ALL ENGLAND: British squad takes Westchester Cup over USA

After a four-year hiatus, the celebrated Westchester Cup challenge between the United States and England took place at the Royal County of Berkshire Polo Club in Windsor, Berkshire, England, July 28.

Back in April the USPA announced Britain’s Hurlingham Polo Association had accepted a challenge for the Westchester Cup, which was last played in 2013 when England defeated a U.S. team of Marc Ganzi, Nic Roldan, Polito Pieres and Mike Azzaro in a 12-11 nailbiter.

At the time, HPA chairman Stephan Hutchinson said, “I am delighted that the USA team has issued a challenge and that the Flannels England team will be competing for this great cup in 2018. A huge amount of our pride and history is caught up in the Westchester legend and we want it to become the Ryder Cup of polo. I look forward to an exciting new chapter of this great story at our new venue.”

Since its inception in 1886, the Westchester Cup has been played 17 times with only five of those taking place since World War II. All but one have been played against England. In 1988, a United States team defeated an Australasia team in a two-game series.

There was a lot of excitement leading up to the event. On July 7, England’s captain James Beim and U.S. captain Nic Roldan attended an event at Kadie’s Cocktail Bar & Club in London where Royal County of Berkshire Polo Club’s Jamie Morrison officially launched International Day Polo 2018.

On game day, the celebration began with three-time Olympic Gold Medalist, Charlotte Dujardin, performing a Dressage Masterclass, demonstrating her training techniques aboard Olympic champion Valegro before The Scots Guard Band accompanied the teams onto the field in blustery winds.

The Flannels England team was outfitted in the HPA’s brand, Hurlingham 1875, while the U.S. team sported U.S. Polo Assn. apparel both on and off the field. The U.S. team also wore Lucchese boots courtesy of John Muse and Lucchese.

USA TAKES JUNIOR WESTCHESTER CUP  

Five young up-and-coming stars of American polo outfitted in U.S. Polo Assn. traveled to Black Bears Polo Club in Oxfordshire, England, July 27, to take on the Brits for the Junior Westchester Cup.

The teams, limited to a 4-goal handicap, were made up of players 16 years old and under.

Coached by Joel Baker and accompanied by Team USPA member and USA adult team alternate Jared Zenni, the starting team of Hope Arellano, Bayne Bossom, Lucas Escobar and Tenzin Tognini defeated the English team of Will Harper, Milly Hine, Charlie Townsend and Luke Wiles, 3-2.

“We knew going in they were going to be out-mounted and those kids over there have been playing together a lot ... so we knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” said Baker. The team got together in California for a few days before heading to England, working in the classroom on set plays, then practicing them on the ground before playing a practice against a team led by Memo Gracida. Baker said they build the team around defense and concentrated on that.

Once in England, they didn’t have a chance to play together until the first game. In that match, they played a 0-goal team, spotting them two-and-a-half goals on handicap. USA was ahead by two-and-a-half goals with three minutes left and lost by a half goal.

Baker said, “That was a good [rude] awakening of how to finish a game. ... [The other team] all went up by a goal but we played them as a 0-goal team.”

Despite unusual drought conditions in Britain, the teams experienced the more traditional rainy English weather for its main game and the title. USA faced a whole new English team. “The field was in great shape, it was well organized and people were very generous in making sure everybody was safely and well mounted,” said Baker.

An electrifying and defensive first chukker left the teams scoreless. England snatched the upper hand in the second with a first goal from Luke Wiles. However, a goal from USA’s Escobar at the tail end of the chukker, a steal with a beautiful run downfield, equalized the score 1-1 at halftime.

A scoreless third chukker paved the way for a suspenseful final period of play. England’s Wiles finally broke the stalemate, but America’s fighting spirit prevailed—Bossom hammering a powerful 80-yard shot to goal to tie the score once again, 2-all.

“We had great chemistry, it took a few practices to get in sync but once we were there we were unstoppable,” Bossom shared after the game. Shutting the back door, excellent defense from Tognini and Arellano kept England’s score to two.

Down to the wire and only seconds before the 30-second warning horn, USA received a pivotal Penalty 4 off a turning call. Escobar converted the shot for USA, sending the ball through the uprights to secure the Junior Westchester Cup title and the John Cowdray Trophy with a final score of 3-2.

When asked about his final goal to cement the win Escobar replied, “Honestly, going to hit it I was angry because I missed my first three penalties and I knew I had to make it to win the game and to redeem those for sure.”

The team had tremendous support from Baker, USA junior team alternate Johnny Kirton, USPA leadership and their families from the sidelines. Baker was proud of the young team after the hard-fought win.

“They were together for over two weeks, living together, eating together, practicing—and really became a unit of brothers and sisters over that two-week period. So today, when it really got tight, they never gave up on each other. The other team was a fantastic team, superbly mounted, but our team kept working together and I think that’s what got them through. I know that’s what got them through, they had all the confidence that they were going to win it—they were prepared,” Baker said.

“I was really proud of how they represented the United States. Both teams’ sportsmanship was great and [USA] worked as a team, never got down on themselves, never got down on USA coach Joel Baker with Tenzin Tognini, Lucas Escobar, Bayne Bossom, Hope Arellano and alternate Johnny Kirton each other and they kept working and working.”

 

 
 
 
 

USA fielded a 28-goal team of Julio Arellano, Peke Gonzalez, Jeff Hall and Nic Roldan against a 26-goal English squad comprised of Tommy Beresford and three members of El Remanso (James Beim, Ollie Cudmore, James Harper), fresh off a Gold Cup victory.

USA had an up-hill battle as its players didn’t have a chance to play together until they got to England, and all but Roldan were on leased horses they didn’t know well. According to coach Joel Baker, Hall arrived on Tuesday and was trying horses in the team’s first practice. They practiced again on Thursday, but Baker was with the kids’ team while the players were still sorting out horses.

Due to the difference in handicap, England was awarded an agreed upon one goal at the onset of the match. Directly out of the first bowl-in America quickly equalized the score, a wellexecuted pass from Gonzalez landing on the stick of Roldan.

The U.S.’s prowess would be shortlived however, as England’s Cudmore scored a hat trick to take the lead 4-1. Ending the first on a strong note, Roldan put a second goal on the board. The remainder of the first half proved fatal, with England dominating the field with three more goals, holding USA scoreless.

“We would come close to the goal and then we’d lose the ball and they would get it back,” said Hall. “I felt like we were okay in the first part of the chukkers, but then the horses would get a little tired at the end of every chukker and England would score a couple of goals on us.”

Baker agreed. “[Some of them] were really good horses and they did well for half a chukker but the horses weren’t fit enough to go a whole chukker and that’s when the English jumped on us,” he explained. “You can lease great horses but if they haven’t been playing top polo, they are not going to last.”

Trailing by five at the start of the fourth, a Penalty 3 conversion by Arellano propelled the U.S. back in the right direction, instigating its best chukker of the match. Yet, the unyielding English force quickly countered to maintain the gap. USA’s Nic Roldan would manage two more goals in the second half, including a stunning 70- yard shot, but it was not enough to suppress the English momentum. Four goals from Cudmore, one a rocketing backshot through the uprights, cemented the win. A final push and score from Arellano cut the deficit to six, 12-6, ending the loss on a good note. Queen Elizabeth’s granddaughter, Zara Tindall, an Olympic silver medalists in eventing, presented the historic Westchester Cup, created by Tiffany & Co. in 1886, to the English team. The trophy is said to be cast from 396.3 ounces of sterling silver.

Beim received Most Valuable Player and his gray mare Salsita, played in the first and fifth chukkers, donned the Best Playing Pony blanket. Playing his own exceptional string, Roldan didn’t walk away empty handed. His 9-year-old bay gelding, Mariscal, received the unique honor of Repurposed Racehorse Best Playing Pony.

Despite an unfavorable outcome for USA, morale seemed overwhelmingly positive. “It has been so fun to play with these guys and it’s great to visit other countries and play on horses you don’t know to benefit your own polo,” said Gonzalez. “It’s a great experience and I recommend it to everybody.”

England accepted the United States’ challenge to play the Westchester Cup on U.S. soil in 2019, the U.S. hoping for a chance at redemption.

“We were all very hopeful going into the game and positive, but the fact of the matter is that any time you are on foreign land it’s really difficult,” said Roldan after the game. “These guys have been playing together for years, they have numerous international matches throughout the year. We have one-off per year. I think we have a lot of work to do building up the international team and finding time for us to play together.”

Hall looks forward to next year’s challenge on U.S. soil. “They beat us forward and backwards. I knew it was going to be really tough and it didn’t work out for us today. I will be remembering this one and thinking about challenging them next year,” he said.

Arellano relayed his happiness at having been able to represent his country and share this unique moment competing alongside his daughter Hope, who was victorious in the Junior Westchester Cup Championship. “I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

Baker believes the results would have been different if the players were able to bring their own horses. “The other thing that would help is to do like we’re doing in the World Cup. Instead of playing six chukkers, play 12 half chukkers,” he said. “The other alternative is to get the English to agree to split horses—have a pool of horses and have a horse master divide the horses equally and then draw for the horses.”

Baker would like to see the U.S. commit to having a national team, like the English have had for decades, that would play together on a regular basis. Even better, he’d like to see most of the team compete in England’s Gold Cup prior to the next Westchester Cup played on British soil so the players better understand the [English] rules and can work on set plays with each other.

“The whole idea of a national team is, not only will help us to do the best we can with our best players, but it will help the next generation move into that, be a part of it and learn from it,” he said.

Minimally, he hopes the U.S. team will get chances to play together several times before next year’s Westchester Cup match in Florida.

England’s celebration continued as the Flannels England Ladies dominated an international match, also by six goals, for the Diamond Jubilee trophy against a Rest of the World team following the Westchester Cup.

Flannels England’s Nina Clarkin notched the first goal, setting the tone. England kept pressing and led 4-1 at the half. The team kept up the pressure and equaled its first half score in the second half to end with a convincing 8-2 victory. U.S. Polo Assn., the official brand of the USPA, partnered with Eurosport to broadcast the Westchester Cup, targeting over 200 million households in over 70 countries across Europe, Asia and India. The coverage was aired on Aug. 13.

U.S. Polo Assn. CEO J. Michael Prince explained, “Partnering with Eurosport was a strategic decision to increase global visibility of the Westchester Cup, the sport of polo and U.S. Polo Assn.” Prince said the brand continues to focus on high-profile venues that provide amazing experiences for consumers and sports fans around the world.


 

 

 

 
 
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