was long enough to completely soak the pitch, making it unsafe for the Pachyderms to play so all polo matches were cancelled for the day. The grounds team brought in large industrial pumps and worked throughout the day and night to clear the water from the field in the hopes that the games could start again on Saturday morning.
Day 3 started in much brighter, and dryer spirits as the glamourous crowds turned out in style for ‘Ladies Day, also known as Bangkok’s Ascot. The polo grounds were filled with celebrities, socialites and many well-heeled Bangkok residents.
The day began with a tense penalty shootout to accommodate for the previous day of missed play allowing all the teams to practice their shooting and get familiar with the pitch.
The best dressed ladies of the day joined a sensational Masquerade Ball themed show on the pitch while the judges decided who would win the best dressed prize. The lucky winner received an all-expense paid 4-night trip to the Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort in Oman with flights courtesy of Oman Air.
Throughout the four-day spectacle there was a bustling environment of vibrant booths, with tents on either side of the pitch and a large array of different types of food and drinks which made for a lovely occasion. There were varieties of Chinese, Japanese, Italian and Thai food, making this event a truly international feast. Restaurants such as rooftop bar Cielo provided their sybarite variety while entertainers from places such as Ripley’s Believe It or Not! were there to bring fun to the children and those with a more free spirited mind, as jugglers and ball games kept them good company.
In addition to the Anantara Hotel chain as the main sponsor, the event was also sponsored by companies such as Casillero del Diablo, Ferrari Spumante, Chang and Johnnie Walker, all of whom provided a large array of beverages, from black label whisky and red and white wines to bubbly sparkling wines and – of course – elephant branded beer.
The fun and games however did have a purpose, as the funds received from the event went to fund elephant conservation foundations, including the Zoological Parks Organization of Thailand which supports veterinary and educational projects to improve the year-round lives of elephants and mahouts in the Surin Province where ex-street elephants face ongoing hardship.
The entire tournament across the four days raised a whopping 4 million baht – a staggering amount if you consider that polo was mostly absent due to the unfortunate rain showers during the second day of the tournament. The total raised since the tournaments inception has reached almost U.S. 1.7 million dollars.
The Thai Elephant Therapy project and the Chiang Mai University Department of Occupational Therapy also benefited from the funds. The former bringing further budget to fund conservation projects, while the latter showed that humans in need also benefit from the charity event, as it sponsors initiatives for children with Down’s syndrome.
The final match on Sunday saw the Mekhong team, comprised of the talented Kalaan brothers, Uday and Angad, along with Cameron Humphries, competing against team PWC New Zealand All Blacks which featured international rugby stars Robin Brooke, Steve McDowall and Olo Brown.
It was a close call that had to go all the way to the sudden death, but after thirteen rounds of shots – what it took the victors to seal the deal – team Mekhong prevailed over team PWC New Zealand.
The final match was attended by a representative of His Majesty King Vajiralongkorn, His Excellency Privy Councilor Air Chief Marshal Chalit Pukbhasuk who presented the King’s Cup Trophy to the victors.
All in all, the four-day tournament wasn’t hampered in vibe by the rain, which remained an anecdote, given that fun was had, money was raised, excitement prevailed and it all went for a charitable cause.
Next year aims to be much more exciting, in the hopes that play will resume again and teams will be able to take to the field in exciting action packed games, with greater sums of money raised and even more fun times to be had.