For the 15th year, Bill and Kathy Heinecke, along with their Anantara Hotel chain and their many long time sponsors have put on one of Thailand’s most anticipated and fun events, the King’s Cup Elephant Polo Tournament. The purpose of the four-day event is to raise money for Thailand’s beloved Elephants with the Pachymerms benefitting (so far) to the tune of 1.4 million U.S. Dollars.
From March 9th to the 12th, on a man-made pitch along the Chao Phraya River, 25 unemployed ex-street elephants took part, during which time they received full veterinary checks from the Zoological Parks Organisation of Thailand (under the patronage of His Majesty the King of Thailand) and the Department of Livestock Development. In addition, all elephants were given essential vitamins, food and care which are not available to them during their normal daily lives.
Forty players from around the world converged on Bangkok to form ten Polo teams and in the process created untold memorable moments both on and off the pitch during this much-loved charity event.
The tournament started Thursday morning March 9th with a Monk Blessing that saw the monks placing sacred garlands over the necks of the elephants. Thailand’s last elephant spirit men (Kru Ba Yai), who possess spiritual control over all of Thailand’s elephants presided over the early morning rituals. The Elephants certainly enjoyed themselves as they were served a fruit buffet.
Tournament play kicked off at 11AM with the 2016 champions, King Power, represented by Nattapong Pratumlee, Satid Wongkraso and Tom Claytor continuing their winning style, easily beating newcomers BENIHANA by double scores.
The match of the day was between teams PWC All Blacks which includes international rugby players, Olo Brown, Stu Wilson and Charlie Richelman and Casiliero Del Diablo represented by Argentina’s finest polo players, Agustin Kronhaus, Manuel Albizu and Franck Constant with the first half closing in a nail biting tie.
The tested All Blacks came into the second half all set to fight for a win against the newest editions to the Elephant Polo Cup line up, but the team from Buenos Aires easily progressed into the next round with a 6-4 win.
Day one of the tournament ended with the annual Charity Auction Gala Dinner which this year was hosted at the Anantara’s flagship hotel, the Anantara Siam Bangkok. The evening saw 3.7 million baht raised which will be donated to a wide range of projects that better the lives of Thailand’s domestic and wild elephants.
Friday is always kids day, allowing children from local schools all over Bangkok to get up close with the elephants and learn more about their national animal. A range of educational walks, games and activities all teaching the benefits of elephant conservation and well-being are put on during the day.
On the field, 10 teams battled it out on Friday with the match of the day being between IBM and Anantara Hotels & Resorts. The first chukker finished with IBM’s veteran players David Wildridge, Mark Pearson and newcomer Isabelle Duncan scoring a flurry of goals resulting in a first half score of 4-2. Anantara fought back in the second chukker but was no match for the seasoned IBM team with a final result of 8-3.
Day 3, Saturday, is always the most glamorous as the crowds, celebrities and socialites turn out for ‘La-dies Day’, also known as Bangkok’s Ascot, with the best dressed winning a trip to the Maldives.
Day 3 also saw a fiercely fought battle between teams King Power, captained by Tom Claytor and Casillero Del Diablo (CDD) led by Argentina’s national polo players Agustin Kronhaus and Manuel Albizu.
In what was described as the best match of the tournament so far, it looked like there may be an upset with the 2016 champions, King Power, trailing in the first few minutes. However, with great play from King Power’s Nattapong Pratumlee and Satid Wongkraso they managed to retake the lead at the end of the chukker by 9 goals to 7. Showing their polo expertise, the Argentinians fought back hard with CDD team captain Franck Constant coming so close to taking the win, but his final shot fell on the line and left the game at a draw of 9-9.
The final day of the King’s Cup Elephant Polo Tournament offered plenty of memorable moments and a new reigning champion.
The highly anticipated final, presided over by the King of Thailand’s Royal representative, His Excellency Air Chief Marshal Chalit Pukbhasuk, Privy Councillor, placed two stellar teams – Mekhong and King Power – in a closely fought battle.
Mekhong’s talented Kalaan brothers, Uday and Angad, along with Cameron Humphries, and King Power captained by Tom Claytor with Nattapong Pratumlee and Satid Wongkraso went trunk to trunk early in the game setting the scene for a closely fought first chukker. Both sides scored multiple goals with the Kalaan brothers keeping the reigning champs on the defense finishing the first half with Mekhong in the lead by one point at 8 goals to 7.
King Power fought back fervently in the second half to gain a comfortable lead and look set to retain their title but with only minutes left in the second chukker, the Kalaan brothers scored three consecutive goals resulting in a final score of 11-10 and a brand new champion of the King’s Cup.
The King’s Cup Elephant Polo Tournament combines sport, glamour, celebrities, industry titans, children and charity, all for the benefit of Thailand’s most beloved national animal, the majestic elephant. A total of 4 million baht was raised this year, bringing the grand total to 50 million baht for this brilliant annual charity event. If you have never been or if you didn’t make it this year, it deserves to be on your social calendar for 2018.
Final Leaderboard for 2017 King’s Cup Elephant Polo Tournament
- King Power
- Casillero Del Diablo
- Johnny Walker Blue Label
- Arabian Knights
- PWC All Blacks