“Do you want to know what they were like before, after or during the match?” Dato’ Chevy Beh asks me when I enquire what it was like to play against British royalty at a charity match that took place at the home of Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber last year. The game, which took place in the middle of July, 2015 saw members of the BP Polo Club, Chevy and his younger brother Joevy, as well as their father Dato’ Beh Chun Chuan take on the crown prince and his younger brother in the British country side toraise funds for the princes’ respective charities.
“Obviously I knew who they were,” he continues. “So I went up to introduce myself. The elder brother shook my hand and simply said: ‘Hi, I’m William’. The second introduced himself as Prince Harry. During the game itself, I found William to be the more gentlemanly player, while Harry was more cunning. After the game, I found Harry to be the more playful of the two, while William was a little more reserved.”
Chevy is no stranger to playing against royalty, having competed against the Sultan of Brunei – when at the tender age of 12. Born into a family captivated by horses, playing polo was in his blood. His father, also the founder and chairman of BP Healthcare, originally started playing the sport out of necessity, as “his business associates told him to as it was a good way to network with businessmen all over the world,” Chevy reveals. And when the young man was just 5 years old, he took horse-riding lessons, together with his three other siblings. At age 7, he started playing polo competitively in Argentina. He remembers seeing so many children from all over the world gathered in one place, with family members all coming to support them. “I remember wanting to be a part of that. That’s where my passion for polo started.”
Chevy, now almost thirty, has since travelled the world to play competitively and charitably against heads of state, as well as entrepreneurs and politicians and his family is ranked as the best team in Asia by handicap. He was a University of Virginia Polo Scholar and made history by being the first Asian to be awarded the American All Stars, the plaque of which currently hangs in the Florida Hall of Fame, alongside such names as golfing legend Jack Nicklaus. In 2011, he was the youngest Team Manager at the SEA games in Indonesia.
One might be fooled into thinking Chevy plays full time given all his accolades, but polo is merely an avocation. A true businessman at heart, started as the Managing Director of his family- owned business, dealing in diagnostics, food testing and pharmaceutical companies. He then ventured into something that he will be entirely in charge of, as CEO and founder – a company dealing with the acquisition of hospitals. I ask him why he does not play polo professionally and he tells me that “all sportsmen have an expiry date but a business will still live on even after you retire.” Fearing the bias that comes with nepotism, Chevy is determined to build his own legacy, away from his family’s enterprise. His other siblings have each made their mark. Younger brother Garvy has his own French restaurant Garvy’s In The Park, while older sister Lovey runs a pharmaceutical company. Chevy’s healthcare company went public by the middle of 2015 and he then went on to prepare for the new start-up that kept him busy.
“It requires a lot of discipline and an early 6am start to my day,” Chevy reflects, regarding how he balances work and polo. During the week, he spends his time in a two piece suit in Kuala Lumpur, while weekends are spent in his childhood home of Ipoh (which doubles as the family’s polo club), on the back of a horse, playing polo with his siblings and father, on the connecting club field, which is flanked by the scenic Tambun caves.
The BP Polo Club holds 26 horses, most of which were imported from Argentina, which is widely regarded as the mecca of polo. Chevy’s personal favourite, a thoroughbred gelding called Astor, has been with him for several years. “She’s so quick and nimble,” he says proudly, stroking her forehead. The other horses in the stable are just as magnificent, their skin silky and their bodies rippling with visible energy. “Looking after your horses properly is probably the most challenging thing about polo. You have to make sure they are fit enough to play and unfortunately, horses don’t have indicators like motorcars and they can’t tell you if the engine oil is low. It’s also all about the timing. A good polo player knows how to train their horses and to keep them in shape but not in their prime, until the moment a tournament begins.”
On top of this impeccable sense of timing, polo players don’t just handle one horse, but a string of horses, unlike other equestrian sports. As Chevy explains, there are 4-8 horses per person for one game, which means a polo player is required to know when a horse is tired and needs to be switched out. He says jokingly that “it is rather like running an organisation,” having to know how to maximise each horses potential at the right time so that the whole team succeeds.
But it isn’t just the horses that need to be in top shape. The rider must also be in the best physical condition, which means early nights, a good diet, a lot of physical activity and (to some) an alarming lack of alcohol. Apart from finding the time to train before work during the week and swimming and playing tennis to keep active, Chevy shares with me his pre-match routine, which involves running the field, as well as stick and ball practicing. “The most important body parts to focus on are of course the legs, knees, back and arms.”
With such a busy schedule, I had to ask how exactly he stays motivated. He tells me that his favourite polo player is Aldofo Cambiaso, who at the age of 16, was the youngest to achieve the highest handicap in the world – a perfect 10-goal score, that fewer than a dozen people worldwide have ever obtained. “He’s a man who can do it all. He’s an all-star athlete, he has his own organisation, he has even dabbled in breeding and embryo transfer. I find that kind of ambition truly inspiring.”
Later, we are invited to dine at Chevy’s younger brother’s French restaurant, located next to the BP specialist centre on Jalan Raja Permaisun Bainun and as I cut in to the main course of fish cooked with a creamy lobster reduction sauce, I ask Chevy about some of the most interesting places he has travelled for the love of the sport. He tells me of Aspen, where polo was played on snow instead of grass – a unique adjustment – and laughs at the memory of Mongolia, when he and his family actually stayed in tents in the wild, where wolves roam freely. “It was an exhilarating feeling. We bathed in rivers where the waters were crystal clear,” he says, in a somewhat awed voice, his thoughts still back in the lush highlands.
Even though Chevy is a fulltime businessman, he still craves the beauty of the countryside and prefers to stay in Ipoh over Kuala Lumpur. Why exactly? “First of all, there is no such thing as traffic here!” he laughs. “Also, I love the pace of life and there is nothing like the fresh air.” He admits to an enduring love of Hawaii for its natural beauty and lack of artifice, stating matter-of-factly that the people there don’t care about the material pursuits of city dwellers – they live simply, preferring sun-kissed, make-up free looks to designer clothes and fancy cars.
As accomplished as he has been so far, Chevy wears an air of humility, which he seems to have inherited from his father. Instead of listing any number of extravagant pursuits as luxuries, he instead tells me that the greatest luxury to him has been the opportunity to play polo and to meet influential people all over the world, others who share a love for the same sport. His family clubhouse has hosted various guests in the rooms directly over the stables, decorated – most fittingly – with paintings of horses, horse figurines and various mallets, and other polo apparatus. He jokes that the people he gets to meet are “people you would very much like to know, but they don’t necessarily want to know you.”
However deferential he may appear to be, Chevy has seen a lot of success at such a young age, and there’s no telling where he will go next. We have absolutely no doubt that his sprinting ambition will see him gallop over countless obstacles and win far more than polo matches in the years to come.