Some of polo’s top ponies have changed hands after Australian billionaire James Packer, whose Ellerston team won the Vivari Queen’s Cup last year, decided not to return to England for the 2009 high-goal season.

An Australian press report says James Packer — son of the late Kerry Packer — has sold 40 of his best mounts for about Aus$5million (£2.25m) — an average of £56,000 a head.

“That sounds about right,” said professional player Henry Brett, a member of the England team who also deals in ponies.

“Ellerston has always been known for the quality and depth of its pony string.”

The Australian report said some of the Ellerston ponies were bought by the Pieres family, who had been associated with Kerry Packer in his embryo transfer breeding programme in Queensland, Australia, and in Argentina.

UK sources said French patron Jean-François Decaux may also have bought some of the Ellerston ponies for his Brittany Polo team. Mr Decaux is reported to have hired 10-goalers Gonzalito and Facundo Pieres to spearhead his high-goal campaign this summer.

The Argentine brothers played for Ellerston last year, reaching the final of the Veuve Clicquot Gold Cup in the British Open as well as winning the Queen’s Cup.

This article was first published in Horse & Hound (26 February, ’09)