The British Open Polo Championship for the Cowdray Gold Cup commences tomorrow, Tuesday 21 June, at Cowdray Park. The tournament, regarded as one of the three Grand Slams of Polo, alongside the US Open and Argentine Open, features all the international stars of the game, both players and ponies, and will see fourteen teams up to 22 goals compete for the coveted cup. The Gold Cup was established in 1956 by Weetman John Churchill Pearson, Third Viscount Cowdray, the major force behind the revival of polo in England after the devastating Second World War.
Since then on, and up-to-date, all the biggest stars of the sport have played the tournament, the absolute highlight of the British season, with many of them claiming the coveted golden trophy more than once. It’s worth to give a look to the tournament’s history, as well as the winners, an achievement shared by both fathers and children on several occasions.
The first team to ever win the Gold Cup, back in 1956 was Argentina’s Los Indios, composed by Jorge Marín Moreno, Pablo Nagore, Antonio Heguy and Juan Echeverz. Antonio Heguy’s legacy would continue with his grandsons, all of them winners at Cowdray Park. The first to make it were Eduardo and Ignacio Heguy, in 1996, with CS Brooks; they were followed by Bautista Heguy, in 2000, with Geebung, a foursome that saw him playing together with no less than Adolfo Cambiaso. The last member of the legendary Heguy family to claim a Gold Cup was Marcos Heguy, in 2004, with Azzurra.
But there’s one name above all, a man who have won the British Open Polo Championship for the Cowdray Gold Cup more than any other player in history – the much beloved and unforgettable Carlos Gracida. Although the Gracida family are among the first winners of the tournament (1959 and 1960, with Casarejo), it was the extraordinary Carlos who has left a definitive mark, which has never been overcome: he won the Gold Cup a record ten times, through 1982 and 1997. Although most of his success was achieved with the legendary Tramontana team (1986, 1987, 1988, 1989 and 1991), Carlos also won with Southfields (1982), Falcons (1983), Ellerston Black (1994), Ellerston White (1995) and Labegorce (1997). And moreover, he was always joined by the best players of the time – among those were his brother Memo, Héctor “Cacho” Merlos, Gonzalo Pieres, Oliver Hipwood, Mike Azzaro, Andrew Hine, Javier Novillo Astrada and a 16-years-old Adolfo Cambiaso, in 1991.
And speaking of Adolfo Cambiaso, the British Gold Cup is not a stranger to him. A living legend today, still playing at the highest level with his son Poroto, Cambiaso has excelled at Cowdray Park since 1991, when he was a young boy; years later, he would succeed with Ellerston (1998), Geebung (2000) and Dubai (2010 and 2014). In 2020 he claimed a major achievement, when the father and son duo captured the trophy, playing with Jean-Francois Decaux’s Next Generation.
Up-next, a review that’s worthwhile to meet some of the most significant achievements within the history of the British Open Polo Championship for the Cowdray Gold Cup:
- Many British lineups composed by aristocrats or royalty, such as Lord Patrick Beresford or the Marquis of Whiteford, played the Gold Cup. But the most famous of them all was no less than His Royal Highness Prince Philip Duke of Edinburgh. With his team Windsor Park, he was presented with the British Gold Cup three times – 1957, 1966 and 1969.
- One of the most innovative players in the history of the sport has a very well deserved place within the prestigious tournament’s history – Eduardo “Gordo” Moore. The Argentinian Moore, who’s also known for his remarkable contribution to the growth and development of British polo, has a record of six wins – five with Stowell Park (1973, 1974, 1976, 1978 and 1980) and one with Foxcote (1977).
- The legendary Héctor “Cacho” Merlos was victorious in 1981 with Falcons. His sons Sebastián and Juan Ignacio “Pite”, would give a second Gold Cup to the Merlos family, with Lechuza Caracas, back in 2007. It is remembered as a very tough contest – Pite had to leave the field due to a serious injury, and his youngest brother, Agustín, subbed him.
- With regards to British players, The Hon Mark Vestey won the tournament four times with Stowell Park, in 1973, 1974, 1978 and 1980. Years later on, his daughter, Carina Patricia, better known as Nina Clarkin after her marriage to New Zealand’s player, John-Paul Clarkin, became up-to-date the only woman ever to have claimed the Gold Cup, in 2003, with Hildon Sport. The lineup included Nina, John-Paul Clarkin and the Tomlinson brothers, Luke and Mark.
- El Remanso still remain as the last all-British foursome to capture the Gold Cup, in 2018. The team was composed by Charlie Hanbury, Ollie Cudmore, James Beim and James Harper.
- Of all the British players who will play the upcoming Gold Cup, both James Beim and James Harper have been victorious twice. In addition to having won with El Remanso, Beimy made it in 2018 with Ellerston White. James Harper is currently a title holder, as he has been victorious in 2021 with Thai Polo NP.
- The Pieres family has left their mark in Cowdray Park. The legendary Gonzalo Pieres won the Gold Cup in 1979, with Shongai, in a lineup that included his brother, Alfonso. He would repeat in 1981, with Falcons; and claimed the last two with Ellerston White and Ellerston, in 1995 and 1998, respectively. The latter saw him playing with Adolfo Cambiaso and James Beim, who in 2019 won the Queen’s Cup with Gonzalo’s youngest son, Nicolás.
- All of Gonzalo’s sons would be champions, as well. The first time two Pieres brothers won the Gold Cup was in 2009, with Gonzalito and Facundo victorious with La Bamba de Areco; up next, they earned one of their biggest achievements in England, when they lifted the trophy for three consecutive years, 2015, 2016 and 2017, with King Power. Facundo would become a champion on his own, playing for Zacara in 2013. And the youngest, Nicolás, is currently the defending champion, after his success with Thai Polo NP, in 2021.
- The Castagnolas also have significant achievements in Cowdray Park. Lolo Castagnola claimed the Gold Cup in 2001, with Dubai. In 2019, the Albwardy organisation, would see Lolo’s sons, Barto and Camilo, as the winners.
- The Novillo Astrada brothers have won the Gold Cup many times. It all started in 2002, when Eduardo Jr., Javier and Alejandro captured the golden trophy with Black Bears; Alejandro was victorious for the second time in 2004, with Azzurra, while Eduardo Jr. and Javier would make it two in 2006, with Black Bears once again. But it was the unforgettable Javier the first of the brothers to win the Gold Cup, in 1997, when he played with Labegorce, alongside Carlos Gracida.
So, it is expected an exciting new edition of this historic tournament, the perfect finale to the always attractive and competitive British Polo Season.
The opening day of the British Open Polo Championship for the Cowdray Gold Cup, will have the following order of play:
12pm, Carlos Gracida Memorial Trophy: UAE vs. King Power.
3pm: Monterosso vs. Scone.
The final of the British Open Polo Championship for the Cowdray Gold Cup is set to be played on Sunday July 17.