It might be fair to say that James Harper is, today, the best English polo player. While he is currently ranked at 6 goals, Scone’s number four has been playing at a level higher than his current handicap rating for some time now.
Last year was monumental for Harper, as he won the British Gold Cup at Cowdray Park alongside El Remanso. His success has not diminished this year: On Wednesday his team will face VS King Power in the semifinal of the Queen’s Cup. “We are very excited about playing the Queen’s Cup semifinals” says Harper. “Being a new team and qualifying alongside three of the biggest organisations in England – La Indiana, King Power, and Park Place – is a great achievement for us.” This is no minor feat, especially when we recall Scone’s less than impressive start to the tournament. “We didn’t have a good start to the tournament loisng the first two matches, but now we have won three in a row, and we have a lot of confidence.”
Scone is an organisation belonging to Australian patron David Paradice, who competed in the season in Palm Beach and with whom James played in Australia, for Ellerston. “Scone is a small country club near Ellerston, in Australia,” shares Harper. After his experience in Wellington, Paradice made the jump straight into the English high goal—with no 15 or 18 goal tournaments in between. “James Beim and I have been speaking to David about the opportunity to come over to England, and play for a while now. So it’s great to have such a good start to our first tournament in England,” says Harper. “Beim and I have been playing the high goal together for the last five years. We have a good understanding and we make a huge effort to be well mounted as possible.”
Scone is a new organisation in the English high goal, and they now face none other than VS King Power in the Queen’s Cup semifinal. But Harper has faith in his team. “We know that we have chance to make it to the final. King Power are a very strong team and organisation. We are similar teams, but we are confident in how we are playing at the moment so we will give it a good go.”
Apart from qualifying for such an important semifinal with a new organisation, is there anything else that makes this moment special?
Well, there are lots of Brits supporting us, so that gives us an extra push. We knew that we had a good, balanced team, but we got a bit of a scare when we lost our fist two games. Now anything can happen. Our horses are in good shape and we are getting to know each other more and more with each match. Being a new team, we know it is difficult to make the finals because we have to face many great organisations. So that makes it special as well, because we are going to enjoy this semifinal, no matter what happens.
Representing Scone this season are aforementioned Brits James Harper and James Beim, as well as Argentine Nicolás Pieres. “Nico has been great,” says Harper. “He’s fitted into the team well. Beimy, David and I are such good mates so it wasn’t going to be easy for Nico to fit in; but he understands David’s sense of humour now and has been a lot of fun. Especially about Beimy and David’s size… Nico has been quick to get involved with that!” he laughs.
Jokes aside, James Harper is full of praise for the youngest Pieres brother: “Playing with Nico is great. He is a team player and if you do the the right plays and work well for him, he plays well back with you. We have a lot of confidence in each other and we play our positions well. He leaves me to do my thing at the back and he can do amazing things, so obviously we try and get him the ball as much as possible.”
Once the Queen’s Cup comes to an end, Harper and Beim will play the Gold Cup at Cowdray Park Polo Club, and assume the role of defending champions. In 2018, they represented El Remanso alongside Charlie Hanbury and Ollie Cudmore. Together, they made history, becoming the second all British team to claim the title (the first was Windsor Park in 1969).
“Playing the Gold Cup is always special because it is our home,” explains Harper. “We have a lot of local support and we feel like we play better down there. Winning last year was a dream come true, especially with that group of friends. The fact that we are all English made it more special. I hope that we can repeat the win, but there are a lot of good teams this year, so it is going to be tough. I think we will see a lot of exciting matches. Polo becomes more open during the Gold Cup, it’s more fun.”
What’s your take on English polo today, in all its facets?
Polo in England has had its ups and downs. There have been a lot of rule changes over the past five years, and I am looking forward to everything calming down with all the visa stuff and rules. Hopefully, when that all settles down, we can get more teams and players. A lot of money has been spent on fields and set ups, so it is good that we make the most of them. I always think the more people, the better, because the level would go up. I would like to see more young kids playing the high goal—they can only improve and advance in their careers if they play alongside the best. Also, the level of horses this year in England is up to par with any other season. Putting together a good string in England is a never ending job.