- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 18, 2008

PALM BEACH, Fla.

It’s two in the afternoon inside the Red Cross Polo Luncheon tent, and guests are tucking in to their smoked salmon appetizer amid an oasis of potted palms and towering floral fantasies. Tito Puente Jr. and hisorchestra are pounding out “Tico Tico” with extra muscle from the conga and marimba section when a zaftig, slightly tight divorcee in an Ascot-style hat suddenly mambos onto the floor with a handsome Latino playboy half her age, maybe less. Despite her many come-hither shimmies and shakes, the playboy can’t help staring at her hands — and no wonder. The rocks she’s flashing are the size of prunes.

“He doesn’t realize it yet,” a catty observer says of the spectacle, “but those are only her daytime diamonds.”

Only in Palm Beach, folks. Only in Palm Beach.

There are scads of charity events during the Christmas-to-Easter social season here, and every group has its favorite play dates. For the horsey set, it was this year’s March 9 luncheon at the International Polo Club in the nearby equestrian enclave of Wellington.

Cocktails at 11:30 a.m. hardly raised an eyebrow as former Mexican President Vicente Fox, porcelain queen Helen Boehm, sugar king Alfy Fanjul, beer baron Patrick Molson and Frank Stallone (father of Sly) joined guests with Washington ties (Joe and Francie Smoak,Bob Corby,David Blee, Vicki Bagley and Holidae Hayes) to meander in a separate tent while bidding on furs, jewels, artwork, trips and other primo silent-auction items. (Gents fleeing shopaholic wives and girlfriends repaired to a cigar bar next to a display of flashy Lamborghini Gallardo Spyders and Murcielago LP640s with price tags north of $300K).

This year’s event honored Wellington’s founder and developer, Chicago electronics mogul William T. Ylvisaker, so it was only fitting that the day included a match befitting the “sport of kings”: the U.S. Polo Association Piaget Gold Cup featuring numerous high-goal players. (The Pony Express-sponsored team beat Audi, 11-9).

Despite the inevitable electricity and elan, the benefit was a more of a “hard sell” this year, chairwoman Denise Alexander said. “There’s so much competition. You need a wheelbarrow to haul the invitations in down here,” the dual Bethesda-Wellington resident noted, adding that she and her husband, automotive parts heir and high-tech investor Braddock Alexander, nonetheless managed to raise more than $100,000 for Red Cross relief efforts.

“Everyone pulled together for Denise and Brad,” Silver Spring-based fundraising consultant and party planner David B. Cowling reported, especially Great Falls jeweler Jorge Adeler, contributor of a $13,000 three-piece coral suite to the live auction. (It sold later for $5,500.)

CNBC economics commentator John Browne blamed sluggish bidding on a worsening economy. Others, including Washington-based writer Laurence Leamer, doubted too many of the incredibly rich locals would be much affected by a downturn. “The Entitled,” his forthcoming book about Palm Beach, is “basically about women marrying rich older guys … but also the evolution of wealth in America and the incredible new money here.

“It’s a phenomenon that repeats itself endlessly,” he said.

Kevin Chaffee

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