The name “Gracida” is a revered and notable distinction within the sport of polo, with a long and illustrious history of international competitors and horsemen that have founded, invented and re-invented the game of polo since a 1946 US Open victory that remains the only recorded win by four brothers in the history of the sport. The four Mexico City born Gracidas left an indelible mark and one which would continue to grow with multiple international tournament wins, 10 goal handicaps and a boastful resume of history making records that remain standing, even today. While Guillermo “Memo” Gracida, Jr. may stand as the most famous in this family legacy, boasting 21 consecutive years at a 10 goal rating and a 1997 induction into the Polo Hall of Fame, in 2012 it is Memo’s son, Julio, who is capturing notable victories and adding further testament to the family dynasty as a continual force in the sport of polo.
It’s a Family Tradition
Intensely aware of expectation and performance, Julio says, “the legacy made my career choice easy. Really, it was the easiest decision I’ve ever made [to become a professional polo player]. Polo is a unique sport because not just for us, but for a lot of people, it is family oriented. It’s the only sport where I can play with my dad, uncle and cousins, all at the same time. That, for me, is the best.” At 25 years old, Julio already has a resume to be proud of, with notable wins alongside family ties, including the 2002 22-goal Iglehart Cup and the 2005 US Open. The Iglehart Cup was won alongside his father and his US Open victory in 2005 added the third consecutive Gracida victory in the tournament, with Uncle Carlos winning in 2003 and father Memo winning in 2004. “I don’t think I can ‘live up’ to our family legacy. It’s impossible to try and replicate the accomplishments of my dad and uncle. But what I want is just to make a name for myself and have my own legacy when it’s all done.”
A Star In His Own Right
2011 granted an opportunity for Julio to shine as a professional in his own right, playing alongside Adolfo Cambiaso and Jeff Blake on John Muse’s Lucchese team during Santa Barbara’s high goal summer season. Playing alongside arguably the world’s best, Julio and teammates took home the Pacific Coast Open trophy and secured the Gracida name on yet another major U.S. polo trophy. That victory is counted among the favorites in Julio’s career, as he recalls, “it was the last tournament I had to win to have won all the major tournaments in the US. It’s an amazing feeling to know that I’ve been lucky enough to play with some incredible people and win every major tournament in the United States.” Indeed, his list of mentors and teammates looks more like a “who’s who” roster of polo superstars, including not only his Hall of Fame father and uncle, but also Adolfo Cambiaso, Mariano Aguirre, Pablo McDonough, Lucas Criado, Gonzalito Pieres and American polo icon, Mike Azzaro, along with polo patron George Rawlings, who gave Julio his first chance at playing professionally. “I want to keep getting better every year,” Julio says. “I want a chance to always compete for the U.S. Open title and I want a chance to add my own records to history.”
Working Toward the Future
Returning to his hometown of Wellington, Florida for the winter, Julio started off 2012 with an impressive showing in the 20 goal series at the International Polo Club Palm Beach with the Valiente/Tonkawa team. With a record-breaking 17 teams entered in the series this year, the level of polo and horses has each professional striving to “step-up” their game and has pushed Julio to work diligently alongside professionals Nacho Novillo-Astrada (9 goals) and Toto Collardin (7 goals). Crediting success to encompass the equine athletes beneath him, Julio says, “I have to say, my little grey Pimpinella has helped me from the very beginning of my polo career. She was my favorite for a lot of reasons: she was the first I bought on my own; but she also helped me get from 0 goals to a 5 goal rating.” Grounded in an ancestry of horsemanship, he says that the horses are never far from his mind and an invaluable part of every game he plays. Although he will not get a chance this year to compete for the coveted U.S. Open title, Julio will finish the winter season in Florida before heading to Houston, Texas for the spring and then California again in the summer. “If you listen to some people,” he says with a grin, “the world is going to end in 2012. So I guess I’m just looking to see how many wins I can add to my record until then.”
-By Danika Rice