Victor Huaco is the man who brought polo back to Russia. He is also a successful financier (the two go hand in glove). He started his business career advising Latin American governments how to restructure their sovereign debt. He came to Russia in the early 90s and “smelled the same risks and opportunities.” Entrepreneur is too tame a word to describe a man who likes high finance, high risk and the high life. He is a modern-day buccaneer.
Q How did you first come to Russia?
God was good to me! I was born in Peru. I mean my grandmother wasn’t from here, like she escaped the Revolution and trekked halfway across the world to a new life, nothing like that. And I didn’t do Russian Studies. It was pure chance. I came here for the first time in ’91 and saw it just as a small window in which to make some money. We all thought that Communism was coming back at some stage. Now I’ve been here thirteen years.
Q How did you come to play polo?
I had played in the US. When I first came to Russia I rode horses at the weekend, just out in the regions, hacking, and some jumping. I wanted to play polo, but there was no club. So I was travelling to Europe at the weekends just to play polo. I knew that if I could open a club in Russia, however, there would be enough people to play.
Q What did you have to do to get it open?
I bought 24 polo ponies from Argentina and planned to bring them back to Moscow, and that was when I understood that if doing business in Russia had its problems, nothing compared to what was needed to import those horses. The Russian authorities couldn’t understand why I wanted to do such a thing. They said that Russia has a long tradition of breeding and exporting horses, which it does; but not polo ponies. Still, I did it, and we opened the Moscow Polo Club in September 2003. When we played the first match, for me it was worth all the effort.
Q You founded the Moscow Polo Club, now you’re starting a second one, the Russian Polo Club. Why two clubs?
You need as many clubs as possible, so that you aren’t always playing against the same people. I’m opening the new club here, at the Otrada Centre. We’re laying out two grounds, and we’ll have stables for up to a hundred and twenty horses. I’m hoping that the grounds will be ready for use at the end of August. In the meantime, we’re playing at the Hippodrome.
Q But the Russian Polo Cup is played somewhere else?
Yes, the Cup will be played at Gorki 2, which is a beautiful location next to the Moscow river.
Q What do you have to do to become a member at the Russian Polo Club?
You just need two polo ponies. There’s no entrance fee and no membership fee. It’s designed to encourage people to build a team. And if they decide down the track that they don’t want to carry on, they can sell their ponies, and that’s that – nothing lost.
Q Why two ponies?
If you play a game of four chukkas, a pony can only last for two periods. Two is the minimum that you need. You have to think about a pony going lame. If you like the game that much, you’ll soon start to buy more ponies.
Q Why do you think Russians will take to polo?
Because Russians love speed and danger, and polo has both. Plus, Russians have a history of good horsemanship. And then there’s the elite quality of polo. You blend all of those together, and you have an exciting cocktail.
Q Polo isn’t an inexpensive sport.
Let’s be open about it, polo is an expensive sport. It needs rich patrons. It’s like Formula One, only you get to drive.
Q Why does polo attract successful businessmen?
Play it and you’ll find out. Polo has a lot of synergy with my own business. It’s about risk-taking and achievement.
Q Who are the players at the moment?
We have an almost equal number of foreign and Russian players; but I’m sure that there will be more and more Russians. What happens elsewhere in the world will also happen here: there will be Russian businessmen who take up polo with a passion, and they’ll take their teams all over the world. You’ll have a small group of playing enthusiasts, and a much larger group who come to polo for the social life.
Q You have an Argentinian manager and Argentinian grooms. Why do we hear so much about polo and Argentina?
Because there’s a true culture of polo in Argentina.
Q Why don’t you use Russian horses?
I do! I tried to make an Akhaltek breed into a polo pony; but it doesn’t have the right body structure. It’s smart, strong and fast, but still not ideal. Now I’ve bought 10 three-year-old Budyonoks and my Argentinian grooms are training them. I’m hoping that my string next year will be all Russian. You need local ponies, you can’t keep importing them from Argentina. It’s been done in New Zealand and Australia, making their own ponies. We can do it here, just like we can have our own Russian polo grooms.
Q You also started the Snow Polo Cup and the Russian Polo Cup. They’ve been very popular.
Yes, the two events are a way to promote an audience. And watching polo encourages people to play. We invite professional players both for the excitement they bring to the game, and because it shows our members what polo is like at the highest level. Carlos Gracida is a 10-goal player, the best you can be; to play with him is like playing football with David Beckham.
Q You’ve already brought in corporate sponsors; is that a part of the plan also?
That’s how it is in France, in the UK and everywhere: polo attracts a smart crowd. The big events are a platform for companies to promote their brands and for communication strategies.
Q Mixing business and pleasure?
Q Do you think that polo will become a part of the social season for Russians?
The Winter polo will be a big thing, just like it is in St Moritz. We planned our Snow Polo Cup so that it happens two weeks after St Moritz; that means the teams playing there have the time to play here. The Russian Polo Cup at the end of this month will be just as big. There are two days of play, and on the Saturday evening a black tie dinner at Moscow City Golf Course.
Q Can anyone play polo?
If you like danger.