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Prince Wins At Polo, Surprises Fans With Handshakes

March 7, 1988 GMT

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) _ Prince Charles thrilled spectators by shaking hands on both sidelines after beating an American polo squad assembled for the royal occasion.

″I can’t believe it. I was so shocked,″ said Anabelle Mariaca, who shook hands with the Prince of Wales after the 90-minute match Sunday at the Palm Beach Polo and Country Club. ″I told him I was from Bolivia, and he said, ‘I bet the weather is better there than here.’ ″

The prince’s Windsor Park team beat Palm Beach 6-4 on a soggy field doused by occasional rain. The prince, scheduled to fly home today via New York, scored a goal on a penalty shot, and teammate Peter Brant said Charles saved five or six goals on defense.

″He played very well,″ Brant said. ″He hadn’t played in competition since the end of August, but he made some beautiful back shots.″

Spectators included King Constantine of Greece and Maj. Ronald Ferguson, father-in-law of Prince Andrew, Charles’ younger brother.

Charles’ wife, Princess Diana, had other commitments, a Buckingham Palace spokesman said. Andrew and his wife, Sarah, finished a 10-day tour of Southern California Sunday and headed back to London.

Officials said the prince’s visit with spectators afterward was unplanned but not unusual. To the fans, however, it was clearly a surprise.

Chris Zeiser of West Palm Beach, who shook hands with Charles, apologized to him for the weather.

″Well, I’ll have to come back again,″ replied the prince, who has visited the club twice before.

About 8,500 people attended the match at the 6,200-seat stadium. Both the sporting event and a luncheon for about 500 people beforehand benefitted Friends of the Masai Mara, a conservation group for a wildlife habitat in Kenya.

The founders of the organization, Geoffrey and Jorie Kent, were the prince’s hosts and the first to greet the prince and king when they flew in Saturday from Pittsburgh, where they had attended a fund-raising dinner Friday.

Charles, who has been outspoken recently about architecture, went from the airport to visit developer Donald Trump’s 118-room mansion Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach. Charles spent two nights at the Kents’ ranch west of Lake Worth.

Charles was the honored guest at a wildlife demonstration conducted on the polo field by Jim Fowler of TV’s ″Wild Kingdom,″ who presented a lion cub, aardvark, several birds and a 7-year-old cheetah.

When Fowler coaxed an eagle to fly to him by holding up scraps of food, the prince asked, ″Is that off the luncheon menu?″

The eagle landed on the back of Fowler’s hand with a message in its claw. Charles, who read it to the audience, said, ″All wildlife thanks those gathered here for your interest in wildlife.″

The prince joked, ″I didn’t know this eagle could write, though clearly it does.″

Cheetah handler Cathryn Hilker took Charles’ right hand, and together they petted the cat’s face. The prince seemed reluctant, but the animal licked his hand.

″She loves men’s hands because they have hair on them,″ Ms. Hilker explained.