Approaching 15,000 spectators gathered to watch the Final of the King Power Gold Cup for the British Open Polo Championship at Cowdray Park on Sunday 22nd July in arguably one of the most thrilling Finals of recent times.
Following two spectacular Semi Final matches four days earlier, the Hanbury family’s El Remanso team faced up to Jean-François Decaux’s La Bamba de Areco and few would have been confident enough to predict the outcome. El Remanso comprised the close-knit line-up of four Englishmen, Charlie Hanbury, Ollie Cudmore, James Beim and James Harper, playing to the same line-up as 2017 when they reached the Final but lost to King Power. Jean-François Decaux’s La Bamba de Areco side comprised the enormous talent of 3 goal player Byron Watson, with Polito Pieres substituting for an injured David Stirling and 10 goaler Juan Martin Nero at Back. The popular home-based El Remanso team had come through the tournament without dropping a match but it was not to be plain sailing for the Englishmen as the game changed fortunes between the first and second halves.
The Patron, Charlie Hanbury, playing the match of his life, stormed away from the first throw-in to mark the scoreboard with the opening goal. His second goal of the match gave El Remanso a 3-2 lead to close the first chukka. With no answers from La Bamba during the second chukka, El Remanso went into the third with a lead of 4-2, consolidating the lead at 6-4 at half time.
The second half opened with a hit-in from Watson for La Bamba de Areco, Beim returned the ball which Nero tried to secure but Harper won the ball and his neat back-hand shot took El Remanso on to 7-4. However, the tables began to turn as exciting play from Watson for La Bambe de Areco, strong attacking play by Pieres and the gift of two 30 yard penalties which Juan Martin Nero had little difficulty in sending through, saw La Bamba finally ahead at 12-10 by the close of the fifth chukka.
The action raced on through the final chukka, with El Remanso fighting for every ball. Awarded a 30 yard penalty, Ollie Cudmore sent the ball between the posts to pull the side up to within a goal of their opponents. Beim won the ball from the throw-in and great teamwork saw Harper move it on and Hanbury then leave it for Harper who coolly sent it between the posts. To an enormous cheer from the crowd, the scores were level on 12-12. Cudmore took the ball away from the throw-in and, challenged by Decaux, he carried on going but the ball went out. Nero for La Bamba de Areco passed the ball to his patron but Decaux failed to get the goal they desperately sought. Harper brought the ball in and sent it to Beim who, despite being challenged, calmly turned it and found Cudmore who sent it between for posts for El Remanso as the final bell sounded. It was the sweetest victory for El Remanso and the crowd went wild.
A new prize for the Best Playing Patron’s Pony, donated by sponsors King Power, was presented by Marcos di Paola of King Power to Charlie Hanbury’s pony Lovelocks Sex, the award for Best Playing Pony of the match, presented by the Hon Lila Pearson, went to Blanca Nueve, owned by Pelon Stirling and played by Polito Pieres. Jon Rudkin, Director of Football for Leicester City Football Club, owned by sponsors King Power, stepped forward to present individual and team prizes on behalf of King Power. Charlie Hanbury was voted Most Valuable Player of the Final with four brilliant goals to his credit. As well as generous prizes to both finalists and winners, John Rudkin also presented gifts to the four umpires who had done stirling work through the four weeks of the British Open campaign. The commentators, Karl Ude Martinez and John Kent, were also presented with gifts. Corinne Ricard, on behalf of Pernod-Ricard, presented a Jeroboam of Perrier-Jouët, Cowdray Park’s Official Champagne, to the winning Patron, Charlie Hanbury. Finally Jon Rudkin presented the Gold Cup to a proud Charlie Hanbury who shared the moment with his parents Christopher and Bridget.
Roderick Vere-Nicoll, Chairman of Cowdray Park Polo Club said: “This was a tremendous day for the club - a great crowd, great sponsors, great weather, a wonderful vibe and superb polo from both sides. If it was a Hollywood script, we couldn’t have written it better.
Photograph - Clive Bennett - www.polopictures.co.uk