Saturday, January 24, 2009


In a ghastly turn of events the three time champion and heavily favored Scots Chivas Team was defeated by arch rival and “auld enemy” England and their Air Tusker Team in the World Elephant Polo Association (WEPA) World Championships at Tiger Tops in the Royal Chitwan National Park in Nepal in early December, 2008. The Scots have dominated the sport winning the Tiger Tops World Cup in 2001, 2004, & 2005 as well as the King’s Cup in Thailand in 2004 and 2005 and playing in the Pachyderm Polo Super Bowl the last three years.

This is not surprising when you consider that Scots co-invented the sport in 1982 in the persons of Scot James Manclark, international polo player, former Olympian and British bobsled champion and A. V. Jim Edwards an English expatriate and Father of eco-tourism who settled in Nepal and owns the host Tiger Tops resort. The ingenious Manclark is, no doubt, proud of his achievement which puts him in the exclusive company of Scottish inventors who have literally changed the face of our planet. This invention probably had more to do with the consumption of that fine blended spirit, Chivas Regal than anything else.

We should note that the ranks of elephant polo players have included the likes of one of my great heroes, the late great explorer and first conqueror of nearby Mount Everest, Sir Edmund Hillary; Scotland’s own, the 13th Duke of Argyll; Michigander actor, martial artist, singer and producer/director Steven Seagal; tennis great Bjorn Borg; Liverpudlian and ex-Beatle Ringo Starr and many, many more.

The always right-on American CBS Sunday Morning TV show recently featured the world tournament by following the underdog American team, the thirty-something New York Blue who had prepared for the match sans elephants by practicing swinging at little white balls with clubs improvised from plumbing piping whilst strapped to the roofs of two SUV’s negotiating the challenges posed by a deserted New York Atlantic beachside parking lot. While The Blue were ultimately outclassed by their much more experienced competition in the WEPA tournament, they did earn the undying if not tongue-in-cheek admiration of all they encountered. But, more later – back to the, uh, game…

Despite the motivating and charismatic presence of the great Highland Bagpipes, Scotland's Chivas were defeated by the Sassenachs by a six to one score that appears lopsided though the Scots, who have dominated the sport since its inception in 1982, were the aggressors throughout the match.

The Scots put themselves in an early hole in the championship game and because of defensive lapses not so faintly reminiscent of the recent collapse of the incredibly talented (on paper) NFL Dallas Cowboys, were down early four goals to none. England from that point played a defensive game with Scotland managing only one score from that point. Attack after attack was made on the English goal with shots marginally errant reminding this American with an historical perspective that Bonnie Prince Charlie’s spirit had to be around given the futility of their effort and their apparently superior force. It was Culloden all over again. In recognition of their team strengths the Scots retained their number one world ranking despite the loss. Would that Bonnie Prince Charlie have allowed Lord George Murray to lead, we would all have a Scot’s burr…

The Chivas Scots captain, Torquhil Ian Campbell, well known and beloved in the American Scottish Community as the "MacCailean Mòr" (Son of Great Colin), Chief of the Clan Campbell and the 13th Duke of Argyll has long been a sponsor of this event proving once again that he and the Campbells have a sense of humor and carry on to this day despite the everlasting disgrace of the 1692 Massacre of Glencoe (lest we forget - not a cheap shot – their burden).

Not so coincidentally the 13th Duke is the highly respected Asia-Pacific manager for Chivas Brothers. Ltd., the whisky company that counts Chivas Regal as its main blended Scotch brand and sponsors his Elephant Polo Team and elephant polo worldwide. Chivas is owned by French spirits giant Pernod Ricard (the auld alliance lives!) who also manufactures Jameson® Irish Whiskey, The Glenlivet® Single Malt Scotch Whisky, Wild Turkey® Bourbon (one of my Kentucky favorites), and many other world famous premium spirit brands.

The world’s best elephant polo player and prolific goal scorer is one Peter Prentice, an expatriate Englishman and VP for Chivas Brothers in Asia Pacific who is player manager for the Chivas Team and one of its major inspirations. Peter is the former captain of the Chivas team who puts this whole affair in proper and honest perspective by admitting that his best performances have always been, “At the bar orchestrating tidal waves of Chivas Manhattans for any unsuspecting opposition.” No doubt that this is a huge marketing commitment for Chivas which has developed their Chivas Regal brand into the top world player. Their 18 year old remains my favorite Scotch blend (along with the Low Flyer - Famous Grouse) and that almost consumed 2007 Christmas present from son Geb Buxton. Also, lest we forget, the elephant polo event has raised thousands and thousands of dollars and pounds for less fortunate populations that reside in that part of the world. We say, well done and continue with the show! Back to the Game…

The BBC reported Scottish Captain Campbell’s bravado and rhetoric following the defeat, "Albeit we are disappointed to once again be at the wrong end of a final, we remain hugely proud of our historic success in this incredibly demanding sport. We are also delighted to have successfully reconfirmed our status as Number One in the official WEPA World rankings thanks to making it to the finals – no mean feat in itself!” ”Indeed, there are not many sports in which Scotland enjoys global leadership and with our recent record, no one can deny that Scotland is now one of the world's true sporting heavyweights”. Right?

It is with great suspicion that we note that among other elephant polo players two members of the New York Blue, Bill Keith and Chip Frazier, as, well as the captain of the English Air Tuskers Team, Robert McKenzie, and players like McDougal, McMillan, MacKay, Anderson, Currie and others have names that conjure much more Scottish than English connections. We also note that the 13th Duke of Argyll is the only Scottish member of the Scottish Elephant Polo Team? What’s going on here? We again embrace an historical perspective noting the English Duke of Cumberland had in his 1746 Drummossie Moor ranks a substantial Scots contingent including the Clans Campbell, Gunn, MacKay, Sutherland, Munro, Ross, Grant and others. So, it goes that when the Scots weren’t fighting others, they were fighting amongst themselves… It is good to note that while the 13th Duke of Argyll’s ancestors were fighting on the wrong side in 1745 they are now on the “correct” albeit losing side. A manly consolation…

All this nationalist posturing aside, it certainly appears that the success of any team rides solely on the shoulders of the elephants and the mahouts, the mostly native trainers and handlers who also ride on the elephants and direct them via of verbal commands and by applying pressure to the back of the elephant’s ears with their bare feet. The player communicates to the mahout where he wishes to go - which is easier said than done considering that most of the mahouts, and ALL the elephants, only understand Nepali. The teams swap elephants and mahouts at half time so that no one team has the advantage of superior handlers.

Speaking of advantage, it was noted that the Chivas team tended to wisely refuel their mahouts with Cokes whilst in their service while other teams resorted to other fortified beverages which ultimately put their teams at a disadvantage. Aha, a strategy is born!

While this is, no doubt, a charity event, it would appear to be a premier social event and playground for the rich and famous and as one observer noted, “The opportunity to hobnob with friends you haven’t seen since the quail-hunting season”. One competitor in a fit of honesty validated the strategy of Chivas team manager Peter Prentice by openly proclaiming that it was his ultimate goal to, “win in the bar”.

But, back to our own New York Blue team who despite taking the favored Nepal Tiger Top Tuskers to overtime, had to settle for the silver medal in the amateur Chivas Olympic Quaiche Finals. Consistent with other American teams in the past The Blue were gifted with the very popular and coveted ‘Best Dressed Team Award’ which was attributed to Blue sponsors and haberdashers Levi Strauss and Converse. We also note that one member of the New York Blue, Ricky Smith from Wisconsin, made history by being the first ever American to win the much exalted ‘Dominic Monaghan Oscar Award for the best off-field performance’. One reporter noted that, “Smith remained a beacon of charm & flair throughout the tournament.” Nobody’s talking though someone recently speculated that it recognizes the emulation of the capacity of former Hobbit (Meriadoc Brandybuck) Monaghan’s great ability to make everlasting friends…

In closing we invoke the passion and memory of one Robert Mackenzie, captain of the winning Sassenach Air Tusker team who in true Scots obligatory tradition downed a large dram of Chivas (no doubt from a Quaich) in appreciation of his adversary’s Scottish spirit. We suspect he was also saluting his own indomitable pedigree and would that we could lure him to the Chivas Team!

For all you American Scots out there please note that Polo America is organizing an American team to compete in the 2009 World Elephant Polo Championship at Tiger Tops in the Royal Chitwan National Park in Nepal. Individuals interested in playing on the USA Elephant Polo Team should contact Polo America at (760) 777-8081. No experience necessary save a sense of adventure, a charitable spirit and a high tolerance for Chivas Regal (drink responsibly, please). See you in Nepal...


Ned Buxton

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