This past weekend, the Museum of Polo and Hall of Fame welcomed Lewis Lacey, to which I say, “It’s about time.”
Lewis L. Lacey was born in Montreal, Quebec, in 1887, the son of William Lacey, a professional cricket player. In 1891, when the Hurlingham Club was established by the British colony outside of Buenos Aires, William Lacey was hired as the club’s cricket coach and groundsman. And so Lewis Lacey, toddler and Canadian citizen, was off to Argentina.
At the Hurlingham Club, William Lacey threw himself into his work as coach and groundskeeper, but also as an architect, builder, organizer, manager and sportsman. And on Hurlingham’s polo field, young Lewis (Luis) Lacey learned the game that would make him famous in South America, North America and Europe.
Lewis Lacey was not a large or powerful man; histories characterize him as small or “slight.” (In 1930, one Charles Parker took this to an extreme by referring to Lacey as “that pint of polo poison.”) But Lewis Lacey rode in harmony with his horses and struck the ball hard and true.
His first win in the Argentine Open was in 1915, but he put polo aside at the outbreak of World War I. Having been born in the British Commonwealth, he enlisted in the King Edward Horse Regiment. After the war, he returned to Argentina and picked up where he’d left off, winning the Argentine Open in 1920 and ’21, and earning polo’s highest ranking, 10 goals.
In 1922, Lacey traveled to North America and Europe with an Argentine polo team that stunned its opponents on both sides of the Atlantic, winning the Hurlingham Champion Cup and the Roehampton Open Cup in Britain before sailing to the U.S. Upon arrival, the team let the ponies rest and played some golf. But when it came time for the final game of the U.S. Open in Rumson, New Jersey, the Argentines thrashed Meadow Brook 14 to 7, and this was a Meadow Brook team led by Tommy Hitchcock and Devereux Milburn. The New York Times observed:
“Captain Lewis L. Lacey played with his customary brilliancy. As in his previous games here, he was all over the field, performing in every play, spending more time spoiling Meadow Brook’s plans than in rushing his own goal. Yet he scored four times.”
A week later, the Argentine team went to Philadelphia and played Shelburne – Lewis Stoddard, J. Watson Webb, R. Belmont and Robert E. Strawbridge Jr. – before a crowd of 25,000 spectators, and won 13 to 8. The New York Times wrote:
“Never before have followers of polo seen such a swift attack as that displayed by the men of the Argentine… Never have they witnessed such speed and marvelous mallet work until they saw the Mercury-like Lewis Lacey rip to shreds all opposition, scoring three goals at two-minute intervals in the first period.”
In 1929, Newell Bent joined the chorus in American Polo:
“We come now to one of the greatest players to ever visit this country, Mr. Lewis L. Lacey… A light man, he is an extraordinary long hitter, a very perfect horseman, and one of the quickest and best polo thinkers ever to play the game.”
In all, Lacey won the Argentine Open eight times between 1915 and 1937; England’s Coronation Cup twice, the Hurlingham Open twice, the Roehampton Open five times. He played for Britain in the Westchester Cup series and for Argentina in the Cup of the Americas. He declined a chance for Olympic gold in 1924, since he did not wish to play against Great Britain or Argentina.
:: A Shirt and a Horse ::
But as polo sage Alex Webbe has noted, “In spite of his excellent horsemanship and world-class play, there are two things for which Lewis Lacey may best be remembered.”
The first dates from 1920, when Lacey opened a men’s shop in Buenos Aires and began selling a polo shirt embroidered with the image of a polo player, a design that originated at the Hurlingham Club where Lacey had learned to play polo, and where the shirts were soon worn in play. This was, if you care to count, 19 years before the birth of Ralph Lauren, and 52 years before Lauren marketed a shirt embroidered with the logo of a polo player.
The second story concerns a horse, Jupiter, that Lacey put up for auction after the 1928 Cup of the Americas in the United States. The buyer was John Sanford, father of 7-goaler Laddie Sanford, and the price was $22,000, an eye-popping sum at the time. Sadly, Laddie was unable to handle Jupiter. Only Lacey, who was a superb horseman, really could, and so the Sanfords loaned Jupiter to Devereux Milburn, a tower of strength who showed the difficult horse who was boss by breaking its jaw. Jupiter, happily, recovered and spent the rest of his days out to pasture at the Sanford’s Hurricana Farm outside of Amsterdam, N. Y., never to be ridden again.
:: Retirement & Enshrinement ::
After his last tournament win in 1937, Lewis Lacey spent the rest of his life in Argentina, in polo, coaching and teaching. He died at his home in Hurlingham in 1966, on the eve of the Cup of the Americas. The main polo field at the Hurlingham Club is named in his honor.
A Canadian citizen all his life, a star for both Britain and Argentina, claimed with pride by three nations, Lewis Lacey is now in the U.S. Polo Hall of Fame, as well he should be.