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Carlos Gracida

Polo player

Polo player

Born: September 5, 1960; Died: February 25, 2014.

Carlos Gracida, who has died aged 53 after falling from his horse, was one of the world's greatest polo players and a dashing, enthusiastic promoter of the sport.

Polo is still largely a sport of the rich but Gracida believed it could be as popular as cricket around the world and campaigned to change the rules to make it more accessible for television audiences.

He was also a high achiever in the game and had more tournaments wins to his name than any other player of the sport.

He was known as the Mexican maestro around the world; in Argentina, the spiritual home of the game, they called him Diego Maradona on horseback; and he was thought to have been the inspiration for the hero of Jilly Cooper's novel Polo. He was also a coach and taught Princes William and Harry how to play.

He was born in Mexico City into a polo-playing family and first took up riding when he was five years old. By the age of 10, he was playing in polo tournaments and by his mid twenties he had a handicap of 10, the highest possible in the game.

His brother Memo was also a talented player and the brothers always maintained a healthy rivalry.

"Being the younger brother," said Gracida, "as a kid I always wanted to beat him, even in practice games, but as we got older that has calmed down and we have a really great relationship."

As a professional, Gracida he won all the sport's leading titles - he won the US Open nine times, the British Gold Cup ten times and the Argentine Open five times, the only foreigner to do so.

He was particularly successful in England during the 1980s when many Argentine players refused to play in the UK because of the Falklands War.

It meant that, with the Argentines out of the way, Gracida dominated the sport in England for a decade.

It was during this time that he became particularly close to the Royal family, coaching William and Harry and playing with their father, Prince Charles. Gracida was also said to be the Queen's favourite player. As a coach, he taught other royals such as the King of Greece and celebrities such as the actor Sylvester Stallone.

Gracida always acknowledged that the game was dangerous and required the highest possible horsemanship. Injuries were common and Gracida was killed in Palm Beach, where he had settled, when his horse fell on him.

He was still at the top of his game when he died, as he had been since the 1980s, and was inducted into polo's Hall of Fame in 2012.

He is survived by his two teenage sons Mariano and Carlitos, who are also polo players.

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